Monday, July 31, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

rating: ****

the story: British soldiers try to evacuate France.

what it's all about: I've been a huge fan of Christopher Nolan for as long as he's been making movies.  I can say that because I had the pleasure of enjoying Following early on, and that's his first movie, before Memento, which for a time was my favorite movie, or at least very near the top, period.  So I've watched the progress of his career with great interest.  Dunkirk, plain and simple, was a bid to be taken seriously by critics.  It's his Saving Private Ryan, a war movie about risking terrible losses for a noble cause.  Surprisingly, there are few war movies like that.  That's actually all of Nolan's movies, risking terrible loss for a noble cause.  Dunkirk may make that most plain for general audiences who have become more accustomed to his blockbuster material than his nuance as a filmmaking visionary, caught up in his gimmicks and getting lost along the way.  But Nolan never gets lost.

The gimmick of Dunkirk is one of his most straightforward yet, and it's hugely rewarding for the rare unambiguous ending to one of his films, where the British eventually get to leave the hell of a beach under constant siege by the enemy.  He follows three tracks of narratives, neatly laid out with cards explaining what they are, how long they take.  Keeping track of them then becomes the business of the viewer.  Tom Hardy's is shortest.  As one of the few pilots trying to clear the airways of enemy fire, his work is accomplished in an hour.  He's there to provide the muscle of star power.  Everyone watching knows who he is, so his eyes get to do most of the work, while Michael Caine cameos early as the voice helping explain the situation.  Mark Rylance, who has become a late-blooming standout in recent years, spends a day as a civilian bringing his boat, and a couple of callow youths, to the rescue.  Kenneth Branagh leads the evacuating troops over the course of a week. 

By the time Branagh celebrates "home," and one of the soldiers remarks that all they did was survive, and Hardy watches his ship burn, the full impact of the events comes into focus.  This is not a movie that beats you over the head with its significance.  This was an historic event that occurred before the Americans even entered WWII.  Churchill is quoted, calling on the British to keep fighting wherever the need arise, a famous speech, at which point you get a sense of where all this falls, if you'd never heard of Dunkirk before.  The experience itself, which like some of the best historic dramas seeks to immerse you directly into it, becomes the whole point, and because of those three story threads you get a good sense of what it was all about, what it took to reach the ending, without sensationalizing any of it.  Rylance takes on a stowaway at one point, Cillian Murphy, who at one point was to emerge as one of Hollywood's bright new stars, but things change, and Murphy seems fine to weather a different storm, even as he suffers brilliantly in Dunkirk, in the tempered Dunkirk fashion.

I don't think it's Nolan's best movie, but it'll be the favorite of a lot of other viewers, who won't question how it fits in with the rest of his movies, who maybe will never see most of his other movies, who may not even be aware that Christopher Nolan has been a significant name in film for nearly twenty years.  That's fine.  Nolan's been playing by his own rules from the very start, and he's managed to create an unbroken string of success doing it, which is incredibly rare.  He's always looking for that next challenge, that next depiction of the classic Nolan narrative, and he's managed to do it at a high level since 2005, when he did the first of three Batman movies.  He's got an epic vision every time, but it always looks different.  By virtue of its apparent awards conventions, Dunkirk may be among his most unique to date.  By removing the central figure that has previously been so integral to his movies, Nolan offers a new challenge, one that will require time, perhaps, to fully absorb. 

Maybe it is his best movie.  Finally, an enigma wrapped up in straightforward packaging.  So that's what it looks like...

Midnight in Paris (2011)

rating: ****

the story: A Hollywood screenwriter working on his first book imagines life was idyllic in 1920s Paris, and then somehow ends up there.

what it's all about: Admittedly, my experience with Woody Allen is still shamelessly incomplete, loaded to a generous portion of his recent work while leaving his earlier films mostly unexperienced except for a so-long-ago viewing of Annie Hall that I have no clear memories of it now, but I would have to say Midnight in Paris is one of my favorites, and I think it will stand as one of his signature artistic statements.

