Movie review - Summer stupor at the movies

September 11, 1997|By Jason Myers

Movie review

Summer stupor at the movies

This hot (mercurial) season at the cinema was like this year's Lollapalooza tour - crowded, humid, muddy, loud, with very few individually appealing acts and a disappointing whole.

Every weekend was crammed with "Events" trying to obliterate box-office records, there was little room to breathe and no room to think. Maybe it is just my critic's cynicism, but it seems like motion pictures were particularly dumb this summer.

With rapidly increasing technology, movies are becoming more about automation and less about creation. The art is vanishing from the process as quickly as the "Batman" and "Speed" franchises crashed and burned at the box office. There was a time when an instructor at a university could talk about theme, symbolism, subtext and other terms when discussing "cinema." Now it is comical to place them in a sentence parallel to "Con Air," "Spawn," ... aIUOSH (sound of film critic fainting in distress).


Nevertheless, I shall attempt in this column - I could not bring myself to sit through the new Steven Seagal movie for a mere review - to list what, in my opinion, were the highlights and low spots of the movies which graced the silver screen from the months of May through August.

Best Film: "Face/Off" could be compared to Hitchcock, Kubrick, or any number of great directors from generations past (though look for Kubrick's new "Eyes Wide Shut" next summer), but this would do no favors for John Woo, the visionary behind this metaphysical masterpiece. Sure, it recalls the time when action movies were still about ideas and contained passion and imagination. From its central plot twist to the shortest scene, though, it is modernist moviemaking at a high level. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage ignite the screen, and Woo's imagistic direction allows every detail to accrue resonance. With smart, kicky thrills and deep, pure emotions, it addresses the ambiguity of good and evil in a modern society in which people can transform themselves with the blink of an eye. If "Face/Off" were any cooler, it would have to be refrigerated.

Worst Film: Joel Schumacher has no shame. "Batman & Robin" may just be the worst movie I ever have seen. Forget that it is implausible. Forget that its dialogue is more stale than month-old bread. Forget that its gawdy color palette offends the eyes.

Well, it is impossible to forget Arnold Schwarzenegger's leaden portrayal of Mis-tuh Fuleeze (when is Ah-nuld ever going to get a dialect coach - it's getting a little tough to build every single character around his Austrian accent). But let us focus our attention on the sheer lack of structure that this movie suffers from. It leaves plot holes wider than the Grand Canyon. Alicia Silverstone is Alfred's niece from England? Oh, yeah, I buy that. This movie is camp at its worse - I get the feeling that the makers meant for it to be this bad.

Most Surprising Film: I never would have guessed that I would enjoy "George of the Jungle," but in a summer woefully bereft of children's entertainment ("Hercules" was too self-conscious and smug, "Air Bud" was just awful), this clever-but-not-too-so, cute-but-not-too-so adaptation of the cartoon (a spoof of Tarzan) was a delightful, charming joy.

Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann had better comic, romantic chemistry than any other pairing this year. The scene in which the narrator argues with a character was alone worth the price of admission.

Most Disappointing Film: "Contact" promised to be a smart alternative to blockbuster bang, but Robert Zemeckis' simplistic, syrupy rendition of "2001" proved to be just a mirage. With more characters and generalizations than it knew what to do with, the movie took a long time to get nowhere.

Best Male Performance: Mel Gibson's bold, burning performance redeemed "Conspiracy Theory." His acting had a manic fervor that lays bare the paranoia of our popular culture from the last 50 years.

Best Female Performance: Oh, wait, there was none. Yet again, Hollywood failed to provide any roles of dimension or depth for actresses. Independents didn't do much better - I have yet to see Judi Dench in "Mrs. Brown," but aside from her, there are no candidates.

I could bake up several more categories, but I probably would only get further depressed at the lack of savory selections.

If the fall fails to live up to expectations (high with new releases from Tarantino, Scorsese, Spielberg, Woody Allen, Gus Van Sant, and Gillian Armstrong), I think I might give up movies for good. (P.S. Don't trust what you read.)

Jason Myers is not just the complaint club president, he's also a member.

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