James Cameron’s Titanic (A-) is an epic disaster spectacle mixed with an epic romance. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are the star-crossed lovers aboard the ill-fated ship. Their playful romantic sequences are the film’s heart. The effects and production design are also exquisite. I wasn’t wild about the framing device with Bill Paxton and Gloria Stuart or aspects of the shallow screenplay or the one-note villain Billy Zane, but it’s hard to deny the power of the romance, the James Horner music and the tragedy of the night the dream died. Cameron truly outdoes himself with this larger-than-life modern classic.
Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting (A) is a magnificent coming of age movie about a South Boston troublemaker (Matt Damon) who is also a secret prodigy and learns to give in to his abilities and learn from and love those around him, including an inspiring girl (Minnie Driver) and a fabulous teacher (Robin Williams). Ben Affleck, who in real-life co-wrote the script with Damon, plays his buddy in the film. Van Sant does a great job capturing the naturalistic settings and scores the film with superb music by Elliott Smith.
Clint Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an awesome atmosphere and environment in search of memorable characters and story. The mood and music conjure the iconic town of Savannah, Georgia, and the sultry, sassy Lady Chablis is marvelous playing herself. But John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Jude Law and others in the cast simply seem lost in an altogether non-engaging murder mystery. The clock just never seems to start ticking on much of a good time.
It’s far from vintage Francis Ford Coppola work, but there’s certainly some pep to the step in the law procedural drama The Rainmaker (B). Matt Damon is an engaging lead, and Coppola plumbs family dynamics and back story to excellent effect. The film is also notable for a solid supporting cast including Danny DeVito, John Voight, Danny Glover and Dean Stockwell. Along with The Client and A Time to Kill, this is one of the three best John Grisham adaptations.
Jim Gillespie’s I Know What You Did Last Summer (C) is an average entry into the horror renaissance ushered in by Scream. Producers realized they could churn out movies on the cheap with attractive young casts, and this is no exception. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillipe, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. play friends who are being stalked by a killer, one year after covering up a car accident in which they were involved. The film never catches fire despite some suspenseful moments. It’s imminently watchable and immediately forgettable but gave birth to a few stars who have done steady work since.
Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm (A-) is set in 1973, but its suburban characters’ escape through adultery, alcohol and sexual experimentation could just as easily be present day. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood are among the outstanding ensemble. Lee is wryly observant and brings an outstanding vision to what people do behind the outward veneer of manners.
It’s an industry in which every inch of every moment matters. Working in a raw medium, the artists must maintain stamina to create their most convincing moods. And when an actor says, “I’m ready to shoot my scene right now!” it is best for the camera crew to oblige. The denizens of the adult film industry are the subject of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (B-), a sometimes glorious, sometimes tedious glimpse at a cottage industry in L.A. in the ’70’s and ’80’s. The ensemble of Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham and Julianne Moore create a family even while casually shooting hardcore scenes and dealing with graphic situations. The film’s first half is as carefree as its second act is sometimes hard to watch. Ultimately it’s a triumph of acting and atmosphere, albeit short on plot.
Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca (A-) is a cautionary sci-fi thriller about two men played by Ethan Hawke and Jude Law in a future world in which one’s aspirations are dictated by genetic makeup. Hawke’s character has defects that will hold him back from his dream of space travel, and ultimately he devises a way to escape his overly engineered future. Uma Thurman is exceptional as his love interest. All actors are strong in this thought-provoking piece, including Ernest Borgnine in a small role. Jan Roelf’s production design, Michael Nyman’s score and Colleen Atwood’s costumes are all central to the gorgeous look and feel of this magnificent film.
Incredible comedy is on full display in Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty (A-) as the filmmaker explores the male mystique and physique in the wake of unemployment and inability to take care of one’s family. A bunch of out-of-work and out-of-shape British blokes led by Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy resort to starting a an all-male strip show revue when they find themselves strapped for cash. The result is uproarious, and the script if full of gems that will endear audiences to this motley crew of show-offs. Through their singular charm and humor, they realize their free spirit goes a lot farther in life than a free willy.
Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (A+) is a superb detective caper introducing American audiences to a trio of magnificent performers — Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey — as Hollywood cops circa 1953. The myth and illusion of Tinseltown versus the scandals and shakedowns is a wonder to behold. Kim Basinger is a symbol of the town shrouded in mystery. The labyrinthine plot, the knife-sharp camerawork and the epic characterizations make this a spectacular modern classic evocative of Chinatown.
Christopher Guest directs and stars in Waiting for Guffman (B+), an uproarious mockumentary about the denizens of a small town (Blaine, Missouri: the “stool capital of the world”) putting on a production to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Eugene Levy, Parker Posey and Catherine O’Hara are among the hilarious ensemble with each playing a singularly incompetent actor. It’s a must-see for fans of dry, small-town humor.
Director John Woo somehow gives plausibility to the notion of two men who switch faces for an adventure in Face/Off (B), and he does a great job staging the action. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage are effective in their roles as FBI agent and criminal mastermind in this cat and mouse thriller.