Owen Wilson grafts his natural charm to the classic Woody persona of the anxious would-be lover seeking answers to life's questions.  I never really get why critics complain about the Woody persona.  I loved Kenneth Branagh's take in Celebrity.  Technically, Will Ferrell plays it in Melinda and Melinda, although it might be difficult to see as he takes a backseat to Radha Mitchell.  You might even say Colin Farrell plays it, in tortured fashion, for Cassandra's Dream.  Wilson is such an amiable talent it's sometimes easy to take him for granted (apparently about a decade past he struggled with real despair for perhaps that very reason), but Midnight in Paris owes a huge debt to him.  It wouldn't work nearly as well without him accepting the lunatic premise that never really attempts to explain itself, and is all the better for it.  Who else could sell it with such casual acceptance?

The show is stolen, however, by a pair of supporting performances, of diverging length.  Adrien Brody, who ended up being taken for granted after his Pianist breakthrough, is a hugely amusing Salvador Dali (!), who seems to have stepped out of a Wes Anderson movie, maybe.  You can watch the movie for the pleasure of Brody's Dali alone.  You can do that, but you'd be missing Corey Stoll's breakthrough performance as Ernest Hemingway, who is basically the exact opposite of Woody Allen.  The sheer bravado of it is breathtaking.  Stoll, who has continued supporting and television roles since giving us his Hemingway, commands the screen and translates all over again the charm of a writer almost better known for his personality than his prose.  But he'll make you want to read the prose, too.

Together, Brodi and Stoll make mincemeat of Michael Sheen's blowhard intellectual, who's so busy trying to impress everyone, including Wilson's would-be bride Rachel McAdams, cast in the classic Allen archetype of the lover who just doesn't understand and doesn't even care to try, that it's kind of tragic for Sheen, and McAdams, because they continually disappoint through no fault of their own, because they can't possibly hope to contend with them.  Isn't that kind of the point?  Wilson thinks life can't get any better than his romantic notions of the past, and so to have the two most important figures of the present be so utterly charmless in comparison, that's storytelling.

So ironically, Marion Cotillard leads the rest of the cast as the would-be replacement lover Wilson discovers suffers from the same pains he does, only she's from the 1920s and wishes she were some thirty years earlier still...Cotillard is a master of fading into her mysterious beauty (there's a great bit about that and Pablo Picasso in the movie), ethereal, the elusive connective tissue that holds the whole thing together.  Toss in Kathy Bates and a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston, and you have a cast that's rewarding on every level, that knows exactly what it needs to accomplish, and rewards repeated viewings.  I mean, Hiddleston in 2011 had Midnight and Thor released within weeks of each other.  He plays F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight, the first famous face Wilson meets, handily introducing him to Stoll's Hemingway.  Hiddleston's scenes are also stolen by a crackerjack portrayal of Zelda Fitzgerald, but watching them again, knowing what was about to bloom for Hiddleston, is to love the quirks of fate. 

It's a movie that's ridiculously easy to like, and the more you watch it the more you like it.  And it's got a big statement to make, too, about living in the past, and how it's both not as good for you as you might imagine, and that it is as good for you as you might imagine.  Wilson undeniably benefits from his experiences, even as his personal life crumbles, and he learns there's a limit to the experience.  But then, he also meets a local Parisian, a contemporary who shares the more grounded outlook he cobbles together, or perhaps was always there.  I mean, he remains enchanted by Paris itself throughout the movie.  Ironically it's Steen and McAdams who keep presenting a warped view of Wilson's fixation on the past.  That's another reason Wilson is perfect for this movie, because he's able to let their negativity slide off of him without unneeded drama to further complicate things.

And that's really the spirit of Midnight in Paris, the ability to  enjoy itself, say something profound, and move on.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lone Ranger (2013)

rating: ****

the story: John Reid becomes the eponymous hero.

what it's all about: Basically this is a movie that flopped at the box office for an incredibly superficial reason, and that was the immense backlash at Johnny Depp playing Tonto.  For the kind of movie Lone Ranger is, the casting makes absolutely perfect sense.  Depp is literally the only actor who could've pulled it off.  It's quintessential Depp.  But he's also not exactly Native American, so there was immense backlash.

