Chambers’ Capsules From February 2000 (Film Reviews)

(All critiques on this webpage were written by C.E. Chambers and published by The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition in February 2000.  The dates of publication are noted after each review. )

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

Exotic locations, exploding parahawks and helicopters with vertical saws can’t save this nineteenth official James Bond “adventure” from a badly mangled plot.  That’s too bad, because Pierce Brosnan is a smashing substitute for Sean Connery.  In this $110,000,000 film, the secret agent becomes “emotionally involved” with oil pipeline heiress, Elektra King.  Is she suffering from Stockholm syndrome after being held hostage by the dastardly Renard?  Renard is a powerhouse with an inoperable bullet in the brain.  (Go figure.)  Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as “M,” who folds when the going gets tough.  Actresses Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards are in danger of being stereotyped as dumb brunettes.  Watch the first 30 minutes, especially Brosnan whizzing down the Thames River at 70 mph on a speedboat.  Then leave.  (Rated PG-13: suggestive dialogue; non-explicit bedroom scenes; violence)

(February 1, 2000.)

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS

An absorbing cross-cultural drama set in a fictional Pacific Northwest island in the early 1950s.  Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) is a bitter, small town journalist covering the trial of a former school friend.  Accused of murder, the stoic Kazuo (Rick Yune) is married to Ishmael’s former childhood love, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh).  Based on the best-selling but overly descriptive novel by David Guterson, the screen adaptation is stripped to the bone, letting the haunting cinematography speak volumes.  Rock-washed green, gray, and blue tones are a fitting backdrop to the disturbing 1940s flashbacks of Japanese-Americans sentenced to internment camps.  (Rated PG-13: drowned body; brief war scenes; non-explicit sex scenes)

(February 1, 2000)

THE STRAIGHT STORY

A surprisingly wholesome and memorable film directed by David Lynch.  Richard Farnsworth was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of real-life Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old man who journeyed from Iowa to Wisconsin on his lawn mower to visit his ailing brother.  Droll Midwestern humor will keep you laughing and simple truths have larger-than-life impact.  A rare film that leaves viewers feeling good about themselves and the world we live in. (Rated G: light profanity)

(February 1, 2000.)

SLEEPY HOLLOW

It took $80,000,000 to trash Washington Irving’s 19th-century tale.  The Headless Horseman is now a decapitated Terminator who runs amok throughout all of foggy Sleepy Hollow, busting in doors to get at men, women, and children.  Blood is the film’s anthem, squirting even from trees.  Witchcraft, the occult, and Christianity are mixed up indiscriminately, and Christianity is bashed to the point of clergymen being portrayed as either butchers or blood-sucking adulterers.  Johnny Depp’s considerable talents are wasted, and an assortment of older, wonderfully eccentric British actors lose their heads so fast they hardly get a chance to emote.  (Rated R: violence throughout; bloody decapitated heads and headless bodies; other grotesque images)

(February 1, 2000)

END OF DAYS

Everything a depraved mind could want: wall-to-wall violence, ravaging infernos, and a couple of twisted sex scenes–including a woman being molested in a restaurant.  Arnold Schwarzenegger takes his shotgun onto the streets of New York City because the devil has come down to earth looking for the “chosen one” to impregnate before the impending millennium.  There are good cops, bad cops, good priests, bad priests.  Stay home and clean out the kitty litter – you’ll thank me.  (Rated R: heavy emphasis on female nudity; bloody images, graphic violence)

(February 1, 2000)

GALAXY QUEST

A much-anticipated movie starring Tim Allen.  Much of the action takes place on a spaceship, but the film is more like a car that’s not running on all cylinders.  It’s a lightweight spoof about sci-fi actors who still make public appearances 20 years after their TV series folded.  Sullen and typecast, they take the journey of their lives when out-of-this-world aliens request their help in saving their planet.  Overall, an enjoyable film with some surprising laughs, memorable only because of Sigourney Weaver’s total transformation as a blonde in a Wonderbra.  (Rated PG-13: alien wars and futuristic weapons.)  [Note:  C.E. Chambers’ estimation of this film improved even more after seeing it a second time and she continues to enjoy it even today, whether by DVD or reruns on TV.]

