Reel Opinions


Monday, June 29, 2020

Irresistible

During his stint on The Daily Show from 1999 to 2015, Jon Stewart routinely proved himself to be one of the funniest and smartest men on television.  Now, with his new political comedy Irresistible, writer-director Stewart proves that he can make a likable satire of our current electoral climate (as if there was any doubt), but that he needs to tell his story with a slightly less obvious tone should he go back to the genre.  There's a fine cast and some good points made, but he's playing it a little safe here, and not being quite as cutting as I know he can be. 

The point that Stewart seems to be making here is that both sides, Republicans and Democrats, are guilty of the exact same dirty tricks, and will do just about anything to win.  Don't alert the media on that one, folks.  He takes aim at the current culture of politics, and how it is all about "talking heads" on the TV spinning the story, and how money controls everything.  Again, not exactly new revelations, but you keep on hoping that Stewart might have a trick or two up his sleeve.  There's an early scene where two strategists, one for the Democrats (Stewart's former Daily Show alum Steve Carell) and the other for the Republicans (Rose Byrne, sharply funny here), break from their usual talking points, and flat-out tell the media that they are lying to the American people on a regular basis.  Carell even signs off his speech by saying, "F-you, America".  We get what Stewart is trying to say and do with this scene, but it's a bit awkward, as the scene doesn't fit anywhere in the movie.  Is it a fantasy sequence?  A dream?  It just plays out, and then the movie completely forgets about it.  It's like an unconnected sketch from the rest of the film.

Once the movie settles into a consistent tone, things improve, though again, the movie is never quite as biting as the audience might be expecting.  Carell plays Gary Zimmer, who after spiraling into a depression from the results of Election Night November 2016, is ready to be back on his game in preparations for 2020.  Gary is looking for a non-traditional Democratic candidate, someone who can appeal to the small town rural communities who routinely vote Republican.  He thinks he's found his man when one of his staff shows him a viral video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a former Marine, single dad and farmer from the small Wisconsin town of Deerlaken.  In the video, Jack is making an impassioned speech about freedom and doing what's right when it looks like the town's Mayor is going to make it more difficult for immigrants to vote in the next election.  To Gary, Jack looks like the very model of what he's looking for.  Someone with Americana charm, but ideals that appeal to the Left.  As Gary says, "He's a Democrat, he just doesn't know it yet".

Gary flies over to Deerlaken, where he hopes to woo Jack into running for Mayor.  Cue the expected gags of the guy from Washington D.C. trying to fit in with the simple, small town folks, and not doing a very good job of it.  When he tracks down Hastings at his farm, the steely and firm man is reluctant about Gary's proposal, but eventually agrees only if Gary will run the campaign from top to bottom.  The town that Jack hails from is the kind of place that has seen most of its jobs disappear over time, and desperately needs a shot in the arm.  With Gary's help, Jack's campaign gains national attention, which of course is the whole point.  Gary wants the Republicans to notice what he's doing.  Naturally, they do, and they send their own strategist Faith Brewster (Byrne) to the town in order to take over the incumbent Mayor's (Brent Sexton) campaign.  It turns into a competition of who can raise the most money, get the most donors, and basically use every facet of the town to their advantage in the battle for votes.

Though flawed, Irresistible comes to vibrant life every time Carell and Byrne share the screen to the point that you wish they did it more here.  They're hilarious whether they're trading barbs on live TV, or doing the same thing from their hotel rooms, which are right next to each other and have paper thin walls.  Cooper is also excellent as Jack, who seems to hold an old-fashioned American spirit, and only wants to make things better for his adult daughter (Mackenzie Davis).  Everyone is great here, you just wish that Stewart's material was a bit less on the nose.  He throws in some small laughs (I liked it when Carell and his team have to resort to sitting in a car outside of the high school in order to use their computer equipment, because it's the only spot in town with WiFi.), but not the big or biting ones that we have come to know from him.  He's making a nice little comedy here, and that's fine.  But with this kind of talent, I kind of wanted him to aim higher. 

Still, what's here does work well enough.  I guess I had bigger expectations walking in because I know what Stewart is capable of.  During his years on his comedy news show, he shook up a lot of politicians and political norms.  Here, he's making a likable but kind of obvious take on political greed.  It's nice and all, but I personally expected more than just likable. 

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Monday, June 22, 2020

The King of Staten Island

Director Judd Apatow, for better or worse, always tries to find the pain behind the laughs in his comedies, and in his latest film, The King of Staten Island, he really dives deep into the life and past of his star and co-writer, Pete Davidson.  Best known for being the youngest member of the current Saturday Night Live cast, Davidson loosely based the screenplay on his personal struggle of trying to find his place in the world, and moving on beyond the death of his father, who was a firefighter who was killed on 9/11 when Pete was just seven-years-old.

Even though not everything in the movie is based on real life, you constantly feel that Pete Davidson has lived through a lot of the struggles that his character experiences.  These include a general sense of aimlessness (he spends a majority of his time on the couch, watching TV or smoking weed), mental illness, and even suicidal depression, such as in the opening scene where he is driving down the road with his eyes closed.  This is a movie that offers plenty of big laughs, but is also not afraid to explore the darker reaches of its main character, and it's all the more successful because of that.  With this film, Davidson not only proves himself a comic leading man, but a fine actor in general.  Just watch his face in the scene where he's in the back seat of his car, listening to other people talking about how life has passed him by.  It's a genuinely fine performance.