If the casting had been accepted, Depp's Tonto would've added to his collection of signature characters.  That was the whole point.  His Jack Sparrow revived Depp's career, and was the first time since Edward Scissorhands where Johnny Depp Being a Character Instead of a Generic Pretty Boy really worked, and that was the whole point.  So casting directors started trying Characters all over the place for him to play.  Robert Rodriguez scored a coup early on in securing Depp for Once Upon a Time in Mexico soon after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie proved such a phenomenon, and, well, Depp's role and performance in it changed the tone of the Mariachi movies Rodriguez had been making, in such a way that still defines a Rodriguez movie to this day, but didn't really itch the scratch created by Jack Sparrow.  Then Depp appeared in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as an Eccentric Johnny Depp Character.  But it again felt forced.  And so on and so forth.  Really, Depp's career always thanked him most when he was appearing as Jack Sparrow, but eventually...he had to do something else.  He had to become something else. 

So he became Tonto.  This Tonto dominates Lone Ranger.  He's the framing narrator, the unreliable narrator who's, again, perfectly cast for the story Lone Ranger is trying to tell.  Ironically, this Tonto exists at all because in the years since Tonto's creation he's become less accepted as the Native American Sidekick, and now every time "kemosabe" is uttered, someone has to explain what it means.  It can't just be a term of endearment.  It's got to a commentary.  And so when Tonto in Long Ranger explains what it means this time, it's part of a running joke that's at the heart of this version of the story.  It's very much in the vein of Jack Sparrow, the character everyone used to try and explain, why he walked the way he did.  Ah, and the answer's always been, because Johnny Depp created a really, really interesting performance.

So here I am, still talking about Tonto.  Tonto is inescapable in this movie.  Imagine what the character would be, in this context, if someone like Adam Beach had played him.  And no offense to Adam Beach, but I know Adam Beach, and he's no Johnny Depp.  That's part of the problem.  Native Americans aren't allowed to be Johnny Depp in general, even now, decades into redefining their role in stories like this.  We're still stuck in a one dimensional look at them, it just so happens that now it's supposed to be positive.  But they're static, and we like it like that, and so when we say we're complaining about Johnny Depp playing Tonto we're really criticizing our inability to think of Tonto in any other way than Stoic Native American, because the actors we have?  Totally incapable of playing this Tonto. Except, maybe, Graham Greene.  That guy's awesome.  But he's also older than Tonto ought to be.

Anyway, so Tonto's at the heart of understanding this movie.  He's even at the heart of understanding why Johnny Depp's casting is so perfect, despite everything.  Tonto is meant to be "a band apart," as explained, eventually, in his origin story, late in the movie, when it's explained why he became the screwy dude we see throughout the movie, why he becomes such a perfect Johnny Depp Character.  He's been traumatized, and all his quirks have developed from his attempts to cope with what happened to him, what he did, when he was a boy.  He's not weird for the sake of being weird.  There's a honest-to-god, genuine answer for it. 

And that's the rest of the movie, from the framing narration, which tries to explain what happened to Lone Ranger's legacy, both in the fictional and real worlds, and the pathos at the heart of the madness.  That's the story in a nutshell, pathos at the heart of madness.

It's about a corrupt businessman (Tom Wilkinson, doing brilliantly restrained work in extreme contrast to William Fichtner's showy Butch Cavendish, whose look seems to have been the one real concession to Depp and director Gore Verbinski's Pirates past) who tricks the public into believing his lies, even though the one character who most interacts with him (Ruth Wilson, who does wounded beauty so incredibly well) thinks he's scum mostly worth shunning as much as possible, even though it's continually impossible.  To watch Wilkinson at play is to know this movie has a beating heart, and knows exactly what it's doing at all times.  To watch him perform under a heavy beard that makes him unrecognizable is to know that this is a production that takes seriously immersing itself in its own reality.  We don't need to see Fichtner's bloody fingers as he works a loose nail free, but that's detail that rewards the viewer, that authenticates a movie that spends much of its time with, well, Tonto.

