MediaCircus' Winners & Sinners: June 2001
Special Feature by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001
With June having come and gone, it seems that the boffo box office momentum from May continues to be going strong. Every weekend in June this year outperformed those of the prior year, boosted by the predictable batch of strong performers, such as the continued presence of "Pearl Harbor" and the long-anticipated debut of "Tomb Raider", as well as some surprising stalwarts, such as urban actioner "The Fast and the Furious", the out-from-left-field "Swordfish", and the tenacious staying power of "Shrek". As a result, despite some good weather keeping people outdoors and the distraction of the NBA Finals, the weekend box office totals for the month of June added up to a $626 million, a cool 14% over last year's figures (which is even more impressive considering the sluggish economy).
Furthermore, it looks as though the 2001 summer box office is on track to topple the record $3 billion of 1999, especially with a number of high profile releases still in the pipeline, such as "Jurassic Park III". As of the end of June, summer ticket sales were already $90 million ahead of those achieved at the same time last year, and $50 million ahead of 1999's record $1.45 billion pace.
Unfortunately, despite audiences heading to their local theaters in droves and driving up ticket sales, there were mostly slim pickings to be had, with the mix of flicks tending more towards the mundane than the meaningful. Thus, if you saw a good movie this past month, it was most likely one of the following winners:
- Moulin Rouge: Nicole Kidman ("Eyes Wide Shut") and Ewan McGregor ("Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace") shine in this 'popera' where today's pop songs inhabit the famous Parisian music hall at the tail end of the Nineteenth century. Though writer/director Baz Luhrmann ("Romeo + Juliet") does occasionally go a little too over-the-top, there is little doubt that the multimedia celluloid fantasy he has created is a worthy successor to the old-school Hollywood musical. "Moulin Rouge" is a grand, visually-stunning, and 'spectacular spectacular' spectacle that knows how to please the eyes and ears, as well as touch the heart. In combining the old with the new, Luhrmann has fashioned a dazzling fusion of sight and sound that will surely be one of the most daring and imaginative films to grace the silver screen this year.
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire: "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" marks a dramatic change in direction for the obligatory summertime Disney animated release. Instead of the usual toddler-friendly animated musical with singing-and-dancing furry things, the House of the Mouse sets its sights a little higher with this breathtaking sci-fi adventure aimed at an older crowd. Combining the look of Japanese anime, the design motifs of Jules Verne, the spectacle and wonder of the "Star Wars" movies, the rip-roaring adventure of "Indiana Jones", and the accessibility of traditional Disney fare, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" is an animated epic of blockbuster proportions.
- A.I. Artificial Intelligence: With its "Pinnochio"-inspired story about a robot boy with the ability to love (Haley Joel Osment of "The Sixth Sense") and his journey through a seemingly loveless world, "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" touches on a number of issues, such as the nature of existence, the responsibility mankind has to the sentient beings that it creates, and the issues that arise when man's technical reach extends beyond his moral grasp. Unfortunately, these fascinating issues end up being glossed over by the unwieldy script that attempts to combine Steven Spielberg's sense of wonder with the esoteric pessimism of the late Stanely Kubrick, leaving the audience with an emotionally false ending-- the only fault for an otherwise technically-polished, visually-stunning, well-acted, and thought-provoking film.
- Swordfish: But despite a somewhat 'fishy story' where a handsome hacker (Hugh Jackman of "X-Men") helps a charismatic terrorist (John Travolta back in "Face/Off" mode) with a bank heist, "Swordfish" has enough meat in its script and eye candy in its execution for it to rise above director Dominic Sena's low-mileage effort from last year, "Gone in 60 Seconds". More medium-rare than well-done, "Swordfish" is your typical popcorn flick, offering up a good selection of empty-headed slam-bang thrills for a hot summer night. Dig in.
A lot of movies didn't work in June, as this list of sinners will attest:
- Tomb Raider: Now that the long delay for Lara Croft's fan-boys (and girls) to see their favorite video game vixen in the flesh is finally over, was it worth the wait? Sadly to say, while "Tomb Raider" certainly fares better than such odious game-to-film efforts such as "Super Mario Bros." and "Street Fighter", it is a sluggishly paced film with threadbare story and characters, saved only by a few decent action sequences and the physicality of star Angelina Jolie ("Gone in 60 Seconds"). Alas, "Tomb Raider" n'est pas tres Jolie.
- The Fast and the Furious: "The Fast and the Furious" may feature two hot young stars, Vin Diesel ("Pitch Black") and Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight"), but this urban actioner set in the world of illegal street racing is just as empty-headed as other recent racing movies. Unfortunately, when the characters aren't hurtling at high-speeds in the film's surprisingly-decent action sequences, this no-brainer actioner feels more like 'the slow and the tedious'.
- Evolution: Featuring David Duchovny ("The X-Files"), Orlando Jones ("Double Take"), and Julianne Moore ("Magnolia") as scientists trying to stop a rapidly-evolving alien life form from taking over the planet, "Evolution" tries to rekindle the magic blend of sci-fi and comedy that director Ivan Reitman perfected with "Ghostbusters". Though it is admirable for trying to recontextualize the alien invasion movies of the Fifties with the comic sensibility of today, the film ends up being dragged down by a script that cares little for its characters and offers up humorless comic bits. Overall, "Evolution" ends up not being fit to survive.
- Baby Boy: Director John Singleton ("Shaft") returns to the 'hood with this unflinching look at the emotional maturation of a young black man (Tyrese Gibson) who learns to take responsibility for his own life. Unfortunately, this overly-long film becomes bogged down in melodrama, and Singleton's intentions end up being subverted by the story's 'empowerment through violence' ending.
- The Animal: Not even a fake film critic could save this low-wattage low-concept comedy about a man (Rob Schneider of "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo") who adopts the characteristics of the animals he receives transplant organs from... though Colleen Haskell of "Survivor" fame is cute (and in need of acting lessons).
- Dr. Dolittle 2: The good doctor (Eddie Murphy, heard recently in "Shrek") who talks to the animals is back again, this time to save a forest from greedy clear-cutters. Alas, "Dr. Dolittle 2" may be a little more tolerable than the 1998 film, but it will do little to turn that frown upside down with its juvenile humor and throwaway plot.
- crazy/beautiful: After the high of last year's "Bring It On", gifted actress Kirsten Dunst continues to sink in this by-the-book interracial teen romance that is clichéd/tiresome.
- Pootie Tang: Spun off from "The Chris Rock Show", this cinematic travesty offers one bad idea after another as it follows the travails of its inarticulate and vulgar titular hero (Lance Crouther) as he fights an evil corporation that targets kids with drugs, alcohol, and junk food. Here is a movie that is so bad that it stays bad.
- What's the Worst That Could Happen?: ... you could waste 12 dollars.
Looking ahead to July, movie aficionados can look forward to another (hopefully better) game-to-movie transition with "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within", more dinosaur mayhem with "Jurassic Park III", those damned dirty apes in Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake, Jet Li martial arts action and international espionage with "Kiss of the Dragon", and the comely combination of Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "America's Sweethearts". Will the boffo box office momentum continue through the height of summer? Until next time...
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