Brian de Palma’s cross-continental action film Mission: Impossible (B+) is a bit heavy on the high-tech mumbo jumbo and doesn’t really give its wooden lead (Tom Cruise) much character development. But as a sturdy summer blockbuster based on a classic TV show, it holds its own. There are some dazzling set pieces and stunts, the best including Cruise’s hero-turned-marionette moment when he hovers by wires into a sound-sensitive computer chamber to pull off a vital hack. The film counts on the art of the double cross to up the ante of its complex subplots. Much of this thriller is inventive and commercial.
Director Michael Bay’s Alcatraz redemption takes place as Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage achieve breakout success in the action-filled confines of a notorious prison in The Rock (B+). This is an action lover’s wild ride that doesn’t give up for a single frame of Bay’s chronicle of escape artists in full-throttle momentum. The film compensates for implausibility with sheer action sensation.
Related link: One of my jobs in the 1990’s was developing the in-store magazine and Website for a video rental chain called MOOVIES. Here’s one of the few remaining sidebars: A run-down of Sean Connery’s movies: Link here.
Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (A-) is Disney’s dark quasi-opera about a 15th century French deformed bell-ringer who dreams of leaving the cathedral where he is secluded for a moment “out there” in the real world. This adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic features spectacular songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Swartz and grandiose, swirling animation that brings exquisite life to its time and place. A moving centerpiece is the song “God Help the Outcasts” in this cautionary tale about making the world a safe haven for those who are different.
Jim Carrey steals the show in director Ben Stiller’s lame comedic indictment of a world saturated by television, The Cable Guy (C). The comedian’s highjinks are funny in parts, but the film’s weighty messages often blunt the laughter in all the wrong places.
Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (B) is far-fetched craziness about an Alien assault on America, complete with an iconic explosion of The White House. But somehow when Will Smith and Bill Pullman board planes to kick some alien ass, there’s a strange swell of patriotism of something that makes this a fun and seminal film entertainment. Quirky performances by an eclectic cast including Harvey Fierstein, Jeff Goldblum, Harry Connick Jr. and others help make this modern-day disaster flick resonate even though most everything in it is pretty preposterous.
Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (B) is a veritable steam engine of a film showcasing the life of junkies from the other side of the tracks. Ewan McGregor charges onto the scene in a star-making performance, and Boyle’s grim, swirling visual odyssey gives viewers a one-way ticket to the human abyss. There’s a whole lot of surreal locomotion as the film alternates from comedy to surreal drama, all in an original, efficient tale.
Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (B+) features a Floridian gang war set to iambic pentameter and a soliloquy submerged in the deep end of a swimming pool. It’s a tropical-infused, altogether modern take, set in America with young stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes doing superb work as the central tragic lovers. The director has a strange way of distancing viewers from his concept for the first 30 minutes or so before the film settles into a beautiful rhythm. By the time a chorus is singing “When Doves Cry,” most are won over. The movie dazzles and moves and rarely misses a beat of what the Bard intended.
Barbra Streisand stars and takes the director’s chair for The Mirror Has Two Faces (A-), a superb romantic comedy about the modern myths of beauty and relationships. Paired with Jeff Bridges as dating professors, it’s an intellectual look at the modern rituals of romance. Lauren Bacall is a hoot as Streisand’s character’s sassy mom. The two Streisands – actress and director – score a triumph with comedy and drama in this story about a couple courting chaos and confusion.
Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (A-) is about love lost, planes crashed, bodies destroyed, candles extinguished and memories forever buried in the sand of a lonely desert. Gorgeously shot and leisurely paced with a modern story and flashbacks, the film includes a central doomed romance in pre-WWII North Africa between Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas and a subplot with Juliette Binoche (all outstanding performances) as a devoted nurse who connects several subplots. Unlocking the mysteries is part of the intellectual adventure, and those who are interested in austere and thought-provoking cinema masterworks will find sumptuous subtext in this challenging drama.
The man who played America’s top gun, a cocky race car driver, an acrobatic bartender, a brooding vampire and a covert operator is now on the sidelines as Tom Cruise plays the agent behind the sports superstars. Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (A) is about a man who comes down to earth and discovers what truly matters when he finds romance, discovers a sort of surrogate parenthood and finds a client who can count on him regardless of his prestige. To paraphrase a famous line, the film “had me at hello” with superb performing performances by Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the agent’s loyalists. Crowe uses lovely pop music including Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” to trace the emotional and romantic journey. Cruise has never been better and gives one of his most restrained and generous performances.
Wes Craven deconstructs scary with Scream (B+), a smart comedy/horror hybrid that features characters who are in the know about the rules of horror movies and still fall into their wicked traps. Courteney Cox, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette and Neve Campbell are strong in the ensemble, and Kevin Williamson’s witty screenplay is truly the star. Craven is the perfect veteran director to both amplify the body counts and multiply the laughs as the proceedings get more and more horrific.
Jeff Bridges and Scott Wolf headline a picturesque coming of age story in Ridley Scott’s White Squall (C). Despite navigating the young cast through a series of physical and emotional adventures, the makers fail to generate much central interest or momentum. it ultimately kinda looks like a cologne ad.