Then there's the Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer.  Armie's, surprisingly, had it rough since his breakthrough role(s) in The Social Network.  He's an actor who oozes charisma, but it's so hard to quantify, because like Depp he refuses to be just another pretty face.  So it's not surprising to see the two in a movie together.  Where Depp's instinct has always been to bury his looks under a gauzy character, Armie simply rejects expectations.  He looks like the classic leading man, but he's not afraid to make a fool of himself. 

Tonto is constantly complaining that the wrong brother survived.  The other brother is James Badge Dale, another actor who inexplicably finds it difficult to be appreciated.  He embodies the hero as the hero is supposed to be, in Lone Ranger, and makes an early exit.  Dale's biggest problem is that he commits so thoroughly to his roles that he doesn't mind taking the backseat.  His squinty eyes say he's a clever guy, but the rest of his performance says he'll hide the best of his work behind everyone else's.  It's not that he can't command a scene (my first and favorite experience with him to date is a glorified cameo in Flight, where his character is literally named Gaunt Young Man in the credits, where he absolutely dominates a scene with Denzel Washington), but that he never has a role big enough to fit his talent. 

So the brother is so heroically competent that Armie's Lone Ranger is stuffed ideals that are always comically backfiring on him, so that he can never live up to him.  That's this movie's version of the character, a thorough deconstruction calculated for cynical audiences who maybe don't trust Westerns as a source of popular modern entertainment, but somehow ending up rejected...because of that?  Because it didn't take itself seriously enough?

Again, only if you're looking only at the surface, and this is a movie with a lot of moving pieces, that's endlessly rewarding, that throws supporting stars at you without warning (Helena Bonham Carter!  Barry Pepper!  Stephen Root!), seemingly at random and with no regard to their narrative impact.  But it's all calculated.  Brilliantly.  The way Wilkinson's character thinks he's got all the angles figured out.  The way even Tonto believes he's got everything figured out. Certainly the way the Lone Ranger thinks he does.  Before he puts on the mask.

This is a story about why good men must wear masks, why the heroes aren't happy being paraded before the public, why even when the narrator is unreliable he's telling the honest-to-god unvarnished truth (even about that stupid bird on his head).  It contradicts basically every common conclusion about this sort of storytelling.  It's more clever than any of Depp and Verbinski's Pirates movies (even if they could be quite rousing and affecting).  It knows it's retelling a classic Hollywood story, one of the stories that made Hollywood, the Western at its zenith, as myth. 

And yeah, it features a classic Johnny Depp performance.  Don't believe what you've heard.  Watch it for yourself.  You'll feel its magic for yourself.

Friday, July 14, 2017

2001 Capsule Reviews

rating: *****
review: Christopher Nolan's breakthrough film was instantly a favorite of mine. It's not just the gimmick, but how well it's done and the stellar cast (Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano) doing stellar work in it that make the film so (heh) memorable.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
rating: *****
review: Everything is pitch-perfect in the first installment of Peter Jackson's much-lauded trilogy, from the cast to the music. 

rating: ****
review: Still one of my all-time favorite animated movies, subverting in a very clever way expectations in a riff on Beauty and the Beast, something its sequels couldn't really build on.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
rating: ****
review: Charming first film in the series is hampered by the fact that it necessarily stars kids.  This is where the book definitely has an edge, because there's no such problems there.

Training Day
rating: ****
review: Denzel Washington so thoroughly dominates this movie that it's tough for any other element to compete with him, which is its one drawback.

Monsters, Inc.
rating: ****
review: Charming riff on a Pixar formula already set in stone.

Black Hawk Down
rating: ****
review: Where Saving Private Ryan made melodrama out of D-Day, Ridley Scott allows the chaos of Mogadishu wash over the viewer, with an incredible wealth of acting talent generally getting lost in the shuffle.  But watching it again will always prove rewarding to try and find all the faces that would later become much more famous.

The Majestic
rating: ****
review: Frank Darabont attempts to replicate his Stephen King magic without Stephen King, and for my money comes exceptionally close, thanks to a game Jim Carrey in one of his most underrated performances.