His character, Scott Carlin, is a 24-year-old layabout who openly admits there's something wrong with him, but he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to turn his life around.  His goal is to be a tattoo artist, with the ultimate dream being to open the world's first tattoo restaurant, where people can dine while they get fresh ink on their bodies.  Just like Davidson in real life, Scott has never recovered over the loss of his firefighter dad when he was a child, and is not afraid to share his opinion about his father and his line of work with others.  In Scott's mind, firemen should not have children, in case they don't come home.  That way, nobody has to go through the feelings that Scott has had to deal with.  He spends most of his time with his small gang of friends in a basement, getting stoned while watching The Purge or playing video games.  Scott sees nothing wrong with this life.  As he says, "I like it here.  It's safe".

It's a common theme in Apatow films for the main character to be suffering from some kind of arrested development, and for their main pastime to be smoking pot.  After all, he is the filmmaker who made Seth Rogen a star.  But The King of Staten Island obviously comes from a much more personal place, so it doesn't feel quite so rehashed.  Yes, the filmmaker is covering material he's mined before, but just like always, there's a lot of truth and genuine heartfelt emotion behind the crude laughs.  Scott lives at home with his mother Margie (a wonderful Marisa Tomei), who is having a hard time dealing with the fact that her youngest daughter (Maude Apatow, daughter of Judd) is heading off for college, as well as with the fact that Scott is probably never going to move on and get his act together.  She puts on a brave smile when her son tells her that he will never leave her side.  Margie has had to put her life on hold to raise these kids on her own, and now she fears that she's going to be just as stuck as Scott seems to be.

That all changes when she meets Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), a firefighter himself who comes bundled with a sarcastic ex-wife (Pamela Adlon), two young kids, and a possible gambling problem.  They connect over a string of dates, and soon Margie is toying with the idea of a relationship.  Scott makes his hatred of this idea and of Ray in general well known from the moment she tells him.  In fact, seeing his mother around the guy only intensifies the memories of his father.  In a smart move, the film follows Scott's eventual maturing and thawing of his emotions, but in a way that does not seem forced, nor does the movie end with everything tied up.  We see Scott bond with Ray's kids during the walks he takes with them to school, and he even eventually warms up a little to Ray and his fellow firefighters, one of whom (played by Steve Buscemi, a former real-life firefighter) helps Scott understand that his father was more than just a tragic hero.

I appreciated the honesty and the respect that the screenplay had for these characters.  This is a movie made up of little victories and moments, not grand reconciliations and conquering of personal past demons while the music swells on the soundtrack.  Like a lot of Apatow's previous films, this movie gives his entire cast moments to stand out, both comically, and in this case, dramatically.  It's also not afraid to show us the flaws of its characters.  Scott is aimless and immature at times, Ray has a temper and maybe his ex-wife despises him for a reason, Margie has probably let her son get away with too much over the years.  The fact that this movie is able to focus on both the pain and the humor of these kind of situations, sometimes both in the same scene, is its strongest aspect in my eyes.  I also greatly appreciated the tone that the film ends on, with general happiness, but a lot of doors open and questions about where these people will go remaining.


The King of Staten Island does run a little too long at 135 minutes, which is another trait most of Apatow's films share.  But this time, it didn't bother me as much.  These are people that I wanted to spend a lot of time with, and was happy for the opportunity to do so.  It's definitely the director's best film in a while, and it also marks Pete Davidson as a strong leading man who is not afraid to show the worst of his character (or himself) to an audience.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Lovebirds

Michael Showalter's The Lovebirds tells a familiar story, but it does so with a lot of comic energy and fresh dialogue.  It's also the best work that star Kumail Nanjiani has done since his breakthrough big screen leading role in 2017's The Big Sick (which Showalter also directed), and gives his co-star Issa Rae (from The Photograph) a great opportunity to show off her strong comedic timing. 

Nanjiani and Rae play a couple named Jibran and Leilani, who were deeply in love when they met four years ago, but years of living together have allowed them to drive each other crazy.  In one of the smart moves the screenplay makes, when we see their argument that opens the film, it's not the usual disagreement over commitment issues that we see in sitcoms and romantic comedies.  They are arguing over petty things, like whether or not they would be able to win if they managed to be on The Amazing Race together, and the value of reality television in general.  This is an early sign that the movie is going to be smarter and wittier than you might expect, and luckily it does not betray this early promise.  Their disagreements continue as they drive to a friend's dinner party, and the two soon come to realize that maybe they're not as right for each other as they initially thought four years ago.

Before they can contemplate this much further, their car suddenly strikes a man on a bike (Nicholas X. Parsons) that is on the run from another man (Paul Sparks) who claims to be a police officer, and commandeers their vehicle in order to chase after the bicycle man.  Not only does the officer catch up to the fleeing man, but he manages to run him over numerous times with the couple's car, and then gets out and shoots him dead.  The cop is forced to make a hasty exit, leaving the bewildered couple behind to take the rap for the murder.  Now Jibran and Leilani must race around New Orleans, trying to uncover the connection between the bicycle man and the killer cop, which naturally leads to much bigger things, such as a bizarre sex cult and possible political blackmail.

The Lovebirds
streaks on by at a brisk 85 minutes or so, which is really the perfect length, as it doesn't let the audience linger too much on its loopy and hole-riddled plot, and instead focus on the funny dialogue that has a definite edge, as well as the wonderful comedic chemistry that the lead stars bring to the project.  They're clearly having a blast playing off of each other, and the smart dialogue they're given is not only often genuinely funny, but sometimes surprisingly cutting.  I especially loved the moment where the couple are nervous when a police car driven by a white cop slows down as it drives by, with the officer staring at them.  The car just passes on by, however, and Jibran is relieved that the cop was just "a normal racist" giving them a suspicious glance.

Unlike a lot of movies of this type where innocent or unlikely people find themselves on the run, this movie doesn't try to distract us with a bunch of subplots or bizarre side characters.  And when it does fall back on these tropes, it does so with a lot of energy, such as their run-in with the crazed wife of a local senator who seems to have a passion for unconventional torture techniques (a very funny Anna Camp).  There are also no big action set pieces where the main characters are forced to suddenly become stunt drivers or action stars.  It's a low key movie with some great dialogue, and a pair of lead actors who are up to the challenge of delivering it.  I kind of love it when a movie has total confidence in its lead stars to carry the entire film on their own, and that's what happens here.

The Lovebirds
has a lot to be confident about.  It's simple, escapist entertainment that has been made by smart people, and carries a lot of energy.  It's a great reminder that a simple idea can still work, as long as that idea has been given the proper care and attention, as well as attracted the right people to tell it. 

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

An Update on Myself and This Blog

Hello, everyone!

I know that it has been a while since I posted anything new.  As I mentioned, I recently was laid off of my job, and I needed some time to rest and get myself together.

Well, the good news on that department is that I do have a path set toward a career.  I'm going to be taking an at home training program that comes highly recommended in order to study to be a court reporter.  It will take between 1 to 2 years to complete the course, but I am determined, and I have a lot of support, so I know I will be okay.  I am both excited and nervous to start the program in early July, but the program allows me to go at my own pace, and I will have a lot of help. 

Now for the movies.  My local theater has still not set a date as to when they will reopen.  They've announced that they will be showing classic movies for a while, but as I said, I do not know when they will reopen.

So, naturally, I'm not going to be doing reviews every week until new films start going into wide release.  Until then, I do plan to review some movies that I will be watching On Demand, similar to my review of Scoob! a few weeks ago.  The reviews will likely be scattered, so for a little while, I will be updating with new reviews when I can, not on a weekly basis like usual.

I appreciate your understanding and support, and please check back regularly for new reviews.  I plan to have my first new review up this weekend.  I'll try to update fairly regularly, that's for certain.

I promise to continue to update you all when needed, and not to keep you too much in the dark.  Just bear with me as I start this new path in my professional life.  I love writing these reviews, and I do not want to stop, so once the movie schedule is back to normal with regular wide releases, you will probably see weekly reviews here like before.  Again, I will update if anything changes.

Thanks again, and I hope everyone is safe and enjoying the early summer.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Scoob!

Scoob! opens with an extended 15-minute prologue that is heartfelt, charming and funny about how the cowardly Great Dane Scooby-Doo met his best friend Shaggy, and eventually the rest of his human pals who would become his mystery-solving cohorts.  Then, as soon as the opening titles leave the screen, the movie switches gears on us, and turns into a loud, zany, nonsensical action-adventure film with evil robots, and a plot to unleash the forces of the Underworld to destroy the world.  It's as if the filmmakers sent home the original writers, who respected the cartoon, and brought in Michael Bay and his team.

The movie is not terrible by any means, but it does seem overly chaotic and inspired more by modern day blockbusters than the long-running cartoon hit.  Case in point, this is not just a movie about Scooby-Doo and his friends, but it's also intended to be a launching point for a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe.  Scoob! is stuffed to the gills with cameos and blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to bygone characters and shows like Jabberjaw, Grape Ape, Atom Ant, Hong Kong Phooey, and Johnny Quest.  But that's not the only way in which modern day Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking has found its way here.  Make room for pointless celebrity cameos (Hi, Simon Cowell!), meta humor, buzzwords tossed into the dialogue with reckless abandon, and a plot centered around superheroes trying to prevent an apocalyptic event. 

If the film didn't resemble an explosion at the screenplay factory, this could have been fun.  Some of it is actually kind of fun, but the movie never slows down long enough to catch its breath.  Just as we're enjoying reuniting with the Scooby Gang consisting of the egotistical Fred (voice by Zac Efron), the brainy Velma (Gina Rodriguez), lovely Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and of course, life-long best pals Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (voice acting legend Frank Welker), the movie throws us directly into its insane plot.  One night while Shaggy and Scooby are bowling, they are attacked by killer robots, only to be rescued by the city's resident superhero the Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his canine cyborg sidekick Dynomutt (Ken Jeong).  The superheroes are on the trail of their arch nemesis, Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), who is hatching a scheme to resurrect Cerberus, the legendary three-headed hellhound, and for reasons that will not be revealed here, needs Scooby to do so.

It feels weird to see bungling goofballs like Shaggy and Scooby shoehorned into a story structure built around elaborate action sequences and apocalyptic evil.  The weird thing about Scoob! is that it does not disrespect the characters.  All the main classic characters act like they should.  Sure, there's been some controversy about how no one from the actual recent cartoons (save for Frank Welker) got to play their characters here, and were recast with "name" actors.  But, everybody fills the roles out well enough.  It's just that the main portion of the film feels so hollow.  Rather than playing on the natural chemistry of the characters, the movie has them racing through endless action, and mindless fight scenes.  It's like the filmmakers forgot the basic ingredients as to what has made the show endure for some 60 years.

