Films I Watched - August, 2002

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  • 8/31 - About Adam (2000) - Alright, scanning most critics' reactions to About Adam, this may prove to be another Chocolat (AAA, get ready), but I really liked this quirky BBC film. Its working title was All About Adam, so that should give you some idea of where this wicked little comedy is heading. The acting was superb by both Adam and each of the lovely sisters, and several scenes brought me to audible laughter. Oh, did I add that this one has a structure as wonderfully twisted as nearly any film of the last few years? To my surprise, About Adam proved to be an overlooked gem, and a very worthy rental.

  • 8/26 - Nights of Cabiria (1957) - I love Fellini, but this one was a new one for me. I think it is certainly one of his better films, but I can't quite match it to the magic of his best. Woman/child Cabiria is a prostitute in Rome with horrible luck. She is rough, immature, and obviously miserable with her life. Her one redeeming quality is the very quality that leads to many of her awful situations - she will do anything to escape her life. She will believe blatant lies if there is a chance they may lead her away from her world. In other words, if Soren K. was correct in saying that purity of heart is to will one thing, Cabiria is utterly pure of heart. A touching film revealing both the dregs of life while affirming the worth of this wild carnival all at once as few but Fellini can do. "We're heading home, but I don't think we'll get there..."

  • 8/21 - Flirting with Disaster (1996) - David O. Russell is evolving into a pretty dependable yet creative director. His Three Kings is quite good, and this, his stab at satirical comedy, is one of the funnier 90s films I have seen. The directing is sure and, in the tradition of classic screwball comedies, mostly invisible, the script is terrific, but it is the odd, perfect casting and inspired acting that really carry this one over. I don't want to give too much away, but many old pros shine tweaking their images in hilarious ways. Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette (not always my favorite actress) are fine, and Tea Leoni (who I have loved ever since Flying Blind) is great. If the humor spread a bit broad at times and the pace locks the tone into one gear, these faults are easily forgiven given just how funny this film actually is. Not too many comedies from the last decade really impressed me; this is one that did.

  • 8/18 - Minority Report (2002) - Reviews have varied on this one, but for my money, this is the best Spielberg film in nearly a decade. The effects are stellar, the story twisty and pointed, and the tone edgy in a way Steven seldom ever has been since the early 70s. Heck, the boy even indulges in some delicious, eye-popping black humor! I admit, I was very shocked at just how great this film is. It is very rare that Spielberg can meld his higher, social aspirations with his amazing (if recently under-used) ability to wow and entertain, but in Minority Report, he may just have pulled this trick off better than he ever has. Cruise is admirably toned-down and believable, and the beautiful, talented Samantha Morton is perfect in a quite un-glamorous role. There really is not much wrong with this film; nearly every note is pitch perfect. I'm not really sure why it bombed at the box office, unless after 9/11, people really don't want to be warned about the possible unsavory effects of trading in freedom for safety. Required viewing for sci-fi fans and anybody with the last name of Ashcroft. Easily the best of 2002 so far.

  • 8/17 - Ever After (1998) - Ah, gee. I'm setting myself up big time with this one, but I actually enjoyed this film. It knew what it wanted to be, and its aim was true. The re-writing of the Cinderella fairy tale sans fairy was inspired and clever, and the direction was steady and sure. Additionally, this Cinderella is a strong role model who certainly does not need any prince to rescue her - she can do the job just fine herself, thank you. I found this to be a very good children's film, one adults might just enjoy as well.

  • 8/10 - The Insider (1999) - This may not be my first viewing of this film, but rewatching it has affirmed its status as highly under-rated. Heck, this could have beat American Beauty at the Oscars, and you wouldn't have seen me crying about it. Pacino and Crowe are both great as insiders, both men who blow the whistle on their own companies. In fact, if any justice really ruled, Crowe would have taken home an Oscar for his stellar work here instead of his grimmacing-and-revenge-swearing stud in leather and sand role in Gladiator. Between this and Insomnia, I'm almost starting to suspect Pacino of finding his second wind, exploring acting nuances beyond the tiring "yelling-means-acting" roles of the last decade. We can hope.