A Beautiful Mind
rating: ****
review: It's fascinating to think that even after Gladiator, Russell Crowe was still getting roles where he was asked to display his smarts more than his brawn, so that his ability to channel thoughtful souls was able to shine through.  It's almost more fascinating to see, in retrospect, the skills Ron Howard would later bring to The Da Vinci Code.

The Score
rating: ****
review: Hugely underrated opportunity to see three generations of acting masters (Marlon Brando in his last significant role; Robert De Niro; and Edward Norton) working alongside each other.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
rating: ****
review: So many people got caught up in the fact that Spielberg was "finishing" a Stanley Kubrick project that they missed the fact that Spielberg was actually making his last great attempt at a timeless fable.

rating: ****
review: Ben Stiller in a perfect sendup of all things pretentious.  If the sequel had happened sooner, this would've become another Austin Powers.

15 Minutes
rating: ****
review: I guess I don't really get why Edward Burns got such a terrible reputation.  Here he and Robert De Niro get to comment on the meaning of truth.  Also another great chance to spot Avery Brooks in a movie, during the fleeting moment in time that was still possible, and the same goes for Kelsey Grammer.  Karel Roden is actually the best reason to watch, a role that should've catapulted him into stardom.

A Knight's Tale
rating: ****
review: Paul Bettany kind of steals Heath Ledger's thunder in this one.  So it's a little strange that he never got a role quite like his comedic Geoffrey Chaucer again.

The Fast and the Furious
rating: ****
review: In hindsight it's serendipitous that Vin Diesel followed up Pitch Black with his career-defining role, when it seemed like Riddick was going to be it. 

rating: ****
review: Will Smith's most blatant attempt to court the critics also found the only role where the guy he's playing has an equal level of personal charisma; the part he was born to play.

American Outlaws
rating: ****
review: This one was instantly an afterthought, the wrong way of translating Colin Farrell's Tigerland appeal to mass audiences, but it's a personal favorite.

Planet of the Apes
rating: ****
review: I'm going way against the grain in wishing Tim Burton's vision had become the definitive one.

The Mummy Returns
rating: ****
review: Every bit as charming as its predecessor.

Gosford Park
rating: ****
review: In hindsight, it's kind of the origin of Downton Abbey.

Rat Race
rating: ****
review: A classic comedic cast.

rating: ****
review: Critics fell all over themselves pointing out that the plot had been done before (even by Jeff Bridges, who appears in this and its spiritual predecessor, Starman, but not in, say, Harvey), but then they were also looking for excuses to bury Kevin Spacey for whatever reason.  I still loved it.

Rush Hour 2
rating: ***
review: Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker reteam.  You're either wildly excited about that (there was a third one, too), or wonder if there's a point.

Moulin Rouge!
rating: ***
review: My feelings on it may be influenced by the fact that a relationship ended, basically, because we had different reactions.

Super Troopers
rating: ***
review: I think Broken Lizard hit its stride with Club Dread (Beerfest is also pretty nutty), but this first effort is the one everyone remembers.

Monster's Ball
rating: ***
review: I wish Halle Berry had been given a better Oscar spotlight.

Wet Hot American Summer
rating: ***
review: Cult classic that's kind of nutty.

Enemy at the Gates
rating: ***
review: If this had worked better, Joseph Fiennes and Jude Law would have solidified their places in Hollywood at much higher levels.

Buffalo Soldiers
rating: ***
review: I still think this Joaquin Phoenix army outsider flick is a cult movie in the making.

The Princess Diaries
rating: ***
review: It's still baffling to think that this is how Anne Hathaway made her name, and was basically the last old school Disney hit.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
rating: ***
review: Angelina Jolie was born for the role, but the movie around it is too inevitable, and is one of the early wastes of Daniel Craig (!).  (Gerard Butler is equally wasted in the sequel!)

The Musketeer
rating: ***
review: Fans of Grey's Anatomy will want to check out this early Justin Chambers performance.

American Pie 2
rating: ***
review: The first movie couldn't really be duplicated; thank goodness by the later movies they were interested in advancing the plot, but by then I was no longer interested, so I still haven't seen American Wedding or American Reunion.

