erasing clouds

Picture Show: Reviews of Films Available on Video

by Dan heaton

Last Night (1998) This is by far the mellowest film I've ever seen about the end of the world. Writer-director Don McKellar has created a sweet, poignant film about the final six hours of life on the planet. The story never reveals the details behind the disaster, and it's not essential to understanding the film. The focus here is on how people deal with their imminent deaths, McKellar picks out a small, connected group of characters and explores their final moments. Duncan, an executive at a local gas company, calls all customers to assure them that service will remain on until the end. Mrs. Wheeler celebrates a fake Christmas dinner with her family and gives them presents from the past. The most interesting story involves Patrick Wheeler (McKellar) and Sandra (Sandra Oh) who meet by chance and end up connecting during the earth's final moments. Patrick attempts to tell her his life story, and she interrupts, saying "Tell me something to make me love you." Even with a short 96-minute running time, Last Night still drags at several points. However, the ending is wonderful, a peaceful way for mankind to leave this earth. It left me pondering what I would cling to if our world was ending. There is no simple answer, and McKellar grasps that perfectly with this intimate film.

Deep Blue Sea (1999) The most enjoyable part for me in this film was guessing who would die next. Surprisingly enough, I was wrong several times, with one huge shock occurring early on. The plot is pointless mishmash about genetically enhancing the brains of sharks to help cure Alzheimer's. No, I did not make that up. Obviously, the sharks eventually grow too smart, and all hell breaks loose. Director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island) has directed quite a few action films, and does have a decent eye for filming intense scenes. Unfortunately, it's no surprise that the characters are completely one-dimensional. I could possibly overlook this fact if the action sequences were more innovative. A group of talented actors have come along for the ride, though, including Samuel Jackson, Stellan Skaarsgard (who seems to be in every film I see lately), and Saffron Burrows. This adds a bit of legitimacy to the production, but good actors can only do so much with bad lines. Surprisingly, though, I enjoyed watching this film for the most part. Harlin delights in toying with our expectations of the genre, and the killings are sudden and extremely vicious. I do have qualms about the excessive use of computer animation, especially during several intense shark attacks. No matter how brutal the events are on-screen (and believe me, they're brutal), the shock dissipates when the effects are obviously digital. Overall, Deep Blue Sea is fairly entertaining, even if it gives the brain plenty of rest.

Liberty Heights (1999) An enchanting coming-of-age story about a group of Jewish teenagers living in Baltimore in the 1950s. Ben Kurtzman (Ben Foster) is a bright boy who is mesmerized during prayer by Sylvia (Rebekah Johnson), a fellow African-American student. His friends tell him he's crazy to think about dating her, and his mother can't believe it when he mentions that she's attractive. Van Kurtzman (Adrien Brody) meets an attractive blond bombshell at a Halloween party, and feels he must see this perfect girl again. Writer/director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) creates a story that wonderfully expresses the innocence of youth during this turbulent time period. Ben and Sylvia's relationship exemplifies this light nature, as they spend hours enjoying music and each other's company, but understand that a normal relationship is impossible. The story contains numerous funny and entertaining moments, and mixes them with realistic scenes of poignancy and life. The numerous supporting characters shine, especially Orlando Jones (the "Make 7Up Yours" guy) as Little Melvin, a small-time drug dealer. His lively, silly performance indicates a bright future in movies for this energetic actor. Liberty Heights exists on another level from most movies about teenagers being released today. It makes you laugh and care without resorting to pointless gags and gross-out humor.

SLC Punk! (1999) An uneven, yet endearing story about two punks living in Salt Lake City, not usually considered a haven of open-mindedness. Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and Bob (Michael A. Goorjian) live in a run-down house with rebellious messages covering the walls. They sport punked-out hair and clothes and spend their time drinking, beating up rednecks and nazis, doing nothing, chasing girls, and drinking. What lifts this film above stupid clichés is the fact that Stevo and Bob are actually fleshed-out characters with understandable obstacles. Bob struggles with feelings of self-worth (and a deathly fear of needles), and must deal with his crazy father. Stevo is trying to become the opposite of his father (Christopher Mcdonald), a wealthy lawyer, but inside he realizes he does share a bond with his dad. Lillard (Scream) mugs a little too much for the camera, but does have some poignant scenes, especially near the end of the film. The direction by James Merendino is inventive, especially during several entertaining monologues by Stevo when he addresses the camera. There are some extraneous segments, including a long sequence with their crazy friend Sean, but overall the story is interesting. I also enjoyed the film because some of the side characters (and events) closely reminded me of friends from college in Missouri.

Romeo Must Die (2000) Based very loosely on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this energetic, yet flawed film takes the story into modern-day Oakland. The plot focuses on the conflicts between two rival African-American and Asian crime families who each control half of Oakland's waterfront. Jet Li and Aaliyah star as Han Sing and Trish O'Day, the offspring of each family's patriarch. They both exude significant charm and have the potential of generating chemistry, but the screenwriters cram in so much plot that little room exists for their relationship. The story begins with the mysterious death of Han's brother, Po Sing, which spurs Han to escape from a Hong Kong prison and travel to California. He arrives in the midst of turbulence between and within the two families, with a large mysterious business deal looming in the background. Han starts to uncover the truth behind the murder, and this leads him into conflicts with both families. Jet Li's high-flying acrobatics as the villain in Lethal Weapon 4 saved that film from utter disaster. Unfortunately, his best moves here are ridiculously computer-enhanced, and this lessens the impact of the major fight scenes. Plus, Li spends most of the film fighting random goons led by Maurice (Anthony Anderson), Trish's supposed bodyguard. Anderson provides much of the film's comic amusement, but his group doesn't provide a significant showcase for Li's skills. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak does create several inventive action sequences, however, including a silly Jackie Chan-style battle during a football game and a pulse-pounding motorcycle chase. Romeo Must Die stays afloat mainly due to the reliable acting skills of Delroy Lindo and Isiah Washington (who both starred in Spike Lee's Clockers). Lindo gives a surprisingly powerful performance as Isaak O'Day, Trish's troubled father, while Washington exudes menace behind the calm façade of Mac, Isaak's main henchman.

The Whole Nine Yards (2000) Filled with great moments of physical comedy, witty lines, and ingenious touches of sly humor, this is one of the funniest films of the year. The plot is conventional, but it remains mostly believable because of energetic acting performances across the board. Dr. Nicholas Oseransky (Matthew Perry of Friends), a miserable dentist, lives in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood in Canada with a wife (Rosanna Arquette) who wants him dead. To complicate matters, Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis), a renowned professional killer from Chicago, moves in to the house next door. From this premise, plenty of silliness ensues, with numerous charming and hilarious supporting characters entering the picture. The showstopper is Amanda Peet, a cute, energetic young actress, who plays a girl with aims of becoming a hired killer. She steals all of her scenes with her sly smile and perfect execution. Michael Clark Duncan (The Green Mile) also shines as a giant, cheerful killer working with "The Tulip." The real surprise of the film is the physical comedic talents of Matthew Perry, who falls down and runs into various objects (including Duncan), with hilarious results. Both Perry and Willis raise the humor level because they play their roles straight, even in the midst of the ensuing mayhem. While lacking an inventive plot, The Whole Nine Yards succeeds anyway with energy and perfect comic timing. I smiled and laughed for the entire film, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Issue 3, October 2000 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds