Film Review: Election (1999)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1999 (limited)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Based on: Election by Tom Perrotta
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Colleen Camp, Nicholas D’Agosto, Holmes Osborne, Matt Malloy, Frankie Ingrassia

Bona Fide Productions, MTV Films, Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Larry, we’re not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.” – Jim McAllister

I didn’t know much about this movie the first time I saw it but I liked it quite a bit.

Back in 1999, it didn’t come out with a lot of fanfare or really much promotion and sort of just came and went in the theaters quickly. I saw it once it came out on VHS and thought it deserved more recognition than it initially got. Luckily, it did become a bit of a cult classic fairly quickly.

When I see this now, my brain can’t help but to think of this as the origin story of Hillary Clinton. I don’t mean that to be an asshole but there are a lot of similarities between what we know about her now and how the character of Tracy Flick was played in the film by Reese Witherspoon in one of her best early performances.

The film also stars Matthew Broderick and at the time, this was the first time I saw him and thought of him as old. He really wasn’t but he had matured quite a bit since his most iconic roles in Ferris Bueller and WarGames. Regardless of that, this is my favorite performance of his career, as he plays a good guy that becomes corrupted by the power he wields and his burning desire to stop a future political monster before she really has the chance to effect the real world. He’s also approaching his midlife crisis point and makes some poor life decisions because of that.

You also have Chris Klein in this as the third main character. While I’m not a big fan of Klein’s, he’s really good in this and it’s almost like the role was tailor made for him. He’s good as a popular but nice, optimistic jock that genuinely cares about all the people around him. This is my favorite thing that he’s done, as well.

The film’s plot is really good and well constructed. There are a lot of layers and several characters to balance but the movie does that rather well while also making you care about the lives of the core people involved.

This isn’t a predictable film and it takes some interesting turns with some of the smaller subplots. The main story is pretty straightforward and while you can guess where it’s going, it’s still got a few surprises.

The film’s director, Alexander Payne, would go on to have a pretty impressive career. He followed this film up with the Jack Nicholson starring About Schmidt and then one of the Academy Awards’ darlings of 2004, Sideways.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other quirky ’90s comedies, as well as other films by Alexander Payne.

Film Review: Rogue Trader (1999)

Also known as: Trader (France), Money Trader (Japanese English title)
Release Date: June 25th, 1999 (UK, Ireland, US TV premiere)
Directed by: James Dearden
Written by: James Dearden
Based on: Rogue Trader: How I Brought Down Barings Bank and Shook the Financial World by Nick Leeson, Edward Whitley
Music by: Richard Hartley
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Anna Friel, Pip Torrens

Granada Film Productions, Newmarket, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, fuck the rules, Tony. It’s barrow boys like Nick who are turning the City of London around. You can’t run a modern financial centre with a bunch of Hooray Henries.” – Ron Baker

I saw this movie back in 1999 and generally liked it but I hadn’t seen it since then and after recently revisiting the Wall Street movies, I wondered how well this one would hold up over two decades later.

For the most part, it’s pretty good and I thought that Ewan McGregor did well with the material, bringing a real energy to the film, which on it’s own, would’ve been really mundane without him.

Point being, McGregor is so good that it makes this a better picture than it should have been and he carries the rest of the cast in every scene. But honestly, that’s okay, as the end result worked and you cared enough about him and his situation that you wanted to see this all play out.

From a production standpoint, the cinematography, camera work and overall look of the picture feels cheap. If I’m being honest, this feels like more of a TV movie than a theatrical one, which is probably why it debuted on television in the US market where it saw theatrical releases overseas.

When compared to films like Wall Street 1 and 2The Wolf of Wall Street and the grossly underrated Boiler Room, this doesn’t hold a candle to them.

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, though, this one is a true story and it’s an interesting enough story deserving of being told in the motion picture medium. However, the story probably deserves a better movie than what this turned out to be. The real story is fascinating and I don’t think that it really came through, here.

Still, this is good and it’s certainly worth checking out for Ewan McGregor and the part that he played quite greatly.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like Boiler Room and the Wall Street movies.

Film Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Release Date: November 17th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher
Based on: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Ray Park, Lisa Marie, Peter Guinness, Martin Landau (uncredited)

Mandalay Pictures, American Zoetrope, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” – Ichabod Crane

This is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies and every time I watch it, it just makes me wish that he did more straight up fantasy horror films.