The Others
rating: ***
review: There was a moment where every major star was expected to appear in a horror movie; this was Nicole Kidman's.  I still love quoting, "But ma'am, I am your daughter."

rating: ***
review: I remember critics thinking this was inferior to Harold Ramis's Ghostbusters, but I also remember enjoying it.

Bridget Jones's Diary
rating: ***
review: This modern riff on Jane Austen was for a time wildly popular, and became both Renee Zellweger's signature role and the reason her career completely derailed.

Kate & Leopold
rating: ***
review: Charming early attempt to figure out what Hugh Jackman does when he isn't Wolverine.

The Animal
rating: **
review: The only movie to star a Survivor alum; ironically Colleen Haskell also ended up giving up fame entirely after making it.

The One
rating: **
review: A Matrix rip-off starring Jet Li.

Shallow Hal
rating: **
review: The Farrelly brothers discover that their formula has limits.

Scary Movie 2
rating: **
review: Mel Brooks these parodies are not.

The Glass House
rating: **
review: I was making an effort to watch horror movies for a time.  I don't really do that anymore.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

2000 Capsule Reviews

rating: *****
review: Caused a huge sensation but then met critical backlash calling it historic junk, but it set the bar so high that nearly twenty years later no one's even come close to its success.  And gave the perfect context to Russell Crowe.  And redefined Ridley Scott's career as the only guy capable of competing with his own success.

rating: *****
review: This is where Colin Farrell came from, and I guess where the influence of critics to define classics really completely slipped away, because in any other era, this wouldn't even be a question.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
rating: *****
review: The Coens tend to get critical love if they rehash their serious farce gimmick (Fargo, No Country for Old Men), but not if they do straight-up farce.  They did it brilliantly here, giving George Clooney the role that settled what Hollywood thought of him, even if audiences still balk.

rating: *****
review: This was the year the modern superhero boom began, and ironically the rare original story, by M. Night Shyamalan, was the best out of the gate.

The Patriot
rating: *****
review: This is pretty much exactly America's self-image of the founding of the nation, minus all the politicians.  It's easy to forget that it was the fighting that most people cared about, not declarations. 

Cast Away
rating: *****
review: Instantly iconic Tom Hanks one-hander (Wilson!) that had the balls to serve up a complicated ending, which screwed up its chances at wide acceptance.

The Perfect Storm
rating: ****
review: If only because George Clooney doesn't quite nail the lead role, or the movie doesn't quite know what to do with him, this otherwise evocative drama sets a new archetype Hollywood would seek to exploit in later years, but never quite duplicate.

Thirteen Days
rating: ****
review: Thrilling attempt by Kevin Costner at a dramatic comeback, exploring JFK's moment of truth.

The Cell
rating: ****
review: Tarsem basically remakes Silence of the Lambs from inside Buffalo Bill's head, and displays his remarkable visual storytelling ability.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
rating: ****
review: Basically the apex of '90s Hollywood, Jim Carrey getting to strut his stuff in the most outrageous way possible.  I think everyone who didn't like him before simply decided he really was grossly overrated, because this is his highest-grossing movie (three years later Bruce Almighty is nearly as big a hit, but he becomes the accessory to the gimmick in it, rather than the driving force).

rating: ****
review: The biggest thrill of this initial installment of the franchise wasn't the showdown between classically trained actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but the sensational debut of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Almost Famous
rating: ****
review: Cameron Crowe's classic coming-of-age tale is arguably more about the music than the perfomances.

The Way of the Gun
rating: ****
review: Seems like it's still waiting to be rediscovered as the would-be vehicle launching Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro into Hollywood icons.

All the Pretty Horses
rating: ****
review: For all of Cormac McCarthy's reputation as being a literary hardcase, it's this romantic modern Western that's actually kind of his most distinctive storytelling, and incredibly Hollywood at that.

28 Days
rating: ****
review: Sandra Bullock ended up becoming the big star she always seemed like she was going to be in the wake of Speed, but I still think this is her most charming performance.

Pitch Black
rating: ****
review: This Alien knockoff accidentally created an icon in Vin Diesel's Riddick.

