MediaCircus' Winners & Sinners: May 2001
Special Feature by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001
If the month of May was any indication, it's going to be a very hot summer for moviegoers. With studios giving wide berth to the super-sized "The Mummy Returns" and "Pearl Harbor", there were slim pickings in terms of new releases to choose from-- 5, compared to 12 at the same time last year and 10 the year before that. But even with fewer new films opening, audiences hit their local theaters in droves, catapulting the weekend box office totals for the month to an impressive level of $478 million, exceeding last year's comparable by $5 million. Other than the traditionally slow Mother's Day weekend, "The Mummy Returns" and "Pearl Harbor" significantly buoyed each weekend's take to levels above those of the year prior. In addition to the 'popcorn heavyweights', audiences had a good selection of other films to choose from, some new and 'winners' held over from last month, such as "Bridget Jones's Diary", "Blow", and "Memento".
The month of May also had the best weekend box office in history, as the monster Memorial Day weekend take of $186.6 million broke the previous record of $184.8 million set last year, courtesy of "Mission: Impossible 2". Hopefully, May's magnificent showing is a portent for more great films and more smashed box office records in the coming months.
Contributing to the terrific kick-off to the summer moviegoing season are this month's list of winners:
- Shrek: Featuring the voice talents of Mike Myers ("Austin Powers"), Eddie Murphy ("The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps"), and Cameron Diaz ("Charlie's Angels"), here is a 'family film' that you can sink your teeth into. Sporting an exuberant irreverence towards fairy tales, wickedly subversive humor that up-ends the conventions of the Disney animated musical, and top-of-the-line computer animation, "Shrek" is probably the most fun you'll have in a theater this summer. Like "Toy Story 2" from a couple of years back, "Shrek" is a smart and funny family feature that will not only appeal to kids, but will also put their parents in stitches.
- The Mummy Returns: While "The Mummy Returns" boasts plenty of eye candy that is best experienced on the big screen, this roller-coaster ride ends up being tempered by some laggard pacing and a weaker script. Bringing back the same cast, headlined by Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, it's more of the same mix of "Indiana Jones" derring-do and "Army of Darkness" campy irreverence. It may not be as fresh as "The Mummy" was two years ago, but it still should make for a decent appetizer for the upcoming summer moviegoing season.
- The Road Home: Thanks to the popularity of Zhang Ziyi (Jen of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), currently the 'It' girl of Chinese cinema, acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home" is much more marketable. As a result, North American audiences in selected cities were finally able to see this rural romance this past month, after a lengthy two-year delay. Well worth the wait, Zhang Yimou has fashioned a deeply heartfelt masterpiece, making "The Road Home" an unforgettable journey... and perhaps also one of the best films of the year.
- Ginger Snaps: With pointless exercises in exploitation like "Scary Movie" and "Valentine" sucking the life out of whatever goodwill the "Scream" trilogy was able to generate, one would think that the creatively-bankrupt teen horror genre was dead. However, it seems that there is still some life left in it after all, as Canadian audiences discovered with the nationwide rollout of homegrown horror film "Ginger Snaps". Essentially a reworking of the werewolf mythos, "Ginger Snaps" is a sassy and surprisingly smart horror-comedy that equates a young woman's supernatural affliction with the physical and psychological turmoil of puberty-- definitely not your average "Teen Wolf".
- Time and Tide: After being disillusioned by the Hollywood system and from working with Jean-Claude Van Damme in "Double Team" and "Knock-off", Tsui Hark, the 'Steven Spielberg of Hong Kong', returns home with the visually-stunning "Time and Tide", a slick actioner which found limited release in May. Pitting a bartender-turned-bodyguard (Nicholas Tse of "Gen-X Cops") and a former hatchetman (Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai) against a well-armed South American hit team, the bullets fly in new and ingenious ways. If you're wondering what action sequences Joel Silver ("The Matrix") or Jerry Bruckheimer ("Gone in 60 Seconds") will be pilfering for their productions next year, "Time and Tide" would be a pretty good place to start.
Comprising what may end up being the shortest list of sinners this year:
- Pearl Harbor: With the Disney hype-machine in overdrive during the past few months, many moviegoers will probably find "Pearl Harbor" to be disappointing, both as a piece of pure popcorn entertainment, and also as a historical drama. Though the special effects are certainly impressive, the oversimplified, uninteresting, and schmaltzy script, rife with missed opportunities, reduce this watershed moment of the Second World War into a numbing video game, bereft of historical context, meaning, and emotional resonance.
- A Knight's Tale: Though the running time of "A Knight's Tale" is just a little over two hours, it feels a lot more like three. For up-and-coming actor/heartthrob Heath Ledger ("The Patriot"), this inconsistent mix of old (jousting) and new (rock 'n roll) ends up being a laughably lackluster starring vehicle. It is also a disappointing turn for writer/director Brian Helgeland who, only a few short years ago, wrote the award-winning screenplay for "L.A. Confidential". Though it did have a few sparkling moments of wit and charm, overall, "A Knight's Tale" is best left untold.
- Angel Eyes: Less than three months after her forgettable turn in the anemic "The Wedding Planner", chanteuse Jennifer Lopez is back on the big screen in "Angel Eyes", playing a street-smart Chicago cop who falls for a mysterious stranger (James Caviezel of "Frequency"). With its careless approach to script, acting, and production (gee, since when was the CN Tower located in Chicago?), it doesn't take very long for the seams of this formula-driven film to show, mixing up hard-hitting drama, romance, and mysticism into one big muddled mess.
Moviegoing continues to heat up in June with a heavy slate of new releases. Among the films bowing in megaplexes are Ivan Reitman's sci-fi-comedy "Evolution", "Tomb Raider" with Angelina Jolie filling the shoes of video game vixen Lara Croft, the animated Disney epic "Atlantis", and the John Travolta modem-and-mayhem actioner "Swordfish". But then again, the slate of new releases also includes some questionable choices, such as "The Animal", "Dr. Doolittle 2", and "What's the Worst That Can Happen?" Will the month of June be remembered for its winners, or be reviled for its sinners? Stay tuned until next time...
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