The thing is, they didn't.  Those opening 15 minutes I told you about at the beginning are absolutely pitch perfect.  We get child versions of the main characters, which is an idea that was explored back in the 80s with the Saturday Morning cartoon A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, and we get to see how they all met and ultimately teamed up to solve a haunted house mystery on Halloween Night.  These scenes capture the innocence, humor and charm of the original.  That's why the rest of the movie is so jarring.  It really does feel like a completely different team of writers and storypeople worked on the prologue, and the main film itself.  Whatever the case, I was grateful for the opening sequence, which is sweet and funny in ways the rest of the movie is not.

Scoob! would be your typical big budget mediocre blockbuster were it not for the fact that it starts out so promising.  That kind of makes it more disappointing.  For a movie to start out lifting your spirits, and then send it crashing down so quickly is never fun.  As the film went on, I wanted to just go back and rewatch the beginning again.  It seemed to take place in a sweeter and more natural world than the movie I was watching.

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Summer Movies of the 90s: 1999

Well, this is it, folks. 1999 is here at last! And oh boy, do we have some big movies to cover here. The summer movie season of 99 was one of the bigger ones of that particular decade. It wasn't enough that we were getting our first new Star Wars movie in 16 years, but a lot of other huge blockbusters, and even a couple experimental movies hit the big screen that summer as well.

Summer 1999 was an exciting time. The decade was closing, and we were on our way to the 21st Century. We had no idea what kind of technology was going to hit. The movies and TV had been filling our young minds with images of flying cars, hoverboards, and automated everything. And then of course there was Y2K. Some people were certain our society was going to crumble the very second the clock hit midnight on the New Year. Sure, we laugh now, but I actually knew people back then who had bought into the whole concept, and were preparing for the end. How did I celebrate the coming of the year 2000? I think I was in my room playing Final Fantasy VIII. When I noticed that it was midnight, and the lights and electricity were still working, I knew I was safe.

And what was life like for me in the summer of 1999? Pretty good, actually. I turned 22 that summer, I was finishing up my college days, and getting ready to look for work. I started my very first long-term relationship with a woman. I took my first trip to New York City that summer, which has become a regular thing for me to this day.  And of course, I went to the movies. A lot.

And that's obviously what I'm here to talk about, so let's get started on the Summer Movies that closed out the decade.

THE MUMMY
RELEASED: MAY 7

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
British librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) teams up with American Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) to explore the ruins of the ancient city of Hamunaptra. Unfortunately, another group is exploring the ruins as well, and wind up awakening an ancient curse placed upon the ruins by High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Imhotep returns to life in the form of a mummy, and now our heroes must do battle with the ancient evil in order to save the world.
  

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Many people (myself included) assumed that this would be a horror film from the title. But, as the trailers and footage started to come out, it seemed as if it were taking more of an old fashioned adventure movie tone similar to the Indiana Jones films. Some people were disappointed with this approach, but I personally enjoyed it. I liked the mix of adventure and comedy, thought Fraser made for a good old fashioned square-jawed hero, and finding the movie kind of goofy, but overall enjoyable.
 WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is one of those movies I needed to catch up on, as I really hadn't watched it in years. Much to my surprise, I still had a lot of fun with this one. I think my memories of this had been tainted by the sequels, which I didn't enjoy quite as much as the first. Regardless, I still find this to be an enjoyable and old school adventure movie that finds a really good tone of suspense and silly humor. I had a lot of fun watching this one again.

STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE
RELEASED: MAY 19

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
Does anyone who was sentient in the summer of 1999 not know what this is about? It's the first prequel to the Star Wars saga, where a young Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) encounters a young Anakin Skywalker (played here by Jake Lloyd) for the first time. There's a new Jedi named Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson), some cameos by old favorites like C-3PO and Jabba, podracing, and a character you might remember getting some attention named Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), who was supposed to win everybody's hearts, but instead ended up being everybody's favorite CG whipping boy, and was ultimately written out of the franchise as the new movies went on.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Oh brother, do I remember the hype leading up to this one. There was so much speculation, and people examining every single frame of the trailers on line (and remember, this is back when dial up connections were the norm), as well as people buying tickets for a movie (1998's Meet Joe Black) just to watch the trailer, and then leave after it was finished. I found myself going into fan mode myself, and waiting in line to buy advance tickets 2 weeks before the movie came out. So, like most of America, I went out to the first screening and...I didn't really think much of it. Yeah, I know that it's cool to hate on this movie now, but I really did not find much to like outside of the special effects here. I remember my friends and I have lengthy debates about this movie. They were all convinced they had seen a cinema masterpiece, but whenever I tried to get them to tell me what they liked about it, their argument was usually, "Well, it's Star Wars..." As for me, I found the story dull, the acting wooden, and the whole movie just rubbed me the wrong way. I really just did not like this movie from Day 1. And as time went by, more people joined, and my friends who defended this movie eventually conceded defeat and admitted that yeah, the movie was kind of boring.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I have seen the original trilogy numerous times, but have only watched each of the prequel films once in the theater, as I felt that was all that I needed. Granted, the other two were not as disappointing as this, but I just never have felt the need to watch them again. Catching up with Phantom Menace for this article, yeah, there's some cool stuff. But the movie is just so dragged out, and the performances so off key that I actually find this movie kind of hard to sit through. I'm not going to go after the easy targets like Jake Lloyd's "acting" or Jar Jar, those aren't the big problems to me. The big problem for me is that the movie is just not that much fun, outside of a couple big sequences. I used to think I was disappointed by it because my expectations set too high. Watching it again, I can honestly say that I just find this movie really dull. If you're a fan, more power to you. Glad you enjoy it. I just can't get into this.
 NOTTING HILL
RELEASED: MAY 28