(February 1, 2000.)

ISN’T SHE GREAT

Bette Midler camps it up as raunchy novelist Jacqueline Susanne whose best-selling novel, Valley of the Dolls, featured “drug-addicted, sex-obsessed movie stars.”  The Divine Miss M’s overly theatrical shtick is hackneyed and inappropriate, the pervasive locker room jokes are just part of the overall biographical package.  Nonetheless, Stockard Channing, as Jacqueline’s long-time friend, is the epitome of “ditzy brilliance” and steals every scene she’s in.  David Hyde Pierce gives a stellar performance as Susanne’s incredulous editor.  The rest of the film is a clumsy juxtaposition of humor and pathos, neither of which reach their intended heights.  This lackluster movie gives an old adage a new boost: You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.  (Rated R: soft-porn lead in; heavy profanity and obscene dialogue)

(February 1, 2000.)

STUART LITTLE

Adapted from E.B. White’s children’s classic.  Cutting-edge technology turns digitally-created Stuart, a little white mouse with a forlorn face, into a lifelike, endearing character that’s a favorite with the whole family.  The cynically-voiced, street-wise cats are also a big hit.  Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) adopt Stuart as a “little” brother for George, their nine-year-old son.  George (Jonathan Lipnicki) is nonplussed and uncooperative.  The pampered family cat, Snowbell, is really upset.  He collaborates with his alley cat friends to salvage the feline kingdom’s reputation.  (Rated PG: a couple of swear words from alley cats)

(February 1, 2000)

TOY STORY 2

Winner of a Golden Globe award, Toy Story 2 is a credit to the Walt Disney legacy.  It’s a highly innovative and exciting film that is just as popular with adults as with children.  The irrepressible Woody the Cowboy, the supremely confident Buzz Lightyear, and all of the other beloved toys from Andy’s bedroom are back.  (The only missing character is the sadistic Frankenkid next door.)  A search-and-rescue team is formed to look for the kidnapped Woody.  Both Woody and Buzz experience epiphanies regarding their past histories, and the former must make the decision of his life.  Tom Hanks and Tim Allen reprise their voicings of Woody and Buzz, with new voicings by Wayne Knight, Joan Cusack, etc.  A heartwarming, not-to-miss movie.  (Rated G: brief violent scene with a pickax)

(February 1, 2000)

MANSFIELD PARK

Jane Austen’s early 19th-century novel has been overhauled.  It’s a dubious improvement, gloomily Brontë-like rather than piquantly Austen.  Frances O’Connor plays Fanny Price, the shy, not-so-ugly duckling taken in by upper crust relatives at the country estate called Mansfield Park.  Docile, servant-like Fanny [from the novel] is changed to a tomboy in the screenplay who gives an odious aunt, Mrs. Norris, a piece of her mind.  Henry Crawford is a smoldering suitor and his sister, Mary, reeks of libertinism.  The major theme is the same: Fanny must choose between marrying without love or remain single and obscure.  A curious addition: producer Patricia Rozema tiptoes around the subject of British slave-trading, then shoves sketches of nude slaves being raped in viewers’ faces.  (PG-13: brief sensuality; cleavage galore; harrowing sketches of nude women)

(Published February 1, 2000; thirty-nine words were missing due to a printing error.   This is the edited version published July 18, 2000.)

