Pinback's Mini Movie Reviews

Due to recent personal events, one of my biggest hobbies now is going out and sitting in dark rooms with strangers, eating popcorn, and staring at a wall for about two hours at a time.

This page will feature my opinions of some of the things they show on the wall, updated whenever I sit in another dark room.
Titanic (reviewed 12/21/97)
Alien Resurrection (reviewed 12/11/97)
The Game (reviewed 9/24/97)
G.I. Jane (reviewed 8/24/97)
Mimic (reviewed 8/24/97)
Cop Land (reviewed 8/17/97)
Event Horizon (reviewed 8/16/97)
Air Force One (reviewed 8/3/97)
Contact (reviewed 7/14/97)
Face/Off (reviewed 7/14/97)
Con Air (reviewed 7/14/97)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (reviewed 7/14/97)
Men in Black (reviewed 7/14/97)
Titanic (*****)
Three hours and fourteen minutes?

I've been a huge James Cameron fan since 1986, when Aliens came out and established him as the premier action film director in all of moviedom, but even I couldn't deny the enormous burden that was already weighing this, his latest and certainly most ambitious project to date, down. Let's recap, shall we? A release date that had slipped far past its original estimate. A budget that had skyrocketed past $200 million (some say close to $300 million), making it the most expensive movie ever. A "disaster movie", mediocre examples of which these past couple of years have seen more than their share. A story with a tragic ending that everyone already knows. And last but not least...three hours and fourteen minutes.

I'm not stupid. The first place I went was the men's room, five minutes before showtime. As I stepped through the door, I heard someone shouting "Watch your step, sir! Watch your step!!" I looked down and saw that I was walking in about two inches of water, which the "custodial assistant" was diligently trying to mop up. The movie hadn't even started yet, and already we were taking on water. This was either a hilarious coincidence, or a great gimmick thought up by theater management to help moviegoers suspend disbelief before the movie starts. Remember how, when Jaws first came out, everyone was afraid to go into the ocean? Now I'm afraid to go into public bathrooms.

Let's make this short. Titanic is a movie which presents us with a very traditional, sweet love story, against a backdrop of awe-inspiring sights and foregone tragic conclusions. You will be touched by the romance if you've got a heart, and you'll be blown away by the grand spectacle if you've got eyes and ears. This movie will win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and all technical awards. Bank on it.

It is easily Cameron's best (which is impressive by itself), and is one of the most magnificent, awe-inspiring moviegoing experiences I have ever had.

See it on the big screen.

And go to the bathroom first.

Alien Resurrection (***1/2)
I was this close to getting the theater all to myself. There I was, belching, farting, and scratching myself through the trailers, looking back to give the projectionist a "thumbs up", throwing empty beer cans on the floor, basically making myself t'home...when in walked two couples. The first couple had the decent sense to park their asses way back in the theater, but the other felt it was necessary to come down and plop themselves next to my seat (fifth row, first seat on the left.) Halfway through the movie I actually had to get up and move back in the theater in an effort to position myself equidistant from the two couples, because it had become obvious that both of these couples had come here simply to have conversation. I've been shouting for years that there should be a "no couples" rule in public cinemas, but have been dismissed as a lunatic. I therefore am willing to offer a new, kinder, gentler proposal, which is that there should be a "no women" rule. I've had a lot of bad luck with yapping couples lately, but I'm starting to notice who the main offenders usually are, and it's you women. Here's a hint, ladies: Nobody cares what you think, except for your boyfriend sitting next to you, and he's only pretending to care what you think because he's hoping to get some sex off you later. Secretly, he's wishing the same thing that I am, that you would just shut up. Also, nobody wants to hear your obnoxious reactions to gross stuff. Every time there's something gross on the screen, we don't need to hear, "ewwww!" or the even more popular and more aggravating, "oh, my god..."

[ Say, are you gonna review the movie or what? ]

Oh, right. Well, I think Alien Resurrection falls under the category of "if you're going to see it, you've probably already seen it," but just in case this is not the case with you, I will not give anything important away. Suffice it to say that Ripley has been brought back to life two hundred years after her death (in the underrated Alien 3) for the purpose of the evil government finally getting their hands on one of the slimy mean monster thingies. Well, they get one. Then they make more. Then they run around with a rag-tag bunch of renegade space- pirate-type people getting killed. This, you knew was going to happen. The surprises and the pleasures all come with the Ripley character, who is given one of the greatest turns in sequel history. See, now she's, genetically, part alien. One of the greatest joys of the film is wondering whose side she's really on, because instead of the grim intensity of her life-and-death struggle through in the first three films, now she walks around with a perpetual smirk, as if she's enjoying watching others flail around for once. Since she's not really alive, she's not afraid of dying. It's fascinating to watch, and Sigourney Weaver pulls it off marvelously. The other chilling subtext is her motherly bond with the newly generated aliens. They're her family now, and the way this relationship is fleshed out (so to speak) makes the last twenty minutes of this film one of the most profoundly disturbing moviegoing experiences I can remember. It's given even more punch by the fact that the rest of the movie is relatively light-hearted, brainless fun. Maybe nobody was affected as deeply as I was, and I'm just a sucker, but I walked out of this movie in a daze.