This is Burton’s take on the famous story by Washington Irving but it takes the Sleepy Hollow legend and makes it a lot darker and more badass than other adaptations. For many, the classic Disney animated version is probably the one they’re most familiar with. This Sleepy Hollow is very different.

I love that this is gothic horror at its core and you can see the influences of Hammer Films, as well as those Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price. In fact, Burton does more than homage Hammer, here, as he also includes some Hammer legends in the film: Michael Gough and Christopher Lee, to be specific.

This also features Ian McDiarmid and a visually obscured Ray Park, making it the only movie to feature Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Maul: Star Wars can’t even claim that.

Anyway, the film is led by Johnny Depp and I love him in this. He plays a sort of whimsical, awkward character and his version of Ichabod Crane shows early signs of what Depp would later create as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

I love the humor in this movie and I don’t think that it would’ve worked quite the same way without Depp. Here we have a great investigator that has to get down and dirty… and often times bloody. The humorous bit is that he’s a germaphobe and winces every time he has to do something unsettling or gross. It’s a reoccurring gag throughout the film but it works every time and it isn’t overused.

Depp also has Christina Ricci to play off of and I always like when these two are together. I honestly wish that they worked together more often, as they have real chemistry and always tend to accentuate each other’s performance.

The rest of the cast is padded out with some immense talent between Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Lisa Marie and Casper Van Dien, who had just come off of the cult classic Starship Troopers.

I enjoy the look and tone of the film and my only real complaint about it is that it seems a bit too drawn out. The story is too complex and should have been refined and tweaked to bring the film down to around 90 minutes. It doesn’t really need more than that but at the same time it could’ve also used a bit more head chopping and action.

Apart from that, the only other negative is that the CGI looks cheesy in two parts but both of those moments happen really quick and it doesn’t wreck the film. I just found it a little bit jarring in those split seconds and it does pull you out of this period piece setting.

In the end, this is still pretty solid and it’s one of the highpoints of ’90s horror, as the decade came to a close and gave us a new millennium full of subpar, mostly shitty horror.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other gothic horror films around 2000, as well as other Tim Burton films with Johnny Depp.

Film Review: End of Days (1999)

Release Date: November 16th, 1999 (US premiere)
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Written by: Andrew W. Marlowe
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, Rod Steiger, CCH Pounder, Derrick O’Connor, Miriam Margolyes, Udo Kier, Mark Margolis

Lucifilms, Beacon Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“How do you expect to defeat me when you are but a man, and I am forever?” – Satan

This may be the worst Arnold Schwarzenegger movie I have ever seen. It’s truly deplorable on just about every level. Granted, it did give the world that awesome “choir boy” line.

I’m sure there are a few worse Schwarzenegger movies, as he’s made a lot and a good amount of the later ones are shit, but I tend to stick to his ’80s and early ’90s stuff. There are still a handful (or slightly more) that I’ve never seen due to a lack of interest on my part. Honestly, everything after Eraser, kind of just blends into a big blur.

That being said, this is the first time that I’ve watched this film in its entirety, as I just didn’t have much interest in it back when it came out in late 1999, at the dawn of the new millennium.

Also, at the time, these “end of days” movies were coming out in droves, as the fear of Y2K and the new millennium in general spawned a huge resurgence in religious horror. From memory, none of them were all that good, except for maybe The Devil’s Advocate but it’s been so long since I’ve seen that one.

End of Days just sort of follows the trend of the time but throws in Arnold and tries to give it an action movie twist, as opposed to just being about religious horror.

The movie was originally written to be a vehicle for Tom Cruise. I assume that he read the script and ran because he eventually said “no” and then went off to film Magnolia, which was a really wise decision. There were also three casting changes with the lead female character. It eventually went to Robin Tunney, who I like in just about everything, but the role was first given to Liv Tyler and then Kate Winslet; both dropped out.

There were production issues in locking down a director too, as it was offered to both Sam Raimi and Guillermo del Toro but they turned it down to focus on their original projects. Marcus Nispel was hired, at one point, but he dropped out due to issues with the script. The studio finally brought in Peter Hyams, who was coming off of The Relic and two Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks: Sudden Death and Timecop but was probably most famous for directing The Presidio, 2010 and Outland, a space western with Sean Connery.

However, despite all these early production issues, they really aren’t the biggest problems with this movie.