THE MESSENGER

One of the worst movies of 1999.  Blood-splattered model-actress Milla Jovovich plays Joan of Arc without any finesse–and with few facts.  The 15th-century martyr is portrayed as a deranged, spoiled brat who’s only spiritual when she’s semi-comatose.  No St. Michael, St. Catherine, or St. Margaret here.  Just an Anglo-Saxon-looking Jesus figure with blood flowing down his weirdly ominous face, a creepy little boy who belongs in “The Exorcist,” and a conscience from Hell (played by Dustin Hoffman).  If you must see this movie, have a barf bag handy.  Milla, as Joan, smugly pulls a deeply-imbedded arrow out of her chest and then announces to all and sundry that there’s one less problem to worry about.  (Rated R:  graphic rape of impaled woman; bloody war carnage, and mayhem)

(February 15, 2000)

GUN SHY

A movie that doesn’t live up to its potential.  Acclaimed actor Liam Neeson plays Charlie, an undercover DEA agent suffering from post-traumatic syndrome who spills the beans about his work in group therapy sessions.  He desperately wants to retire with an “ocean view” but first has to complete a complicated covert operation involving the much-feared Mafia boss, Fulvio Nesstra (Oliver Platt).  Sandra Bullock is a nurse who becomes romantically involved with Charlie.   The heavy emphasis on Charlie’s bouts with diarrhea aren’t exactly the movie’s highlights.  Nonetheless, the interplay between the legendary agent and the cold-blooded Mafia leader is priceless:  each man tries to stare the other down without revealing his innermost fears.  Actor Oliver Platt is brilliant as the crime boss who, in his heart of hearts, just wants to grow a tomato.  Sandra Bullock’s character is introduced almost too late to have any impact and detracts from the underdeveloped plot.  She’s the film’s producer.  (Rated R:  brief female nudity; coarse dialogue and profanity; violence)

(February 15, 200)

TOPSY-TURVEY

An overly ambitious biography of 19th-century theatrical collaborators, Gilbert & Sullivan.  Spanning only two years of their on-again, off-again relationship, the storyline is chock full of behind-the-scenes creative intrigue involving various characters PLUS a reenactment of the forging of their comic opera, “The Mikado.”  The lengthy operatic segments dilute the bio–or is it vice versa?  Anyway, Jim Broadbent, as librettist William Gilbert, keeps the movie focused, his biting witticisms are an intellectual lightning rod and a tonic to his partner’s self-absorbed aloofness.  Composer Arthur Sullivan, recently knighted and weary of Gilbert’s reworked plots, flees to decadent Paris until reminded that he and Gilbert are joined-at-the-contractual-hip.  (Rated R:  prolonged female nudity in brothel)

(February 15, 2000)

ANGELA’S ASHES

If you’re looking for a warm and fuzzy family film, avoid this one like the plague.  If you’re into Catholic bashing, it’ll be well-worth the price of admission.  Frank McCourt’s acclaimed bio of his Irish family’s unrelenting slide into alcoholism and poverty has few redeeming moments.  The McCourt family do a reverse-immigration from New York to rain-soaked Limerick, Ireland, during the ‘30s.  Frankie McCourt’s mother (Emily Watson) is continually pregnant and, one by one, three children die.  Frankie attends a school run by mostly sadistic schoolmasters.  His ne’er-do-well father, (Robert Carlyle), albeit loving to his children, habitually drinks the dole away and eventually abandons the family.  The screenplay rages about society rather than individual culpability.  Also, the book’s caring, generous neighbors and store owners are mostly missing, and a totally gratuitous sex scene has been added.  (Rated R:  male and female nudity; explicit sex scene w/young boys)

(February 15, 2000)

MAN ON THE MOON

With two Golden Globes to his credit (the first one for “Truman”), Jim Carrey has now proven without a doubt that he’s much more than a madcap comic.  Fasten your seat belts:  As Andy Kaufman, he gives the performance(s) of his life, slipping in and out of  the troubled comic’s alter egos, causing some to wonder where Jim begins and Andy ends.  The pop-eyed taxi driver, Latka, is given short shrift, and suave lounge lizard, Vic Ferrari, is strangely missing.  Instead, the rude-and-crude lounge singer, Tony Clifton, commands most of the screen.  Is this really what Kaufman’s fans wanted–a roller coaster ride of Kaufman’s worst aberrations and consequences?  Amazingly, Jim Carrey’s heart–or is it Kaufman’s?–beats just below the film’s surface, enabling viewers to bond with rather than run from the quirky comic.  (Rated R:  coarse language and comments; three-in-a-bed w/nudity)