Resurrection, as with the other three films, is exceptionally well made, with much artistic flair. It hasn't the brooding atmosphere of the first, the masterful operatic presence of the second, or the shadowy claustrophobia of the third, but elements of all three are apparent, and there is enough new stuff here to keep the series fresh. The film is getting consistently negative-to-lukewarm reviews, which I find genuinely surprising. I can only surmise that they were all too distracted by "ewww, oh my god!" to fully appreciate the movie.

The Game (***1/2)
David Fincher is becoming one of my favorite new directors. He started with the woefully underrated Alien3, then followed with one of the more disturbing films ever made with the diabolical Seven, and now he brings us the dark, paranoid nightmare of The Game. Actually, it's more of a funhouse than a haunted mansion, as Michael Douglas is led along an unknown path, led by unseen guides, as his life goes from the structured to the senseless. Yes, the story is ridiculous. Yes, the ending is even more ridiculous than that. But it's made so well, and so fun to watch while it's happening, that it's an all-around enjoyable piece of art. Don't think too much, or you might end up somewhat disappointed.

G. I. Jane (***1/2)
Certainly this movie was the pairing up of two of moviedom's most enigmatic people. Demi Moore, the actor, who apparently is trying to have the adjective "daring" permanently prefixed to her title, and Ridley Scott, the director, who has both proven that he can make some of the greatest films in history (Blade Runner, Alien), and that he can make some of the not greatest films in history (White Squall). One might have expected that a movie that combined these volatile talents might end up as a bit of a mess. But it ain't. Much of the movie shows our heroine going through S.E.A.L. training, and while it doesn't quite match the Marine boot camp of Full Metal Jacket, it is still riveting cinema. Then again, I like military movies to begin with. The only thing that kept me from giving this movie four stars is the last 20 minutes, which seemed fairly contrived, and included sequences shot in such a unique way that I couldn't decide if it was fascinating or just annoying. A lot of reviews I've read have said that this movie was so much like Top Gun that Ridley should have handed the reins over to his brother, Tony (Top Gun, Crimson Tide). I think they missed the point. Tony's talents would have only been appropriate during the aforementioned last 20 minutes, for he is, after all, an "action-flick" director. But good ol' Ridley done himself proud. By the way, Roger Ebert gave this film three and a half stars, proving once again that he's still one of the best critics around, and a man of great perspective.

Mimic (*)
In order for a "sci-fi horror" film to work, it has to have a fairly decent combination of the following elements: strong script, interesting characters, decent acting, lots of style, confident direction, and a vaguely plausible storyline. Mimic is unique in that it manages to have none of these elements. If you didn't already know, the movie is about cockroaches that in a space of three (!) years, have evolved to be the size of a human, and have also evolved to be able to look kinda like a guy standing around in a trenchcoat, as long as they're standing in some shadowy place where you can't tell that they've got six legs. Now, except for the ridiculous timeline, that's not a bad little idea for a movie. Unfortunately, it's that one interesting concept (which is the basis for the movie's title, even) which seems to be discarded about halfway through, when the movie becomes another interminable wait for the good guys to "blow it out of the goddamn airlock". It would have been better if they discovered that the bugs had also learned how to look like a guy shooting pool at a beer hall, or like a McDonald's cashier. "Would you like fries with RRAARRGGRGHGHGHHGH!!!" By the way, Roger Ebert gave this film three and a half stars, proving once again that he's a clueless twit who is probably smoking weed in the theaters.

Cop Land (**1/2)
So this was it? This was Stallone's "maturing as an actor"? He spends most of the movie acting like a slow-witted, good-hearted type. Wow! What a stretch! I was really impressed. It was as if the rest of the high-powered cast (featuring De Niro, Keitel, and Liotta playing characters we've all seen them play before) told Sly, "We'll act. You just stand there." And in fact, it is as if the entire movie revolves kinetically around Stallone, spinning its threads, shooting its guns, while he remains an inert nucleus. This is not his fault, though, as this structure is fundamental to the morality play of the film. So he does fine. As do the rest of the cast members, who as I mentioned have had more than enough films to perfect these particular characters that they play. That's the most entertaining part, when you get right down to it. The movie's about as fun as inviting these guys over to your house and saying, "Hey, Keitel...do that guy you always play!" And Harvey says a few lines, and then asks you to pass the pizza. No. Wait, that would be more fun. If the pizza was good, I mean.

