Thursday, October 12, 2023

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1998: Summer Hits

We've seen Wild Things and Wilde things, so let's get on to blockbusters - not just action ones, but comedy, too!

release: July 1
nominee: Best Original Song ("I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing"), Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects

Didn't Roger Ebert call this a two-hour trailer? Not completely unfair, very few shots, very few moments
are allowed to just sit and exist; why, when you could cut to 1,000 different angles of Keith David glowering? But it's a style, and one that never really becomes a problem until our heroes - a team of oil drillers tasked with training as astronauts so that they can go to space and destroy a "world-killer" asteroid - are actually in the midst of their mission. Leading up to that Asteroid Act, it's a guilty pleasure spectacle focused on Bruce Willis and team doing "bits," with the occasional reminder that entire places like, oh, Paris, can be obliterated by falling space rock. All fun and games until the crew winds up separated atop the asteroid, at which point you realize you don't know where or who anyone is, and except for Steve Buscemi's space madness schtick, it starts to dull. But dammit, then Bruce makes his decision and the tears flow and vague images of small-town Americans waving the flag get me right back on board. It's bloated in every way, and yet!

release: July 10

As first features that started as a thesis film go, this is absolutely that (yelling! conspiracy! black-and-white!). Cool sets, love Matthew Libatique's cinematography.

There's Something About Mary
release: July 15

Oh my gosh, I loved this movie. Ben Stiller is Ned, who's never gotten over the girl he almost went to prom with, Mary (Cameron Diaz); he hires an investigator (Matt Dillon) to track her down, and then that guy falls for her...but soon learns he has to compete with basically every other guy who crosses Mary's path. Doesn't just make Mary some trophy or tease, either, but an intelligent, funny, kind-hearted,  hard-working woman given to occasional flights of fancy (Nepal?) and is far too trusting. Is it her fault that she attracts some extreme sleazebags who believe they deserve her...or at least that no one else does? Dillon is the highlight, for me, another notch in his South Florida Sleaze belt. And, I don't know, I feel like it really is laughing at the ableists, not the special needs characters. Am I wrong? 

The Mask of Zorro
release: July 17
nominee: Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing

Original Zorro trains a new Zorro to fight an old enemy who wants to annex California into an independent nation - and murder the poor while doing so. Directed by Martin Campbell, the master of action who also helmed GoldenEye, Casino Royale, and The Foreigner, so we get great fight scenes, organic comedy, a hot romance, and a superb movie. Antonio Banderas is beautiful. Catherine Zeta-Jones has an accent sometimes. Anthony Hopkins, what an actor! The sounds of the swashbuckling swords, of boots across dirt and cobblestones, of galloping hooves racing to the rescue...le cinema!

release: July 22

The second version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, this one a more literal reading of the text. Some elements - the cinematography, the score by Ennio Morricone, Suzanne Shepherd as Miss Pratt - really work. But it seems to take Humbert Humbert at his word, with script, director Adrian Lyne, and star Jeremy Irons conspiring to make a sympathetic portrait of a man who falls in love with a manipulative, seductive child. It's a difficult novel to adapt, but James Mason's pompous cruelty - and general lack of self-awareness - was closer to the mark. You can't like Humbert, is the thing, and this movie does.

Disturbing Behavior
release: July 24

Beautiful James Marsden and his family move to a small town on an island, where the popular kids maintain an almost Stepfordian perfection - and, naturally, there's a dark secret as to why. Would be unremarkable were it not for the "let's go for it" attitudes of Marsden, Nick Stahl, and Bruce Greenwood. Feels like it's missing some connective tissue. A last-minute stinger begging for a sequel is desperate, but you don't resent it. I might actually watch this again, it's fun.

Ever After
release: July 31

Subtitled "A Cinderella Story" in its marketing material, this is a Renaissance romance (what a time for those!) about, well, a girl with a dead father and wicked stepmother who becomes a servant, attends a ball, finds a prince, blah blah blah. Oh, but the details here! No "love at first sight" mishegas here, this is the tale of mistaken identity, of a romance of the mind between a runaway prince who yearns for something more and a servant pretending to be a courtier with the mind of an intellectual. Anjelica Huston lays it on deliciously thick as the villainess who is always for those quiet interludes late at night when she's forced to reflect. Maybe my favorite Drew Barrymore performance. There are no fairy godmothers or enchanted pumpkins, yet it is magic. "The point, gentlemen, is that they lived."

Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later
release: August 5

The first film in the franchise to have Laurie Strode deal with the scars of what happened in Haddonfield in 1978. Jamie Lee Curtis gives a performance, believably portraying a woman who's gotten her life together but every year finds the facade difficult to maintain. I love that it's not a secret from her son (Josh Hartnett! First film! Great!), but a shared confidence between them. Takes its time too, slowly gettign Michael to California, gathering its ensemble closer together, until finally turning him loose on them in the final twenty minutes. They really could have ended it right here, that finale is a blast (I'm glad they didn't, if just for Halloween Ends).

How Stella Got Her Groove Back
release: August 14

Stella goes to Jamaica on a girls' trip with her best friend, but her island fling with a man 20 years younger may become something more. I actually don't think they work as a couple, but I don't know that the movie exactly suffers because of that. After all, this is about a woman reaching a time in her life when she says, "What do I want?" and taking risks - without neglecting or endangering her kid, I might add. Angela Bassett navigates this well, you can see her seeing herself, not believing the things she's saying and doing, a little nervous, a little excited. You believe in the friendship between her and Whoopi Goldberg, too - hell, you believe in the sisterhood between her and Whoopi Goldberg, they are connected.

Slums of Beverly Hills
release: August 14

In the late 1970s, a family of nomads moves about Beverly Hills, as seen through the eyes of the 14-year-old daughter. Frank coming-of-age comedy, every cast member evidence of its greatness: Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, David Krumholtz, Kevin Corrigan, Jessica Walter, Carl Reiner, Rita Moreno - how can you lose? You can't, you don't! It's a sweet movie about the odd love between family members no matter what the challenges, the scars, the frustrations, the deep flaws. Just when you fear it could go sideways, it reorients itself, challenges you.

One True Thing
release: September 18
nominee: Best Actress (Meryl Streep)

Renee Zellweger is a writer who idolizes her English professor dad William Hurt and thinks little of happy homemaker momma Meryl Streep, but the latter's cancer diagnosis has her reevaluate herself, her parents, and their family dynamics. Very easy to dismiss as a kneejerk Meryl Streep nomination, but such a dismissal ignores a well-told story, not of family secrets, but of family half-truths, the assumptions we think are true because we haven't been told otherwise, the beginning of understanding between parent and child (never a complete understanding, mind) - and the secret complexity of a woman who dared to be content. Warm cinematography, subtly effective cinematography, and smart writing performed wonderfully.

Rush Hour
release: September 18

Buddy cop flick! This time it's a fast-talking Black LAPD detective teaming up with a quick-fighting Hong Kong detective for international intrigue set in the year following the handover of Hong Kong. There's a reason this franchise has been successful enough for three of these: Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are great together! They're funny! The action rules! Chan's whole "aw, gee, I don't fight if I gotta" schtick is hilarious! Lalo Schifrin's score! You won't hear any naysaying from me on this one.

Urban Legend
release: September 25

College kids get killed according to urban legends. Sometimes calls out the modern myths it's riffing on, sometimes you just have to know them yourself. Anonymous characters, breakneck pace - it almost plays like it wants to get the whole thing over with. It gets by thanks to an A-plus killer reveal monologue and a high body count.

Also today: it is October, so a host of monsters, witches, and disturbing secrets await...

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