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
A timid small bookshop owner (Hugh Grant) has his life turned around when Anna Scott, one of Hollywood's leading actresses (Julia Roberts) walks into his store one day. They have several more chance encounters, and over time, the two actually strike up a friendship and possible relationship. But with Anna constantly being followed with photographers and reports, and his friends wanting to know about their relationship, it may be hard for the couple to lead a private life.
 WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was a pleasant surprise for me. Not that I thought it would be bad, mind you. I was and still am a big fan of the film's writer, Richard Curtis (a British TV and film comedy writer who has done some fantastic work), and I liked the actors, so I was genuinely interested in the film walking in. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed it, and how funny I thought the film was. I walked in expecting a sweet movie, but there were some genuinely big laughs in this one. Maybe I just needed something smaller after the huge disappointment of Phantom Menace, but this movie just really worked for me.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is one movie I have returned to many times, and usually find myself watching it whenever it's on TV. It's still wonderfully funny, Grant and Roberts have really great chemistry as a screen couple, and the movie itself is just so likable. I remember this becoming a big word of mouth hit during the summer among all the big blockbusters, and rightfully so. This is simply a charming and very funny romantic movie.

AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME
RELEASED: JUNE 11

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
Swinging 60s spy Austin Powers (Mike Myers) finds his existence in jeopardy when the villainous Dr. Evil (Myers again) travels back in time to steal Austin's mojo, thus rendering the super spy unsexy and uncool to the ladies. Austin travels back in time after Evil, and with the help of female agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), must set things right for both himself and history.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Most people don't remember, but 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery did not do all that great at the theater. It wasn't until the movie hit video and DVD that most people discovered it, and it became a runaway hit - so much so that the studio decided to make this sequel just on the video sales and rentals alone. I was a big fan of the first movie at the time, so I was excited for this one. I remember finding it funny, but also thinking that it reused a lot of gags from the first movie, and just didn't seem quite as clever. I also didn't like the fact that this sequel put the two main characters back in their rightful time for the plot, which kind of defeats the purpose of Austin and Dr. Evil who are supposed to be clueless and out of touch with their time period. I thought there were more jokes they could have done with these characters experiencing the 90s. Regardless, I did have fun watching this one back in the day.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie has not aged well for me. In fact, the series in general has not aged well for me. I remember liking these movies at the time...Okay, maybe not Goldmember, which I thought was a disappointment back then too. Still, I just don't find these movies as funny as I used to. And again, this movie reuses too many jokes from the first film, or offers only a small variant on a previous gag. I still find the ideas behind the Austin and Dr. Evil characters funny, but the movies disappoint me more than they used to.

TARZAN
RELEASED: JUNE 18

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
: As a baby, Tarzan is stranded in the jungle, and then has his parents killed by a fierce jungle cat. Fortunately, the gorilla Kala (voice by Glenn Close) finds and rescues him, and under his care, he grows into a strong and powerful ape-man (Tony Goldwyn). He lives among the apes, not knowing anything about his true kind, until a woman named Jane (Minnie Driver) enters the jungle looking to study gorillas along with her absent-minded father (the late Nigel Hawthorne) and the treacherous guide Clayton (Brian Blessed) who has ulterior motives of his own.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I had a mixed reaction to this film back in the day. I thought the animation was gorgeous, one of the better looking animated films of its time. But, there was also a lot of stuff that didn't sit well with me. The comic relief characters (an ape voiced by Rosie O'Donnell and an elephant voiced by Wayne Knight) were more annoying to me than funny, and the Phil Collins songs, while not terrible, just were not that memorable to me. There were some nice moments between Tarzan and Jane, but I never felt for the characters as much as I thought I should. This was one of those movies that I did not hate, but just could not fully get into.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is a passable Disney movie, but is nowhere near a great or good one. I can't put my finger on it, but something just seems slightly off. Like I should be enjoying it more than I am every time I watch the film. Again, the animation is lovely, and I can't really fault the actors. It's just the dramatic moments don't grab me as much as they should, and the jokes don't make me laugh. This is far from a bad effort, but I can't help but think this should have been more.

BIG DADDY
RELEASED: JUNE 25

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
A slacker loser living off a settlement he got from a lawsuit (Adam Sandler) thinks he'll be able to impress his girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) and show how mature he is when he takes charge of a five-year-old kid (played by twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse) that is dropped on his doorstep, and actually belongs to his close friend and roommate (Jon Stewart) who is away on business. But when his girlfriend rejects him and the kid, he is stuck with the boy, and is forced to raise him on his own, taking responsibility for the first time.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This period represents the peak of Adam Sandler's career, as the studio was confident enough in him to release his movie surrounded by a huge Austin Powers sequel, and the latest Disney animated film. This was also the period where his movies were pretty much guaranteed to make hundreds of millions, despite the quality, or what critics thought of them. Granted, his movies at the time had not slipped to the current level we find him at. But, I digress. At the time, I found this to be a pleasant comedy. Nothing great, but I enjoyed it, and there were some cute and funny moments. When it came to smaller, more human summer comedies, I preferred Notting Hill, but this was certainly not bad.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I had a pretty indifferent reaction to this film catching up with it for this article. I don't hate it, but I don't exactly like it, either. Like I said, the movie is fairly harmless and inoffensive. Sandler is being stupid, but he hasn't reached the levels of low humor that he would later on. Plus, truth be told, he gets a couple nice moments with his eventual love interest, played by Joey Lauren Adams. The movie never offends in any way, and I kind of like the soundtrack. But were it not for the star's immense popularity at the time, I don't think many would have noticed this back in the day.