The script is just detestable. It’s really bad. It’s cookie cutter, generic, “Satan comes to Earth” schlock of the cheapest and lamest caliber. It’s not a good story, it’s derivative as hell and simply wedging action into the plot doesn’t make it cool or even salvageable. Frankly, all the twists are predictable and you can sleep through most of the movie without waking up, feeling lost.

What’s even worse than the script are the special effects. This has some of the worst CGI effects I’ve ever seen in a big budget movie, even for the time. The stealth armor effects of Predator, which predates this by twelve years, blows this out of the water in regards to its “invisible” Satan scenes.

Additionally, the big CGI Satan is laughably bad and it completely wrecks the final battle within the movie.

There’s honestly a lot I could pick apart about End of Days but to put it simply and to wrap this up, it’s just lowest common denominator horseshit and even though Schwarzenegger has made some real crap in his career, the guy deserved better than this.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: all the other religious horror that was running rampant around the turn of the millennium.

Documentary Review: Beyond the Mat (1999)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, New Jack, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Darren Drozdov, Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Dennis Stamp, Tony Jones, Mike Modest, Roland Alexander, Dave Meltzer, Chyna, Spike Dudley, Koko B. Ware, Jesse Ventura

Universal Family and Home Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Lions Gate Films, 102 Minutes, 108 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I could never get over the fact that guys could beat the crap out of each other in the ring, and be friendly outside of it. Some of Terry’s most famous matches were against a man twenty years his junior: Mick Foley. Over the years, Mick and Terry had traveled the world, setting each other on fire, tossing each other into barbed wire. Yet outside the ring, they were truly at peace with one another.” – Barry W. Blaustein

Considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestling documentary of all-time, it’s almost a crime that this wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for an Academy Award. Watching this all these years later, it still holds up and is damn compelling, top to bottom.

Beyond the Mat is intriguing on just about every level and every story featured in this documentary is well told, well presented and edited into the larger tapestry so neatly that I feel as if this would be a great watch even for those who aren’t all that interested in professional wrestling.

One of the most engaging things about it is that it really shows you the behind the scenes stuff from the WWF corporate offices, as well as what goes down backstage during a massive, flagship pay-per-view event. In this case, the film features the main event of the 1999 Royal Rumble, a brutal “I Quit” match between Mick Foley and The Rock.

That being said, it does feel like some parts of this documentary are heavily sensationalized, like the reactions of Foley’s wife and small kids during the Royal Rumble match. Of course the kids are going to cry when the mother is freaking out in an over the top way when she knows the cameras are on her. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a legitimate reaction but it was definitely captured and then sold to the audience as something much worse than it needed to be.

While it is obvious that this wanted to pull the wool over Vince McMahon’s eyes, initially, it’s fine in that it wanted to expose the darker sides of the business. Those darker sides exist, especially back then, and showing the underbelly beyond the lights and pageantry is why this probably did a lot more good than bad in how the business has evolved and tried to improve over the years since this came out.

Ultimately, this isn’t perfect but it’s damn entertaining.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other professional wrestling documentaries, most notably Wrestling With Shadows.

Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1999)

Release Date: October 27th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: William Malone
Written by: Dick Beebe, Robb White
Based on: House On Haunted Hill by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combs, Slavitza Jovan, Lisa Loeb, Peter Graves (cameo), Greg Nicotero (uncredited)

Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt. He out-butchered Bundy, made Manson look meek.” – Peter Graves

Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched this but for some odd reason, it holds a special place in my dark heart. I’m not sure if it is due to when it came out and the effect of nostalgia or because I actually consider it to be better than the film it is a remake of, which almost feels sacrilegious to type because Vincent Price, that film’s star, is why I fell in love with horror to begin with.

Generally, I’m not a fan of remakes in the same way I’m not a fan of cover songs. I really feel as if these things should only exist if they can justify themselves by being better or at the very least, being an interesting new take on the source material they are borrowing from.

1999’s House On Haunted Hill is a really good example of a film that takes its inspiration from its predecessor and makes it something else without sacrificing what the original vision was. It’s not an easy task to achieve but Dark Castle really started out on a good foot with this, their first of a few classic horror remakes.

Ultimately, this takes the formula from William Castle’s classic haunted house tale and ups the ante in a way that is very ’90s. It’s more extreme, has a fair bit of good gore and it updates the concept into something contemporary for the time. It’s also more of a psychological horror film and goes places that the original one couldn’t. The scene in the hallucination chamber is well done and actually kind of terrifying, even for a horror aficionado like myself.

That being said, there are three key things that make this remake a solid one.

The first is the ensemble cast. For a horror film with slightly more than a half dozen main players, we have an assemblage of some really good talent. Everyone sort of plays a typical horror archetype but they are all really good at it. I like everyone in this, top to bottom, regardless of whether or not they’re playing the innocent and good character thrown into a literal hell or they’re playing the evil, conniving bastard with some sort of dastardly trick up their sleeve.

Frankly, as good as everyone is in their roles, Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen steal every single scene they’re in. I can’t say that they outclass and out act every other actor here but they just rise to a different level and they seriously look like they are enjoying hamming it up in this twisted movie.

The second thing that makes this film work is the atmosphere. This isn’t the house from the original film. Instead, we’re trapped with these characters in a burned out art deco styled fortress of the 1930s, which was used as an insane asylum ran by an evil and sadistic doctor that used to butcher his patients.

Beyond that, the sets are incredible and the art direction in this film was magnificent. I really dig the lighting, the visual effects, the general cinematography and just about everything visual. The practical effects are great and even if the CGI feels dated now, it works for what this is and it doesn’t take you out of the picture like some of the CGI you’d see from this era. The Lovecraftian inspired blob of spirits is actually kind of cool and it works tremendously well with the tone of the film.

The third thing that works wonders is the score. The music is a great mix of a classic horror movie soundtrack and ’90s era industrial styled instrumentals. The film even features Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”, which adds another level of dread and atmosphere to the already effective presentation of the picture.

I’d like to give credit to the director, William Malone. He managed this project well and I have to give credit where it’s due, especially since I don’t like the other films that I’ve seen of his: Creature, FeardotCom and Parasomnia. But maybe I will give those movies a re-watch soon, as it’s been a long time.

When this came out, it was a film that critics hated but I remember most people enjoying it. It’s got a ’90s campiness to it but it’s far from comedy and I’d say that it’s aged well. It’s certainly better than what the modern standard seems to be in the horror genre.

I think that I’ll revisit Dark Castle’s Thirteen Ghosts remake soon, as it has been a long time since I’ve seen it but I had a good experience with it, back in the day. I may also finally watch the sequel to this film. I heard it’s nowhere near as good but with this fresh in my mind, I’d like to take another trip to the haunted asylum.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Film Review: The Matrix (1999)

Release Date: March 24th, 1999 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus

I enjoyed The Matrix films back when they were coming out but I was never an immense fan of them, despite their cultural influence and how they were heavily ripped off for other action and sci-fi films from the early ’00s.

It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen these, so most of the details have been lost to time and even though I remembered the gist of the story, I felt like I went into this with mostly fresh eyes.

This is the best film in the series or at least, it’s considered to be when looking at the critical and public opinion on this series. From my memory, I always liked this one the best and I’m assuming that the other two will still fall somewhere beneath this one when I revisit them over the next few weeks.

Overall, this film is pretty good in most aspects. However, there are some style choices that I don’t like, which actually bothered me back in the day too.

For starters, I’ve never been keen on the “bullet time” thing. I understand why certain moments were presented like this on screen but I always thought it was hokey looking in execution. Twenty years later, it looks dated and even more hokey. It’s also cliche but that’s really not this film’s fault as it was what brought that technique into the mainstream.

Also, I don’t like the movement during gunfights. The flipping off of walls with all limbs extended out is just going to make you a bigger target and for those who understand the physics of combat, it’s baffling and it shows off this film’s biggest weakness: style over substance (or practicality).

Plus, I don’t like how hard the film is trying to convince you that it is cool. Sure, it was cool in 1999 but the way coolness is achieved doesn’t quite work the same way in 2019. I’m not saying that the filmmakers should have predicted that because no one is an actual psychic but it dates the film.

I don’t like the use of filters in the movie either. The real world is shown in bluish hues while the Matrix itself is presented in a greenish tone. I understand the use of color to differentiate between the two spaces but it feels like the Wachowskis are trying to channel David Fincher and even though Fincher is a better director, I don’t like his overuse of color filters either.

In regards to the story, I have issues with that as well.

I guess my biggest gripe about it was the plot device where the Oracle told characters specific information about prophecies and whatnot and then later you find out she lied and it’s just brushed off with the line, “She told you what you needed to hear.” And why does this film have prophecies anyway? And where is the Oracle getting her info? And why does there need to be a “One”? It’s all kind of derivative, even by 1999.