Me, Myself & Irene
rating: ****
review: In hindsight, I don't think anyone expected this to be Jim Carrey's last wild child comedy (outside of Dumb and Dumber To), but it seems kind of appropriate, since half the performance is rejecting the old Jim as too out of control.

The Family Man
rating: ****
review: Nicolas Cage inadvertently proves that Frank Capra really is dead.

Dude, Where's My Car?
rating: ****
review: A perfect idiot comedy.

The Emperor's New Groove
rating: ****
review: Disney's attempt to send up its own '90s movies is fascinating, and arguably the only effort in that era you'll actually want to watch again without kids.

rating: ****
review: For a brief moment, Norm Macdonald seemed like his career was going to explode.

Road Trip
rating: ****
review: I could care less about the rest of the movie, which is kind of American Pie: Road Trip Edition; this is the only time I ever cared about Tom Green, because he's absolutely brilliant in it.

The Million Dollar Motel
rating: ****
review: Artful in a soulful kind of way.

The Legend of Bagger Vance
rating: ****
review: Just before Will Smith became virtually untouchable for a huge stretch at the box office, when he attempted in one of many attempts to woo critics, and they just weren't biting, as always.

Gone in 60 Seconds
rating: ****
review: In hindsight it seems like the movie that inspired the Fast & Furious franchise; any chance we could get Nicolas Cage to join it?  I mean, who wouldn't love to see that?

Finding Forrester
rating: ****
review: "You're the man now, dawg!"  Did anyone expect this to be Sean Connery's de facto swan song?

Proof of Life
rating: ****
review: This is kind of, somehow, the movie that wrecked Russell Crowe's reputation, but I think it's not so bad.

rating: ****
review: Ed Harris never really seemed to get his due, so it's kind of fitting that this spotlight is the closest he ever got.

rating: ****
review: Attempting to present a comprehensive look at the war on drugs, I think it was perhaps too ambitious without the one knockout central piece to the puzzle.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
rating: ****
review: Honestly, I think this was such a sensation because it seemed like the "authentic" version of the kung fu from The Matrix.

Erin Brockovich
rating: ****
review: Julia Roberts proving that she's capable of good drama.

Remember the Titans
rating: ****
review: My sister swears by this movie.

Pay It Forward
rating: ***
review: Frank Capra's legacy had it rough in 2000.

Vertical Limit
rating: ***
review: As if The Perfect Storm had had stars a few notches lower.

Small Time Crooks
rating: ***
review: One of my earliest Woody Allen experiences (I've seen Annie Hall, but it was so long ago I don't really have memories of it) seems pleasant, which I think is what he was actually going for with this one.

Highlander: Endgame
rating: ***
review: One of those low-tier franchises convinced of its cosmic significance that's rarely lived up to it.

Dungeons & Dragons
rating: ***
review: Actually kind of fun.

The Replacements
rating: ***
review: A feel-good movie that kind of proves that Keanu Reeves needs to have the movie rooting for him a little more obviously, because he tends to recede into the background otherwise.

Coyote Ugly
rating: ***
review: Kind of seems years ahead of its time at this point.

The 6th Day
rating: **
review: I'm pretty sure Arnold thought he was recreating Total Recall with this one.

Space Cowboys
rating: **
review: Seems to be the last movie cashing in on the Grumpy Old Men phenomenon in blockbuster mode.

Best in Show
rating: **
review: The problem with producing a satire of something is that the satire might end up being as ridiculous as the thing it's mocking, which here is the totally overblown egos of dog shows.

Red Planet
rating: **
review: This and Mission to Mars didn't seem to realize that the appeal of 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn't so much the space setting but the overblown cosmic significance of a machine going crazy.

Battlefield Earth
rating: **
review: Honestly, the worst sin this movie commits is allowing John Travolta to upstage the good guy.  Otherwise it's kind of a parody of sci-fi storytelling, and may even have been intended to be.  Ironically probably would've been better received if it had starred Kevin Costner as Jonnie Goodboy Tyler.  But after Waterworld and The Postman both tanked with audiences, it was probably extremely unlikely that he would've ever agreed to giving it a third go...