MediaCircus' Winners & Sinners: February 2001
Special Feature by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001
The February blahs. I can't think of a better phrase to describe the selection of new releases this past month, which is the worst to grace the theatres since the low-point reached in March 2000. If you recall, during that month, other than the two bright spots of "Erin Brockovich" and "Final Destination", audiences had to put up with lackluster efforts such as "Whatever It Takes", "Drowning Mona", "Romeo Must Die", and that camp-classic "Mission to Mars".
But despite the dearth of worthwhile films, the February 2001 moviegoing period was rather lucrative for exhibitors, with box offices raking in an impressive $465 million in weekend admissions, compared to the $407 million level reached in February 2000, and the $356 million reached in February 1999. The source of this box office windfall was "Hannibal", the long-awaited sequel to 1991's "Silence of the Lambs", which devoured the competition in its first weekend with a surprising $58 million take, the third-largest opening weekend in film history (just behind "The Lost World" and "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace"). Since its debut, "Hannibal" has become a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, with its firm grip on the top spot at the box office, while pulling in well over $100 million in its first three weeks of release.
Thus, for the month of February, it shouldn't be a surprise that the list of 'Winners' leads off with:
- "Hannibal": Despite the hype and record ticket sales, "Hannibal" is a marginal win. Director Ridley Scott, whose body of work includes classics such as "Alien", "Blade Runner", and last year's "Gladiator", has certainly put together a great-looking film, rife with his trademark visual style, which is accompanied by a terrific score. Unfortunately, the underlying story is rather light, as it minimizes the interaction between FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, who took over from Jodie Foster) and Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). And when these two iconic characters actually do meet up in the film's final third, their 'reunion' is upstaged by a stomach-turning special effect, followed by an emotionally flat ending. Alas, what should have been a lavish four-course meal ends up being little more than an appetizer... albeit a somewhat tasty one.
- "Saving Silverman": If you couldn't make it past the crushing crowds to see "Hannibal" you may have settled on "Saving Silverman", which doesn't possess an ounce of Oscar-caliber talent or pretension. With low brow humor in abundance, what you see is basically what you get-- a somewhat amusing 'dumb fun' comedy that milks its screwball story for every laugh it can. Thankfully, "Saving Silverman" is saved by two great supporting performances from the zany Steve Zahn ("Happy, Texas") and Jack Black, who was the most energetic person on the screen in "High Fidelity", as well as an interesting appearance by Neil Diamond.
- "In the Mood for Love": This is the long-awaited new film from Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai ("Chungking Express"), bringing his conspicuous three-year absence from the world stage to an end. Renowned for his artfully directed and intoxicatingly esoteric films, Wong revisits familiar territory with this latest film, a romance set in 1960s Hong Kong that drips with heartache and longing. Detailing the relationship that develops between two neighbors (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) when they discover that their respective spouses are having an affair, "In the Mood for Love" is a haunting and exquisitely shot study of how an unspoken intimacy can be just as emotionally-intense and consuming.
Finally, looking at the raft of 'Sinners' of the month:
- "Valentine": Those expecting a clever variation on the teen horror film from "Urban Legend" director Jamie Blanks will find that "Valentine" suffers from all the same tired conventions and clichés that were mocked by "Scream" in the first place. With its cardboard characters, bad acting, improbable plot mechanics, and lifeless attempts at creating suspense, it's difficult to have a lot of love for this "Valentine".
- "Head Over Heels": This randy comedy features Monica Potter ("Patch Adams") as a shy girl from Iowa who moves in with four dopey New York models and ends up being embroiled in a "Rear Window"-like whodunit possibly involving the man of her dreams (Freddie Prinze, Jr. of "Down to You"). Saddled with a script that makes an episode of "Friends" sound like Shakespeare in comparison, "Head Over Heels" ends up with its foot in its mouth.
- "Sweet November": Up-and-coming star Charlize Theron ("The Cider House Rules") turned down the female lead of the blockbuster "Pearl Harbor" for this unnecessary remake of the hokey 1968 tearjerker by the same name. With its contrived plotting, lack of chemistry between Theron and the wooden Keanu Reeves ("The Watcher"), and an emotionally-comatose ending, "Sweet November" does little to remedy the February blahs.
- "Down to Earth": Foul-mouthed comedian Chris Rock finally gets a lead role... though it's in a remake-of-a-remake, being based on the script of "Heaven Can Wait", which was itself a remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan". Unfortunately, "Down to Earth" goes straight to Hell with its bungled execution, a pivotal romance that doesn't work, and jokes that misfire more often than not.
- "3000 Miles to Graceland": 'I Got Stung' and 'I Feel So Bad'... imagine last year's "Reindeer Games" (which was, interestingly enough, also released on the last weekend of February), only the casino being robbed is in Las Vegas and the thieves wear Elvis outfits instead of Santa Claus costumes. However, the protagonist is still a recently paroled convict who becomes involved with, you guessed it, a woman of questionable motives. Presto-change-o, and you have "3000 Miles from Graceland". Despite the all-star cast that includes Kurt Russell ("Breakdown"), Kevin Costner ("Thirteen Days"), Courtney Cox ("Scream 3"), and Christian Slater ("Hard Rain"), it ends up being an unremarkable, overly-long, and overblown production that takes you nowhere you want to go.
- "Monkeybone": The condition of the cartoonist that Brendan Fraser ("Bedazzled") plays in "Monkeybone" is a perfect embodiment of the movie itself: comatose. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" director Henry Selick has certainly crafted an eye-popping production where Hell looks like an amusement park on drugs and cartoon characters come to life, but that's about all it has going for it. With a flimsily constructed plot that aimlessly lurches from one tired gag to the next, here's a film that's bad to the bone.
Looking forward into the coming month, will movie offerings in March come roaring out of the gate like a lion, buoyed by enticing offerings such as the Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt comedy "The Mexican", the WW2 drama "Enemy at the Gates", and Robert "Desperado" Rodriguez's family-friendly actioner "Spy Kids"? Or will it instead emerge half-awake from the winter slumber like a lamb, with weak-kneed entries such as the latest Steven Seagal beat-em-up "Exit Wounds" or the highly-original 'Spring Break' comedy "Tomcats"? Stay tuned until next time...
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