Also, why does Agent Smith so badly want out of the Matrix? Why does he have emotions? He’s just a computer program, right? He should just follow programming without philosophizing about it. And can’t the Matrix fix his programming if it’s broken? Why does he care that the world within the Matrix is gross? How did he develop feelings and a personality? Why does he have such a grudge? Is all of this explained later because I don’t remember? Either way, it’s sloppy storytelling.

But all this criticism aside, I still like this movie. It’s hard to quantify why with all this baggage I just dumped on the floor but I think a lot of it has to do with the cast, their chemistry and how their performances propel the film forward. Also, if you don’t overthink it and just watch it as mindless entertainment, it is still a fun film with a lot of action and cool moments.

Some of the CGI looks bad in 2019 but this is still full of some incredible shots. That exploding helicopter scene still looks f’n fantastic.

It’s also best to ignore the limitations of technology for the time when this came out. Considering that everything in this film had to be done over hard wires, makes me wonder why this advanced artificial intelligence that wants to enslave humans weren’t using Wi-Fi. I mean, humans were using it pretty regularly less than a decade later. So in the year 2199 (or thereabouts) the evil robots hadn’t yet found a way to work around the hard wire problem? But again, the Wachowskis aren’t psychics.

Anyway, just ignore all the crap I just said in the previous 873 words and go into this film mindless with the intent of just enjoying some solid escapism from your own personal Matrix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1999 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I want to tell you my secret now.” – Cole Sear

For those that don’t remember the world in 1999, The Sixth Sense scared about as many people as Y2K.

This is a creepy film that penetrated the subconscious of its audience and went on to make its director, M. Night Shyamalan, one of Hollywood’s new “it boys” at the time.

I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater but being that this is its twentieth anniversary, I wanted to revisit it.

It’s not as good as I remembered it and for a long time, I considered it Shyamalan’s second best film after Unbreakable. It is still a much better than decent picture but it is sort of ruined by knowing the twist. However, it was also sort of diminished by knowing young Cole’s secret thanks to the marketing of the film in 1999.

Seeing this now, it is eerie from start to finish but the fact that you were clued in to the fact that Cole can “see dead people” before ever seeing the film, really takes away from that reveal. Plus, you go through half of this film before you actually see a ghost on screen. The first half of the film, had you not known the secret, could have been interpreted as Cole having severe mental issues.

Cole’s secret isn’t the big plot twist though, that comes at the end when it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ Crowe has been dead since the opening scene. I remember being in the theater and hearing everyone gasp when this was spelled out to the audience. That caught me by surprise, as I detected the twist pretty early on and just assumed the audience was supposed to know this all along. There were just too many hints that spelled it out for me before it had to be audibly stated and confirmed by the characters.

I think that the film is effective in how it creates atmosphere and makes you connect to its characters. The thing is, this feels more like a solid pilot for a show than a self contained story within a single film. I think that maybe this should have been a film series or at least found a way to be ongoing on television or books even. I left this film wanting to see Cole do good work in bringing tortured souls some peace.

This film did a nice job of sort of legitimizing horror and making it a bit more mainstream at the time. But the following decade wouldn’t be too kind to the genre, anyway. And this isn’t so much horror at its core, as it just happens to be a solid drama about a child psychiatrist and his very troubled patient. There just happens to be dead people in the story.

My biggest mark against the film is that it is really drawn out and moves at a snail’s pace until dead people start showing up about 50 minutes into the movie. I do like slow builds and suspense but the first half of this movie could have been whittled down.

In the end, this still does a good job of making a real human connection with its audience and it conjures up a thick sense of dread. But I can’t really call The Sixth Sense a classic, despite its cultural impact for the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Film Review: Dead or Alive (1999)

Also known as: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (original title), D.O.A. (short title)
Release Date: November 5th, 1999 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi

Daiei Film, Toei Video, Excellent Film, 105 Minutes

Review:

“My father was a small-village cop in a town where nothing ever happened. He just hung around like a scarecrow, until he died. But like they say – even a scarecrow keeps away the sparrows.” – Detective Jojima

People often ask me, “Hey, did you see that new Takashi Miike film?!” And my usual response is, “No.” People that know that I’m a hardcore film aficionado just assume that I like everything weird and strange out there but Miike’s movies have never really resonated with me and this one is no different.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the film. I respect lots of things that aren’t my cup of tea because a person doesn’t have to like everything just for the fact that others see value in it or just because it has some sort of merit or special quality that makes it unique or influential.

