MediaCircus' Winners & Sinners: April 2001
Special Feature by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001
I think Variety's resident film critic Todd McCarthy sums it up best in the opening paragraph of his recent diatribe against the sorry slate of films unleashed on audiences this year: "Do people who work in the film business actually see what their industry puts out? Does anyone, aside from teenagers and beleaguered critics, know first-hand what an execrable year it's been thus far? Have the studios entirely given up even pretending to try to make pictures of respectable quality for the mass audience?"
While the 2001 moviegoing season isn't in quite as bad shape as it was at this time last year, a few more months of dubious releases in the shadow of April's lackluster selection could easily make this year one of the worst in recent history. Of the fifteen major releases in this past month, only four could be considered worth the now-commonplace double-digit megaplex admission prices, while the remainder were barely even worth a rental at the video store. Of course, audiences were not oblivious to the lack of quality offerings, as witnessed in the bell-shaped box office performance in April. The month started off strong enough, with earnings averaging about 10% over the prior year. However, once last month's "Spy Kids" had run its course in the first half of the month, the box office shrank for the remainder of April, with the ticket sales of the top twelve films hitting its lowest point in over half-a-year-- $55.2 million, or about 20% down from the year before.
Thus, this month's very short list of new releases actually worth seeing include:
- Bridget Jones's Diary: Strong word-of-mouth and repeat business, spearheaded by its female-dominated audience, propelled this filmed adaptation of the best-selling Helen Fielding novel to the top of the charts. Rene Zellweger, despite the pre-release controversy of her casting, excels as the titular heroine with her effortless charm and gift for comic timing. Not only does she handle the physical requirements of playing the British spinster (which included gaining twenty pounds for the role), but she also effortlessly becomes the glue that steadfastly holds the film together. Ably supported by Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, "Bridget Jones's Diary" is an amusing and well-paced production that I will be hard-pressed not to include in my top ten list of 2001.
- Josie and the Pussycats: The cat's out of the bag-- "Josie and the Pussycats" rocks! A purr-fect mix of wit and style! The cat's meow! There just aren't enough feline-flavored idioms to convey how much fun "Josie and the Pussycats" is, with its scattershot satirical barbs that poke fun at big music, boy bands, teen consumerism, and even the movie itself. Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson, and Tara Reid roar as an all-girl band who become unwitting pawns in a massive conspiracy run by the military-industrial-entertainment complex, all to the tune of one of the best collections of non-existent pop songs since "That Thing You Do".
- The Dish: Sam Neill stars as the scientist in charge of the Parkes Observatory, an Australian radio telescope built in the middle of a sheep paddock that became a crucial relay for television signals from Neil Armstrong's historic moonwalk. Based loosely on actual events, and rife with wonderful characters and hilarious situations, "The Dish" is the kind of film I would have no qualms in recommending, even to those moviegoers who typically would not embrace 'foreign films'. Like most Australian comedies that end up finding distribution in North America, "The Dish" is a delightful and inspiring character-driven comedy that is sure to please just about anyone.
- Blow: Director Ted Demme takes a different approach than the other two drug-themed films that have appeared in recent months. Using the true story of George Jung's rise and fall in the cocaine drug trade during the late Seventies and early Eighties as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unbridled avarice, Demme has created something akin to "Wall Street", only on drugs. Star Johnny Depp delivers some of his best work as Jung, portraying a naive but ambitious young man who ultimately becomes broken and lonely in the winter of his life, haunted by the mistakes of a life squandered in the pursuit of the wrong things.
You know it's a bad month when you find several worthy contenders for the worth films of the year. And this month's roster of money- and time-wasters leads off with the worst offender of them all:
- Freddy Got Fingered: If you're looking for the absolute worst movie of the year, the motion picture with the least redeeming value, and a cinematic experience that could not possibly be any worse, then look not further, because "Freddy Got Fingered" is here. Tom Green may have been an odd curiosity with his gross-out self-titled MTV show, in his occasional film appearances (such as "Charlie's Angels"), or his numerous publicity stunts (such as appearing on an Ottawa rooftop with Monica Lewinsky), but in the case of his directorial debut, it appears that the bizarro comic has finally worn out his unwarranted welcome.
- Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles: Recycling humor and situations from the first two installments in the adventures of Mick 'Crocodile' Dundee (Paul Hogan), "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" is a frustrating film to sit through, as one lame joke misfires after another. As a family-oriented film, I suppose "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" is pretty harmless, with very little violence or obscene language to raise parental concern. But unfortunately, it is also a very pedestrian installment in a franchise that is way past its prime, a case of too little, too late.
- One Night at McCool's: A black comedic spin on the classic elements of film noir, where an everyday bloke finds himself led down the path of criminal corruption by an irresistible femme fatale, "One Night at McCool's" unravels the lives of three men (Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser, and John Goodman) who succumb to the wily charms of a devil in a red dress (Liv Tyler). Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work, as somewhere between its interesting concept and its slam-bang 'John Woo meets the Village People' climax, the film ends up misplacing much of its humor, intrigue, and suspense.
- Driven: Sly Stallone's 'latest' comeback vehicle certainly has its moments, but overall, it is a middling effort where story and character take a backseat to creating stunning special effects sequences. Of course, if you are a big fan of auto racing, or at least enjoy watching car crashes, then "Driven" should provide a couple of hours of fascinating diversion. But for those moviegoers in search of a little more for your $12 admission, "Driven" is a disappointing ride in the slow lane.
- Along Came a Spider: This prequel to 1996's "Kiss the Girls" has forensic psychologist Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman, reprising his role) is teamed up with a comely Secret Service agent (Monica Potter) to stop a serial killer targeting the children of high-ranking US government officials. Unfortunately, this 'Spider' gets squished by another run-of-the-mill serial killer with overly-elaborate schemes and a script riddled with plot holes.
- Town and Country: After sitting on the shelf for two years, seeing its budget double, and having a new ending shot, "Town and Country" reunites Warren Beatty with Diane Keaton, Garry Shandling, and Goldie Hawn in this limp sex farce about two married couples whose marital infidelities result in a comedy of errors.
- Just Visiting: A remake of the 1993 French comedy "Les Visiteurs", "Just Visiting" brings back its director Jean-Marie Poiré and stars Jean Reno and Christian Clavier in this story about a knight and his dim-witted underling from the 12th century who are accidentally banished to Chicago by a powerful wizard (Malcolm McDowell). Of course, the expected 'fish out of water' inanity ensues, and just like its 1993 predecessor, "Just Visiting" goes directly to jail without passing 'Go'.
- The Forsaken: Another vampire movie that sucks...
- Kingdom Come: Based on the play "Dearly Departed", an unexpected reunion of a highly-dysfunctional family occurs when the husband of Raynelle Slocumb (Whoopi Goldberg) suddenly dies. Unfortunately, the story's comic subplots, disjointed cast, and juvenile humor make this movie feel more like "Kingdom Klump" (as in "The Nutty Professor").
- Joe Dirt: Why pay to see David Spade playing a self-debasing white trash hick when you can stay at home and watch "Jerry Springer" for free instead?
- Pokemon 3: You'll never win, your kids scream and shout, so you give in, and decide to take them out. And the plot is hokey-Poke, but keeps the kids spellbound... and that's what it's all about.
May usually marks the start of the summer movie going season. However, compared to previous years, the pickings are slim, with only five major releases scheduled. However, of these five, four of them look to be something special: Brendan Fraser is back in "The Mummy Returns"; director Baz Luhrmann ("Romeo + Juliet") unveils his visually-stunning "Moulin Rouge"; the voices of Mike Myers ("Austin Powers"), Eddie Murphy ("The Nutty Professor II"), and Cameron Diaz ("Charlie's Angels") are heard in the computer-animated fairy tale parody "Shrek"; and of course, the event movie in which Michael Bay ("Armageddon") is vying for respectability, "Pearl Harbor". Stay tuned until next time...
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