  • 8/10 - Signs (2002) - I really, really did not like this film at all. At 106 minutes, it felt longer than most three hour films. Of course, all that waste of film stock eventually tumbles into another patented M. Night Shyamalan ending, and this one stinks. Real bad. It doesn't particulary surprise, it is extremely contrived, it is cheesy beyond belief, and it doesn't even make much logical sense. In other words, it sucks. Really bad. It is one of the worst endings I have seen in a long, long, long time. Sadly, there really isn't much more in the film going well. Shyamalan has proven that he is a good old-fashioned spooky film director, scaring through sound effects and the unseen. Unfortunately, Shyamalan refuses to make an old-fashioned spooky film. Instead, his films try to twist where they really shouldn't, and they try to make profound religous statements where M. Night really hasn't a damn profound bone in his body. So far, this has to be the worst 2002 film I've seen yet. Really. Want to see this film? Take a nap instead. You'll get the same effects, plus you'll get your rest too.

  • 8/3 - Monsters, Inc. (2001) - Well, Monsters, Inc. is my least favorite Pixar film yet, and still, it is quite a bit of fun. John Goodman's voice work shines, and the animation dazzles (especially the detailed blue hair on Sully), but the sense of wonder and awe is largely lacking. When the big Pixar chase arrives, you're more likely to be impressed by the multi-plane animation than swept away by the action or suspense. The jokes are also not nearly as funny as previous efforts, but will probably evoke smiles if not laughter. A good but minor entry in the on-going Pixar saga.

  • 8/3 - Insomnia (2002) - Insomnia is quite good. Not great, but quite good. The film doesn't quite seem to trust its own ability to create atmosphere, and perhaps over-loads on this front a bit, but over all, this is a very well done cop film, with a dull snowblinded whiteness sitting in for the usual noir. The acting is stellar, and the recreations of the effects of insomnia are vivid and dead-on. A few set-oriented scenes work incredibly well, especially one involving logs washing down river, and Pacino and Williams avoid some of their own cliches that have plauged them lately. It is, of course, always nice to see Hartley regular Martin Donovan making a bit of dough in a mainstream film. As my wife stated as we left the dollar film, this film is somewhat similar to Homocide: Life on the Street, and frankly, doesn't soar nearly as high as that classic series, but on its own, Insomnia has barely pulled ahead of About a Boy as my favorite film of 2002. So far.

We've talked about this before, but it always pleases me to see a favorable mention of the wonderful Homicide: Life on the Streets. I fear it will never see the light of day on DVD, but I keep holding out hope.

You and me both. Being a bit of a poor feller, Homicide is one of the very few television shows I would shell out some bucks to have on DVD. A shame the show never really caught on like it deserves, but it has earned a cult following, so I certainly would not rule out a release in the future.

Let's keep the ol' digits crossed, eh?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Sorry to hear you aren't have much luck with your blockbusters this summer. I had high hopes for Signs (actually, I can't help myself, I'm holding on to my high hopes in spite of your review). I seem to recall you thought The Sixth Sense was overrated. What did you think of Unbreakable? Is Shyamalan a director you'll be avoiding in the future?

I haven't made it all the way through Unbreakable yet, and I'm not really sure if I will. I actually think M. Night is a very talented director, but I do not like his gimmicky scripts very much. It would be one thing if his twists were actually convincing and made logical sense, like the ones in The Usual Suspects, Laura, or The Crying Game. They're not, and they don't.

If it wasn't for that ending, The Sixth Sense would have been great. I still liked it, but despite its ending (which on top of not being convincing was, I thought, very easy to see coming), not because of it. Signs on the other hand...

But check it out. It seems to be a very divisive film. Maybe you'll dig it; many did.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

How exciting! A rare occassion where I have something to say about three consecutive entries on a "movies I've seen" list:

The Insider: I couldn't agree more, and I was so surprised by this movie as well. I never found myself in the mood for it, I don't generally care for Michael Mann movies, and I practically had to force myself to rent it. I'm sure glad I did; I thought it was riveting. And I thought Russell Crowe was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar (as you noted, too bad about the make-up award).

Ever After: Thanks for this review. I have two daughters that are too young for this now, but the older one loves the Cinderella story, so a "who needs a prince" retelling sure would be welcome in this house.

Minority Report: This was already one of my most anticipated DVD releases, and has moved even higher up the ranks based on your review. Regarding your Spielberg comments, have you seen A.I.?

Glad to provide the opportunity, Jim! The Insider was really good, wasn't it? I've been very surprised by the range of people who really like this film - in fact, I haven't really ran into anybody yet who doesn't dig it!

To these eyes, Ever After would be a great film for young girls. The Cinderella character is tough, kind, intelligent (she reads More's Utopia and can quote passages from it), and self-reliant, and the story was a quite clever reimaged telling in my book. My wife also enjoyed the film, and we're really not usually the type to like films like this, so at least I'm not alone!

I haven't seen A.I. yet, but I'm going to have to now. I usually believe the critics over-rate Spielberg, so when A.I. opened to less than raving reviews, I took that as a very bad sign. It also seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it type of film, and sadly, I usually find myself in the hate it camp on many of those (see: Signs). Still, I'll have to rent it soon.

I hope you like Minority Report when you see it. I was really, really shocked how much I liked it.

Even though it sorta bombed, does that count as a blockbuster? If so, then I finally had good luck with one!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I think Minority Report counts as breaking your blockbuster losing streak, congrats!

I don't know if this will encourage or dissuade you, but if I recall correctly jgandcag, bertie and I really liked A.I. and AAA hated it. dgeiser13 fell somewhere in between. I haven't searched for those reviews to confirm my recollection, since I have to get back to my day job at the moment (alas).

Minority Report has made around $130 million so far this summer. Of the true summer movie season, 5/15 and beyond, it's around the 6th or 7th highest grossing film of the summer.

You are correct that I was on the fence with A.I. with a 6/10 rating. Currently I have Minority Report at a 7/10. I enjoyed Minority Report much more than A.I. but I still don't think it lived up to its full potential.

Very true. In my book, $130 million for a summer film that for the first time teams up cinema's most financially successful director and star ever (I believe that's right, if you do an average of total gross divided by number of films) is an indicator of quite a huge bomb. No telling how much it cost to make.

Still, it is ahead of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. For now... :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

An interesting thought popped into my head about the business success of Minority Report. has the Summer Blockbuster been done in by the DVD mania.

I asked a couple of co-workers about Minority Report and their response was they were waiting for the DVD.

Obviuosly this a very unscientific research report but I find it true of myself as well as others I talk to. why pay 10 bucks a ticket for a movie and 4 dollars for a coke? When you can just wait three to six months and the movie will be available on DVD with most likely some extra goodies and you can get your coke for 50 cents.

How else can you explain a movie that stars Tom Cruise and is directed by Steven Spielberg which recieved strong critical praise doing so poorly at the box office?

That's an interesting theory, but I have a hard time reconciling it with Spiderman breaking pretty much every record under the sun in the same summer. What do you think about that?

The exception that proves the rule?

I actually think it is generational thing. Spiderman was an It movie for the teenage crowd. Thus definitely skewing those number up. And did Spiderman break viewership numbers or Dollar numbers?

Perhaps my theory holds true more for the over 25 crowd who maybe looking for more quality in their viewing.

I do think with the exception of Spiderman and maybe Signs , it has been a bad summer for Blockbusters.

Yeah, that sounds like a reasonable explanation, and it certainly does seem like it's been a bad summer for Blockbusters. I know I tend to wait for the DVD except in the most extreme circumstances because going to the movies is generally a less pleasant experience than it used to be. Talkative crowds, out of focus, too loud, etc. Damn, I sound like such a grouchy old man.

Now that you mention it, I think Spiderman broke dollar numbers.

I think feel-good, fun event films still do very well upon release. Escapism. Old-fashioned thrills. Dark films, however, probably receive the 'catch it on DVD' treatment more often, perhaps, especially competing in the summer where a fun flick opens every weekend.

Interestingly, it did make more money opening on June 21 weekend than any other film. Of course, the last June 21 friday weekend was 1996, I believe, when Eraser ruled. Apparently Lilo & Stitch nearly tied it, so that obviously probably played a large factor.

Or maybe not... Interesting.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs