Chambers’ Capsules From April 2000 (Film Reviews)

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

THE 13th WARRIOR

A better movie than given credit for, although casting that includes a Spaniard and an Egyptian playing English-speaking Arabs, and Danish, English, and German actors portraying Norwegian-speaking Vikings, does give cause for reflection—if not periodically rattle the ears.  Antonio Banderas is the soft-speaking Ahmad Ibn Fadlan who’s on diplomatic exile, doomed by forbidden love to wander through unknown lands with his elderly translator (Omar Shariff).  He’s hand-picked by a seer to become the thirteenth warrior [for a] band of giant-like Norsemen who travel back to their northern hinterlands to fight a marauding army of bear-like cannibals.  The Norsemen laugh at the Arab’s dog-sized horse and scimitar-type sword, but a compelling camaraderie develops.  Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, the movie sorts itself out in the middle (some viewers need to see it twice to understand it) and the rude-and-crude Norsemen actually become likeable if not down-right heroic.  Great action scenes and spectacular scenery (British Columbia), and one of the best sword fights—Scandinavian or otherwise—ever filmed.  Who cares if the love scene is short.  (Rated R: bloody battles and body parts)

(April 11, 2000)

PURGATORY

A 19th-century “Field of Dreams” with consequences for bad behavior.  Infamous outlaws such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Doc Holliday and others, including the first woman hanged in Arizona, inhabit a small, dusty town named Refuge.  A large band of ruthless bank robbers who are fleeing a posse stumble into the town and pretend to be cattle drivers.  Since no one’s packin’ a gun, the sky’s the limit for drinkin’, thievin’ and other acts of debauchery—or is it?  A rare movie: unassuming and unhyped but with great acting and unusually accurate detail to period costumes.  Sam Sheperd is riveting as Wild Bill Hickock, the gunless sheriff, and other actors such as Eric Roberts and Randy Quaid are well cast.  A very unusual storyline with a stirring, lump-in-the-throat ending and some of the best darn shootin’ this side of…purgatory.  (Rated R: cowboys shootin’ cowboys—31 stunt men were used; violent beating w/shovel)

(April 11, 2000)

MISSION TO MARS

Ignore the cheesy barbecue at the beginning and the obligatory anorexic-looking alien at the end and you’ll probably enjoy this film.  It’s the year 2020 and three astronauts, Luke, Woody, and Jim (Don Cheadle, Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise), who are close friends, blast off to Mars.  Luke arrives there first with a crew of three but loses them to a menacing Roto-Rooter-shaped dust storm.  He spends one mind-numbing year alone on the magma-colored planet before Jim, Woody and his wife and another astronaut arrive to rescue him. The earth-bound dynamics between characters last too long and the graphics-enhanced outer space footage is spectacular but all too short.  Marriage is portrayed as a gift from heaven (some rare footage, indeed), and witticisms pop up at the most unexpected moments.  The musical soundtrack is definitely beyond-the-beyond: Woody and wife ballroom dance in zero gravity to something akin to hokey ‘80s glam-metal music.  (PG: man-eating dust storm)

(April 18, 2000)

AN IDEAL HUSBAND

A deliciously witty British film with more than a few twists and first-rate acting.  Based on a play by Oscar Wilde, London’s Victorian era (1895) has never looked better.  Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam) is blackmailed by the devious but highly attractive Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore), and his very successful marriage to every politician’s dream wife (Cate Blanchett) is severely put to the test.  Rupert Everett is perfectly cast as the hedonistic family friend, Lord Goring.  He’s determined to retain bachelorhood at all costs—even if it means turning his back on Sir Chiltern’s sister (Minnie Driver) who, unlike other sexually desirable but boring women, is able to [engage in] repartee until the cows come home.  A sublime production with superlative dialogue and delivery and playful camera work.  (PG-13: brief, long-distance shot of naked woman)

(April 11, 2000)

THE LIMEY

There’s something about Terence Stamp that keeps viewers watching even when he’s starring in a mediocre movie.  In this one, he’s a British career criminal named Wilson who’s just been released from prison and travels to Los Angeles to find and kill his daughter’s alleged murderer.  Does he have any evidence?  Nope.  Just instincts and a bloodthirsty appetite.  He seeks out and recruits the help of a man who knew his daughter, interacts with her drama coach, and comes face-to-face with record producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), his deceased daughter’s wealthy but lost-in-the-‘60s lover.  In this fractured film, the relationships are sketchy and unsatisfying and most of the actors miscast—but maybe it was planned that way.  The camera work is so sloppy it had to have been pre-meditated, and the non-linear storyline so confusing that it’s a crime.  The black-and-white flashbacks of Wilson (from an old Terrence Stamp movie) are fascinating, and an ingenious addition.  Wouldn’t it be great, though, to see Terence star in something a little less “artistic” and more fitting to his talent.  (Rated R: profanity; graphic violence throughout)

(April 11, 2000)

DRIVE ME CRAZY

We’re in big trouble if aliens from the planet Klatu Nebula receive transmissions of this movie and believe it’s a historical document.  It’s Hollywood’s version of high school romance.  You know what that means: lewd sexual dialogue, parentless parties with lots of booze, a moronic principal and totally self-centered, weirdish parents.  Melissa Joan Hart is the girl next door who’s on all the right committees and just brimming over with school spirit.  Adrian Grenier is her former treehouse buddy, now a sultry rebel—albeit a closet intellectual—who’s just not with it.  There’s a half-hearted attempt at bringing the hip kids and the nerds together, but in today’s society who can really tell which is which?  Based on a novel for young adults, this flick alternately embarrasses and intrigues teenagers with crude references to bulimia and sex. Would I give my kid money to see this movie?  You’ve gotta be kidding.  (PG-13: profanity, coarse comments and sexual dialogue; heavy make-out scenes; brief violence)

(April 11, 2000)

BONE COLLECTOR

A better than average thriller propelled even higher by Denzel Washington’s passionate performance as a paraplegic.  If you think this is a contradiction in terms, you have to see the movie.  He’s Detective Thyme, a New York-based forensics specialist seriously injured in the line of duty who wants to “self-terminate.” The NYPD, though, needs his expertise to ferret out a serial killer.  Angelina Jolie is the policewoman who reluctantly assists him, and Queen Latifah is Rhyme’s no-nonsense live-in nurse.  Great casting and great chemistry.  Jolie doesn’t break character when firing a gun (unlike Ashley Judd in “Double Jeopardy”) and the background music, a wistful Rakhmaninoff-ish sound, corresponds perfectly with her solitary explorations into the bowels of old New York.  The ghostly, decomposing bodies aren’t graphic enough to scare away the squeamish; on the other hand, they’re too tame for the hard-core.  (Rated R: profanity; grim crime scenes and photographs; brutal murders w/knives)

(April 11, 2000)

DOUBLE JEOPARDY

Ashley Judd proves just how fast a good girl can go bad.  She’s Libby, a devoted wife and mother living in a palatial home on Whidbey Island [Washington] who’s convicted of stabbing her husband to death on a sailboat.  There’s no weapon and no witnesses, but she’s incarcerated for six years anyway—then lightning strikes: Nick framed her for the insurance money.  Once released, Libby puts the nebulous “double jeopardy” law to the test by raising hell in three states looking for him so she can finish the job.  Ashley Judd sleepwalks through much of her performance and only comes alive when committing criminal acts (hey, those Armani dresses are expensive).  The women in the prison bark a little but have no bite, and Tommy Lee Jones gives a lackluster performance as a parole officer.  The only believable person is Nick (Bruce Greenwood), a smooth talking louse if there ever was one.  A couple of scenes will delight the shoot-‘em-up, bang-‘em-up crowd, but the hairiest moments are when store clerks dispense information on private citizens after being given their social security numbers.  (Rated R: profanity; explicit sex scene w/nudity; bloody crime scene & graphic shooting)

(April 11, 2000)

RUNAWAY BRIDE

A surprisingly good film and more substantive than previews indicated.  Richard Gere plays a writer who’s fired from a major New York newspaper after publishing an erroneous article regarding a woman with a long history of jilting men at the altar.  He travels to her rural town in Maryland to prove himself right.  As coincidence would have it, Maggie’s engaged again and the wedding date is right around the corner.  A simple storyline with a psychological twist. Richard Gere displays a rare, playful side, and Julia Roberts once again establishes herself as a favorite with the viewing audience.  A film fit for the whole family…if it weren’t for a couple of the randy grandmother’s remarks.  (Rated PG: brief, salacious remarks)

(April 11, 2000)

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

Kevin Costner at his very best as a baseball veteran of 19 years who’s playing the last game of the season.  Pitching for the Detroit Tigers against the New York Yankees, he’s determined to throw a perfect game after being told that his team’s been sold and he’s being traded.  He’s also just been dumped by his part-time girlfriend (Kelly Presto) of five years.  The baseball scenes, with Costner actually doing the pitching, are fascinating and could have carried the whole movie.  He reminisces on the mound about each opposing batter while trading hand signals back and forth with the catcher…a sort of baseball psychology.  It enhances rather than destroys the mystique of the game, but the flashbacks of his stormy relationship with girlfriend Jane dilute the film’s final impact, which could have been substantial.  (Rated PG-13: some profanity; implied sex scenes)

(April 25, 2000)

THE SIXTH SENSE

Cocoa Puffs, never the breakfast of champions, precipitates a scene with poltergeist activity in this movie.  Then it gets really scary.  Nine-year-old Cole (Haley Joel Osment, who was nominated for an Academy Award) is called a “freak” by his unsympathetic schoolmates because he can’t seem to get through a day without seeing dead people.  “They don’t know they’re dead,” he whispers, “and they’re everywhere.” Bruce Willis plays child psychologist, Dr. Crowe, who’s obsessed with the pensive-faced boy because of parallel problems to a deceased patient.  Cole, who should have gone bonkers by now, is counseled by the doctor to welcome the spirits rather than give them a good swift kick in their otherworldly bottoms.  Little Cole becomes an advocate for ghosts, solves a murder by getting chummy with a dead girl and gets the lead in the school play—almost all in the same day.  The ending is truly spectacular, impossible to divine (you’ll burn up the rewind button on your remote control trying to figure out what you missed). There are some frustrating loopholes, but on the whole it’s all rather predictable: a chilly house and spirits with leering, bloody faces—who leave deep scratches on Cole’s back and arms.  A new definition of child abuse?  (Rated PG-13: bloody shooting; bloody ghosts; slight profanity)

 (April 25, 2000)

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