Event Horizon (***)
Let me preface this review with a statement. Ready? Here's my statement: "I am an idiot." You see, Event Horizon is, in nearly every respect, a two-star (**) science fiction/horror film. Its flaws are almost too many to mention (and remember). "Then why did you give it three stars?" you ask. Please see my statement above. Put me on a dark, funky-lookin' spaceship for an hour and a half, and I will probably like the movie. And that's what this movie did for me, and I liked it. The movie reeks of "this could probably be a good movie if given different actors, directors, screenwriters, etc..." The credit sequences themselves, with their techno-punk beat, tell you right up front, "don't get too emotionally involved in this." The movie wastes no time on characterization, or back-plotting, or any of those boring old movie techniques. It throws you right into the story, and spends the next hour and a half trying to keep you entertained with flashy effects, and the old, faithful "jump-scare" (hint: when the music dies out, and it's real quiet, rest assured something's about to Suddenly Happen.) The good parts are, 1) it really never tries to be anything more than what it is - a near-B grade sci-fi/horror flick, desperately reminiscent of the Alien series, but without the talent, and 2) mercifully short, as I mentioned, at around an hour and a half. Any longer, and it would have to justify itself better. As it is, well...it's a dark, funky lookin' spaceship. I liked it. I am an idiot.

Air Force One (**1/2)
Back in my impressionable youth, I remembered standing in a video store, watching a man come out of the "back room", where all the dirty movies were shelved. As he sheepishly hoisted his latest finds up onto the counter to be checked out, he said (in that nervous way that patrons of the pornographic arts tend to speak), "I dunno why I keep getting these, they're all the same! Ha ha." Sure, we all know he was just trying to say something, anything, to try to make himself sound like a much more "together" kinda guy than he knew the cashier figured he was. But he made a good point. And it was the same point I found myself making as I sat through Air Force One. Certainly we've all seen this movie several times, yet we keep coming back. I mean, you've got your good guy, you've got your hostages, you've got your evil bad guy who likes to execute said hostages, and you've got your wife and kids of the good guy, who the bad guy keeps threatening to kill every three seconds. Why do we keep watching these, they're all the same! Ha ha. The only things this movie has to recommend it are the fact that the good guy is the President, which is a nice gimmick, and the fact that Gary Oldman is our finest Bad Guy Actor, by far. And just like he did with The Professional, Mr. Oldman turns what would be a relatively mediocre action movie into a relatively mediocre action movie with a really good bad guy. This movie was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, still most famous for Das Boot, which was a truly outstanding movie. This is not Das Plane, unfortunately. (Although Jurgen Prochnow does show up on the screen for a few seconds, which was a nice little nostalgic moment.)

Contact (***1/2)
There has not been a science fiction movie since Blade Runner (1982) which was worth any expenditure of brainpower to interpret, understand, discuss, or otherwise analyze. Therefore Contact comes as a great relief. An SF movie without scary aliens and wise-cracking good guys. As far as the movie itself goes, at times it borders on overwrought, but in general, it's a well-made vision of what real alien contact might be like. All the actors are good, the pacing is deliberate, but never boring. Plus, the movie takes a couple good shots at religion, which I always appreciate, although it comes close to weaseling out at the end. Also, the alien "transport" machine is way, way cool, special-effects-wise-speaking. The Gumpian effect with Bill Clinton was a bit questionable, but hey, a minor quibble. A fine movie.

Face/Off (***)
For those of you who don't yet recognize the name John Woo, let me fill you in. He used to make Hong Kong action movies, which normally featured men standing around speaking a funny language, and shooting many, many bullets at each other. Face/Off is just like that, except the funny language they are speaking is English. Woo has some "signature" scenes which you know you'll see (because you've seen them in several other Woo films). There's the scene with two guys doing a perverse waltz around a room holding pistols to each other's heads and discussing their differences. There's the scene where everybody is pointing guns at everybody else. There's the climactic shootout scene with inappropriate operatic music in the background. Face/Off has all of them, and if you appreciate that stuff, then you'll appreciate it. Also amusing is watching John Travolta and Nicolas Cage doing impressions of each other throughout the last half of the film. The verdict on this movie is that certain scenes- certain moments, like Cage getting out of his car in the beginning (you've seen it on the commercial) are brilliant, from an artistic standpoint. Other than that, the interaction between the two lead roles is fun. Other than that, there's a lot of silly action scenes, which are passable at best. On the whole, entertaining.

Con Air (***)
One word. Bruckheimer. You pretty much know what you're going to get in a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (or his dead partner). Slickly produced, fun, ludicrous nonsense. Con Air has it in spades. Most Bruckheimer movies are **1/2 at best, but of course, Con Air has Nicolas Cage, which garners it a few bonus points. Two hours of mindless fun. That's all.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (**1/2)
I know I was supposed to hate this, but I didn't. Didn't love it, either. However, it should be pointed out that if this movie came first, it would definitely be considered the better of the two. More action, more Goldblum, more special effects. Less ridiculous counterplay with annoying children. Just as much ridiculous counterplay among the "adults". Hey. Big dinosaurs. People getting eaten. That's it. Whaddya want, high art?

Men in Black (**1/2)
Another movie in the class of "you know exactly what you're in for." Will Smith playing the identical character he played in Independence Day. Tommy Lee Jones playing Jack Webb. Funny aliens. Big monster aliens. Wise cracks. Special effects. Watchable? Sure. Entertaining? Mostly. Great movie? No. But there are no surprises. You know exactly what you're in for. In large part, you'll like the movie as much as you liked Will Smith in Independence Day. (And for what it's worth, "MiB" is much better than "ID4".

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That was in case any of you devious types were thinking of stealing all my cool stuff. So there.
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