(February 15, 2000)

ANNA AND THE KING

A non-musical, rather somber remake of “The King and I.”  Jodie Foster is a bull-in-a-china-shop rather than a deer-caught-in- the-headlights Deborah Kerr.  Chow Yun-Fat, as the King of Siam, is no bald-headed autocrat marching in perfect military precision like Yul Brynner.  Instead, he sublimely plays cat-and-mouse with the British school teacher, whose defenses eventually crumble away against his nice-guy tolerances of her excesses.  The best scene?  The king’s baiting of a major foe while on a bridge about to blow up.   (Rated PG-13:  dead bodies; exploding bridge)

(February 15, 2000)

THE THIRD MIRACLE

Ed Harris in one of the best performances of his career.  He’s Father Frank Shore, a disillusioned “spiritual detective” who investigates miracles occurring among Catholic parishioners.  Father Shore cruises Chicago’s worst slums in search of a girl with a miracle past who can validate the hoped-for canonization of a deceased immigrant woman.  Will his search for spiritual truth–unlike his last investigation–be successful, or will his burgeoning relationship with the immigrant’s embittered, unbelieving daughter (Anne Heche) bring him self-fulfillment?  The haughty Archbishop Werner (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is the man viewers love to hate until a bizarre twist occurs at movie’s end.  A brooding, uneven story with a sun-washed, triumphant ending and an unusual musical score.  (Rated R:  implied sex act; bloody body; sensual kissing scene)

(February 22, 2000)

SNOW DAY

A much better film than the previews indicated, a family funny bone-tickler that’s refreshingly free of teenage angst and sexual innuendos.  A blizzard in Syracuse, New York, blankets the town with snow and all schools are closed.  The Brandston family is impacted in life-changing ways. Fifteen-year-old Hal has the perfect opportunity to approach the most popular girl in the school–but will he?  Sister Natalie and friends have a long-standing grudge against the sinister snowplow man (Chris Elliott).  Chevy Chase and Jean Smart play subordinate roles as the Brandston parents, but the close rapport between family members is highlighted.  If you’re a parent who’s been grousing about the lack of decent family films, put your money where your mouth is.  (PG:  principal pelted w/snowballs; snowmobile chase; boy w/frequent flatulence)

(February 22, 2000)

THE HURRICANE

Denzel Washington won a Golden Globe award–and is now an Oscar nomineefor his electrifying portrayal of real-life boxer Rubin “Hurricane“ Carter.  Carter was wrongfully imprisoned for almost 20 years, set up by a corrupt detective and two criminals.  Three Canadians  and a teenager from Brooklyn stand alongside him to clear his name–at the risk of their lives.  Based on Carter’s autobiography, The 16th Round, and Lazarus and the Hurricane by Canadian activists Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton, it’s a complex, non-linear storyline that delivers a sucker punch straight to the solar plexus.  (Rated R:  profanity; graphic shooting and crime scene; male nudity in non-sexual situation)

(February 22, 2000)

THE INSIDER

Both the movie and actor Russell Crowe were recently nominated for Oscars.  It’s a lengthy but riveting look at the dynamics between whistle-blowers and behind-the-scenes TV power brokers.  Russell Crowe stars as a real-life tobacco company CEO who decides to go public with damaging information.  Al Pacino, as a producer of CBS’s 60 Minutes, gives a super-charged but tightly coiled performance.  Christopher Plummer is fascinating as anchor Mike Wallace, whose erudite but scathing comments reduce fellow employees to jelly.  Lust cinematography.  (Rated R:  profanity)

(February 22, 2000)

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