WILD WILD WEST
RELEASED: JUNE 30

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
The President of the United States, Ulysses Grant, needs help to save the country from a madman inventor named Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh). He calls in a gunslinging former Civil War hero, Jim West (Will Smith) and genius inventor and master of disguise, Artemis Gordon (Kevin Kline), who will have to work together and put aside their differences if they want to save the country.
 WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I actually remember looking forward to this one based on the trailer. I loved the actors, and the mix of Old West and Steampunk themes really appealed to me. As the release date got closer, toxic word of mouth began to spread, but I still kept my hope up. I saw the movie, and I remember not hating it quite as much as everyone else seemed to at the time. Oh, it was far from good, that's for sure, and was nowhere near as fun as it could have been. I just remember not quite being enraged by the film. I think the fact that I had no experience watching the TV show helped quite a bit.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: The movie was a notorious bomb back in the day, but has largely gone forgotten in the present. These days, it's more famous for being the movie that Will Smith decided to do instead of taking the role of Neo in The Matrix. Catching up with the film, I can definitely say it doesn't work. It's loud and chaotic, and is obviously the victim of blockbuster bloat, where the studio just kept on throwing more money at a troubled production, hoping that would solve the problem, when in reality the movie really just needed a new script. It's silly, it's messy and it looks like nobody knew what kind of movie they were making, but it's not the worst thing I've seen.

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT
RELEASED: JUNE 30

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
In this animated musical based on the smash hit Comedy Central prime time cartoon, the four South Park kids (voiced by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone) bribe a homeless man to sneak them into an R-rated movie starring their Canadian TV heroes, Terrance and Phillip. When the boys start imitating the obscene language and raunchy acts from the film, the parents of the town decide to start a crusade against indecency, and plot to have Terrance and Phillip arrested and executed as criminals. This leads to a bloody war between South Park and Canada, with nobody being aware that this is the apocalyptic event that will lead to Satan walking the Earth, along with his gay lover, Saddam Hussein.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was a casual fan of the South Park cartoon at the time, but I had a lot of friends who were big fans, so I decided to go see it with them. All I remember is that as soon as Terrance and Phillip's musical number, "Uncle F***a", started up, I could not stop laughing for almost the rest of the movie. I loved everything about the film, from the smart dialogue and satire, to the musical numbers, which were quite strong. This is no surprise, considering they were co-written by Broadway veteran Marc Shaiman (best known for writing the musical Hairspray). I actually went and saw this movie again on my birthday that same weekend.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I still consider this to be one of the better film adaptations of a TV cartoon, and easily the funniest movie of this particular summer. Parker and Stone truly took advantage of the movie format, not only giving us a bigger South Park adventure in scope, but doing things few would dare to do at the time in the film medium. The guys could have easily just made an extended episode for the fans. Instead, they went above and beyond, and made a brilliant animated musical satire on violence in the media, and the reaction to it.

AMERICAN PIE
RELEASED: JULY 9

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
In this throwback to 80s teen sex comedies, a group of four friends are on the verge of graduation, and make a pact with each other that they will lose their virginity before they leave high school. Of the four lead kids, the main character Jim (Jason Biggs), has the worst luck, always getting into embarrassing situations, or being caught in awkward scenarios by his long-suffering father (Eugene Levy).

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I know that this was a big hit back in the day, and inspired an entire franchise of films. But honestly, I was never that taken by it. Oh, there were some laughs and the young cast in the movie was likable (though I don't think many of them went onto any huge careers after this), but the movie never seemed to hit with me like it did with some of my friends. I guess having seen South Park so recently before it, the movie didn't shock or make me laugh as much as it could have.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. This is a pleasant raunchy teen comedy, but it just doesn't really do it for me. The sequels that came along were much the same. I do think there are some nice moments, and like I said, there are laughs to be had. The movie has been made with very good intentions, obviously. I just didn't fall for these characters like many did back in the day.

EYES WIDE SHUT
RELEASED: JULY 16

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
A New York medical doctor (Tom Cruise) is shocked to discover that his wife (Nicole Kidman) has fantasized about other men. When she becomes angry at him for refusing to admit his own outside sexual fantasies, he hits the streets and becomes obsessed with having an outside sexual encounter of his own. This leads him to a secret sexual society that meets privately, and when he goes to one of their meetings, he quickly finds that he is in over his head.
 WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This movie got a lot of attention, not just because it was an erotic drama starring then married celebrity couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, but the fact that famed director Stanley Kubrick died just four months before the film was to be released, making this the last movie from the legendary filmmaker. I went to see it over the opening weekend, and I remember a lot of people being divided by the film. It was very odd and kind of a cold experience, but I remember being drawn in by the visuals and the bizzareness of the story. I also liked how the movie dealt with married couples having sexual fantasies or fetishes outside of their own relationship, which never really got faced upfront with in a lot of movies. I didn't think this was the masterpiece the director should have ended his career on, but it was still a very good movie.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is a movie where my appreciate has actually grown for it over time. I can see why some people are turned off by the movie, and it really is one of those movies that makes me wish we could get some mainstream movies with the NC-17 rating, which this film obviously deserves. (It had to be edited down in order to get an R.) But, I find the movie fascinating, kind of psychological, and really quite interesting. It's not exactly a "fun" movie that I can return to time and time again, but as a film study in tension and eroticism, it's very strong.

THE HAUNTING
RELEASED: JULY 23

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
In this big budget and loose adaptation of the classic horror novel by Shirley Jackson, a somewhat shady psychologist (Liam Neeson) wants to study the effects of fear on people by inviting a group of insomniacs into an abandoned mansion. His experiment is using the guise of a sleep study, but his real plan is to fill their heads with stories of the house's supposedly haunted past, and study how they handle the situation as they learn more about the story. But as it turns out that the house actually is haunted and the entire staff and patients are in danger, things turn much more dire.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember this movie getting a lot of hype this particular summer, mainly because horror movies usually did not get big budgets, or prime summer release dates. I was a fan of the earlier film version of the novel, and liked the cast here (which besides Neeson also includes Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones), so I was actually really anticipating this. If only I knew what was to come. Perhaps even more than Wild Wild West, this is an example of a big budget gone amok and just killing a project. There are no scares whatsoever, the characters act like dummies, the entire plot has been dumbed down to suit the lowest possible intelligence in the audience, and the movie just does not work in any way. On the positives, the set was awesome, and I loved the music score by the legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith. But I knew this was a lost cause early into the film, and it only got worse as it went on.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: In my mind, this is one of the worst remakes ever made. It completely misses the point of the earlier film and story, and just turns into a kiddie spook house ride with a lot of CG ghouls flying around that look about as realistic as Pokemon cartoon characters. This is again a case when the studio obviously threw a sick amount of cash at the film. I mean, the haunted mansion set alone is stunning, and makes you wish it could have been used in a better movie. In reality, the money should have been spent on the script, which is trite, unconvincing, and about as scary as a walk to your mailbox. This is easily the biggest disappointment for me this summer.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
RELEASED: JULY 16 (LIMITED) JULY 30 (WIDE RELEASE)

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
In this "found footage" horror film, three college students plan to spend a weekend in the woods catching footage for a film documentary project they are making about the local legend of a witch who supposedly haunts them, and may possibly be connected to a string of disappearances that have happened over the centuries. As the young heroes go deeper into the woods, they are not only tormented by strange sounds and angry visitors whenever they set up camp, but they also find themselves lost and ominous signs that someone is watching them very closely.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This movie really was the film that kicked off the idea of viral Internet marketing. It sold itself as actual footage, and that the three young kids at the center of the film supposedly were missing, and that this footage that made up the film was all that had been found of them. The studio also played this around film festivals leading up to its release, building hype and the urban legend talk that what was being depicted up on the screen actually happened. This helped this low budget horror movie that had been made for only pocket change and shot on a handheld camera turn into a blockbuster phenomenon that everyone was talking about in one way or another. When people finally got to see it, reactions were severely mixed. They ranged from "not scary", to "the camera work gave me motion sickness", to "that was the scariest flipping thing I've seen in my life". My reaction? I had fun watching it. It worked as a campfire supernatural story, and I liked the background information and legends that the filmmakers dreamed up for their monster.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I never found the film all that scary, but there are some tense moments here, and I really do like the attention to detail. This is one of the few found footage horror films that really does feel like it was shot on the fly, and doesn't feel like a corporate studio trying to imitate rough filming techniques. This really is a movie of its time, and I don't know if anyone who didn't experience the hype back in the day will think much of this. It really was a movie that was built on the stories and urban legends that the filmmakers and fans built around it, and spread during the course of the summer leading up to its release. It's still fun to watch for me, but it loses something without the hype surrounding it, and the jumpy audience I saw it with back in the day.

THE SIXTH SENSE
RELEASED: AUGUST 6

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
A lonely and isolated young boy (Haley Joel Osment) has a secret that he can't share with anyone, not even his well-meaning yet emotionally distant single mother (Toni Collette). The boy has the ability to see the spirits of the dead, who are trying to reach out to him, but he is afraid of his gift and of the spirits. It us up to a child psychiatrist (Bruce Willis) who is suffering through personal and emotional issues of his own to help get through to the boy. In the end, it turns out that they will need each other in order to conquer their own personal demons.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Boy, Hollywood was really banking on horror around this time, weren't they? Who would have guessed, though, that the big budget Haunting would ultimately get crushed by a low budget feature shot on hand held cameras, and a paranormal thriller focused on a child actor most weren't familiar with at the time. This became the word of mouth hit of 1999. If Blair Witch had huge word of mouth leading up to the release, this is the movie that exploded after it came out. Thanks to a successful ad campaign, strong word of mouth, and a famous twist ending, this movie just kept on going strong through the late summer months. As for me, I was fortunate enough to see it early on before talk of the film's ending spread, so I was able to enjoy it for what it was - A very suspenseful drama with paranormal elements built around shattered and heartfelt characters. It was just as much an emotional and powerful film as it was about ghosts, which I think made it stand out from the competition that was out at the time. The hype that built for this was well deserved.
 WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Say what you will about the current body of work of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, and how he's almost become a parody of himself over time. With this film, he really did establish himself as a masterful storyteller and his ability to use suspense. Not only that, he made his characters very human and flawed. More than the famous ending, this is what drew me into the film, and what I remembered the most about it when it was done. It's also what's stayed with me. I remember the tense dinner table arguments between the boy and his mother, and how frustrated both are that they can't connect with each other. It's one of my favorite scenes in the film. This is the rare horror film that is emotional as well as thrilling.