I understand why Miike’s films resonate with some people, just as I understand why David Lynch is so beloved, even if most of his films don’t hit me in the same way. But I also know that directors with really strange oeuvres have die hard fans that love everything they do almost blindly. Miike fans are very much like that, especially ones in the Western Hemisphere.

Dead or Alive is beloved by many but I just see it as a knockoff of old school Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong crime films with a bunch of crazy shit thrown into it to gross people out without a real reason for it to exist other than shock value.

Now I think that Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawa gave good performances and they deserve the recognition they received in these sort of films but lots of capable actors give capable performances in movies beneath their talent level.

I guess the only way I can describe this is that it’s like Infernal Affairs or The Departed if they were made by Troma and with Japanese dialogue.

Like other Miike films, a bunch of crazy, nonsensical shit happens with really fucked up curveballs thrown at your head pretty violently. Here we get a girl fucking a dog, a stripper drowned in a kiddie pool of diarrhea, a man snorting a 30 foot line of cocaine and a big finale that doesn’t make you suspend disbelief, it just shows you that you’re an idiot for thinking that you could.

This is a movie for people who want to relish in super violent, gross shit. This is the cinematic equivalent to poop munching porn. People will argue for the artistic merit of this film and Miike’s creative choices but I’m sure there’s someone that gets paid to analyze psych ward hieroglyphics that a mental patient finger-painted with their own feces.

Yet, Miike is pretty good at making this feel like one long, overly surreal music video. So props on the editing, I guess. Except for the middle of the film where things slow down to a brutally boring crawl.

I don’t want to completely trash Miike because he is capable of making good movies but I just don’t understand how and why this became a beloved film.

Dead or Alive was actually my introduction to Miike around the turn of the century. It didn’t set a good precedent and I do think that it has made me biased against his later work but I do think that Audition was a good movie and Ichi the Killer certainly felt more refined and accented his style better.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films that focus on crime or the Yakuza.

Film Review: Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

Also known as: Killing Mrs. Tingle (working title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: Kevin Williamson
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Jeffrey Tambor, Barry Watson, Marisa Coughlan, Liz Stauber, Molly Ringwald, Vivica A. Fox, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren

Dimension Films, Konrad Pictures, Interscope Communications, Miramax Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, Mrs. Tingle, threats are a sign of weakness.” – Leigh Ann Watson

I wouldn’t call myself a Katie Holmes fan. Granted, I thought she was hot as hell when I was a teenager around the time she rose to fame but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of her acting work. Still, I’ve weirdly been watching a lot of old Katie Holmes films but that’s probably because they all seem to be on my Starz app and I’ve been on a late ’90s kick as of late.

Anyway, this film is far from great and is pretty dumb. It thinks it’s clever and it has a sort of pretentiousness to it but it just doesn’t connect in any sort of way that I can call it an intelligent film.

Frankly, I almost felt bad seeing Helen Mirren in this. She did look like she was having fun hamming it up in this but it is a movie that is far below her talent level. She was also the best thing about the picture but that wasn’t enough to make this salvageable.

You also get small roles for Molly Ringwald, Michael McKean and Jeffrey Tambor but they’re sort of overshadowed by the film’s humdrum mediocrity.

The premise is about a girl who is trying to be the valedictorian of her school because with it comes a hefty scholarship. Her teacher, Mrs. Tingle, is a jealous, cantankerous bitch that wants the girl to fail. One thing leads to another, everything escalates in an insane way that just doesn’t feel plausible and we end up with three teens holding Mrs. Tingle hostage in her own home with no real plan as to where any of this is going. It felt like the script had no idea either and the ending is anticlimactic, terrible and also pretty damn implausible.

Weirdly, the film still has a small teaspoon of charm. I’m not sure why but even if the storytelling mechanics don’t work, there are some good bits that really only work because of how committed Mirren is to the bit.

This isn’t a film worth hating or a film with liking. It wasn’t a terrible way to spend an hour and a half but it wasn’t a good one either. This is one of those films that is in a sort of limbo of indifference for me. But if you are a hardcore Mirren fan, it’s probably worth checking out just to see her.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Katie Holmes movies from the era: Disturbing BehaviorGo and The Gift. Also, The Faculty and Idle Hands.