THE IRON GIANT
RELEASED: AUGUST 6

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
Growing up in the time of the Cold War and American paranoia, a young boy named Hogarth Hughes (voice by Eli Marienthal) makes a wonderful discovery and a new friend when a giant metal man from outer space (Vin Diesel) crashes in the middle of a forest nearby. As the boy and Iron Giant develop their friendship, government agents begin closing in, thinking that the robot-like creature may be a weapon from the Soviets sent to destroy the U.S. It is up to the boy to convince the Giant that he can be more than just a weapon, and that he can be whatever he wants to be.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: For me, this was the animated event of the summer. Tarzan just didn't do it for me, but I fell in love with this film from the instant I saw it in a sadly empty theater. Yes, unfortunately, the movie was mishandled by the studio. And despite strong critical praise and word of mouth, the movie never found an audience. I tried to get some of my friends to see this movie, as I felt this was a strongly powerful and emotional animated feature. Unfortunately, a lot of them were getting ready to go back to college at the time, so they didn't have any interest. And so, the movie died quickly at the box office, and was largely forgotten...
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: ...Or did it?? Yes, fortunately, this movie did eventually find an audience on video and DVD, and especially when the Cartoon Network picked up the film for airing and heavily promoted it. The movie is now seen as the modern day animation classic that it deserved to be back in the day. It even got a limited theatrical release with some restored footage added back into the film. To me, this ranks right up there with the Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and Lion King as one of the best animated films from this era. It's powerful, emotional, hilarious at times, and ultimately uplifting. If you haven't seen this movie by now, you definitely should, even if you're not a fan of animation. This is a mature film that speaks to adults as much as children.

MYSTERY MEN
RELEASED: AUGUST 6

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
Champion City has its resident superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), who keeps the people safe. But, there are also a team of B-squad superheroes who are less known but have just as much passion for fighting crime, including Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), The Shoveler (William H. Macy), Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), The Bowler (Janeane Garafalo), The Spleen (Paul Reubens) and Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell). When Captain Amazing is captured by his arch nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), the wannabes get the chance to be the heroes they always dreamed of being.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Here is another movie I was highly anticipating this summer that wound up falling flat for me. The concept sounded great, and the cast was virtually a who's-who of comedic and acting talent. So, what went wrong? According to behind the scenes stories, everything. The cast did not get along in a lot of cases (including an argument between Stiller and Kinnear that got so heated, Stiller wanted out of the movie), nobody could agree on what kind of comedic tone the movie should have, and the project was pretty much troubled from the word go. It showed up on the screen. I remember laughing a couple times, but really thinking that with this much talent, the movie should have been a lot better and funnier.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Yeah, this has "troubled production" written all over it. Maybe the problem lied with director Kinka Usher, who has never directed before, and hasn't since after this. Or maybe the actors just couldn't work magic with the script they'd been given. Whatever the case, this is one of those movies I really want to love just by the premise and the cast alone. I mean, any film that gives Paul Reubens a noticeable role is okay with me. But, the movie just never comes together sadly.

BOWFINGER
RELEASED: AUGUST 13

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?:
Robert Bowfinger (Steve Martin) is a struggling film producer who wants to hire the biggest star in Hollywood (Eddie Murphy) to be in his upcoming low budget Sci-Fi horror film. When the star rejects him, he decides to shoot around this fact by having his actors run up to the star on the street, and start doing the scene with him. The poor guy obviously has no idea what's going on, having all these people walking up to him talking about an alien invasion, and eventually starts to crack up and has to be sent away. That's when Robert discovers a nerdy lookalike working at a local fast food place (Murphy again), and uses him as a stand in so he can finish the film.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This movie didn't get a lot of attention back in the day. Maybe it was the odd title that turned most people off. And that's too bad, because this is a very funny comedy about Hollywood, and the pursuit of fame. There's a great cast, a great director (Frank Oz), and everybody is working at the top of their game here. I remember thinking this was one of the unsung comedies of the summer, and was sad it didn't get noticed.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Unlike The Iron Giant, this movie has gone on to be relatively unnoticed. Most people I've spoken to about it don't even remember it, or look at me strangely when I say the title of the film. (Again, I think the title killed this movie with a lot of people who knew nothing about it.) Still, this is a movie I've returned to quite a few times, and it makes me laugh each time. It's a very smart comedy about the Hollywood system, and it's also a very clever use of Murphy's love of playing multiple roles. Give this one a chance if you haven't.


Well, that was my entire 90s cinematic history.

I really want to thank each and everyone for their support for this series. It was a daunting challenge, but your support made it possible. I had a lot of fun doing this series, and catching up with all these movies, some of which I hadn't seen in years, or even not since they were new in theaters. Even if the movie wasn't that good, I still had fun watching and writing about them. I really am thankful that so many readers got behind this series.

That said, I think it's time for a break.  My original plan was to do a series of articles on the Fall and Holiday Films of the 90s.  Unfortunately, during the process of posting these pieces, I was laid off from my job of 15 years when they cut 40% of their workforce.  So, I am going to be focusing on the next chapter of my life for a little while.

Please don't be concerned too much.  I do have a plan, I just need to figure out the best way to take it.  I also have a lot of support from family, friends, and the love of an amazing woman, so I know I will be okay.

I still plan to review movies again when my local theater opens, so please look for updates in the coming weeks.  I know it's an uncertain time for everyone, but hopefully we will all come out of this as better people.

Until I do return with an update in the coming weeks, I wish all of you to stay safe, and thank you again for the support you all have shown.  I will try to return as soon as I can.

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