Reviews

Hollow Man


Directed by: Paul Verhoven
Written by:Gary Scott Thompson, Andrew Marlowe
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, William Devane, Elizabeth Shue
Released: August 24, 2000
Grade: C+

Sebastian (Bacon) is head of a science team working on a top-secret government project.  Their creation is an invisibility serum creating limitless possibilities.  They have had no problem turning their subjects (animals) invisible but for four years have had problems transforming them back into their visible form.

Working at home one night, Sebastian makes a major breakthrough and unlocks the secret.  Hungry to become the first human to undergo the transformation, Sebastian acts against the wishes of both the government agency and his teammates and injects the serum into himself to create history.  However, things go wrong when Sebastian finds himself unable to return to a visible state and this creates serious ramifications...

Hollow Man has potential which is exemplified by the dazzling special effects that are on the lips of all cinema goers.  It’s a small wonder how the computer imaging team led by guru Scott E. Anderson (Starship Troopers, Babe) has pulled it off.  Kevin Bacon manages to maintain a strong presence despite not being seen during most all of the film - I guess his voice was good enough.

A surprise for me came during the opening credits.  I was bemused to find Elizabeth Shue taking top billing over Kevin Bacon.  After seeing the entire film and given it’s advertising, I’m convinced Bacon had the lead and did have more screen time over Shue.

Although taking its time to develop the premise, the opening was promising.  What followed was a sharp decline where all interesting storylines were discarded before culminating with a big action swansong more unrealistic than that of Mission: Impossible 2 (and that’s a big task).  That’s what makes it all the more disappointing because at least with M:I-2, I was expecting Hollywood trash.

Paul Verhoven’s (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) direction does little to help the film with it all revolving around special effects.  It subscribes to my old theory - why pump millions of dollars into making a film seem more realistic when the screenplay does exactly the opposite. 

Given the film’s title, I could use many clichés to sum up my dissatisfaction with Hollow Man.  For the record, let’s say that the film was missing a lot more than just Kevin Bacon.

     

Loser


Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by:Amy Heckerling
Starring: Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Greg Kinnear, Thomas Sadoski
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: B-

Not exactly orthodox, Loser is a better-than-average teen comedy that starts strongly but finishes with a whimper.  Director Amy Heckerling is no stranger to attracting a young audience based on her previous successes - Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless and Look Who’s Talking.

We meet Paul (Biggs) with his family at his country home being accepted to university in New York.  Paul is excited but worried that he may be overawed by the size of the Big Apple.  Upon arrival, he finds his three roommates are yahoos who are interested in beer, drugs, women rather than study.  Everyone thinks of him as a loser and things aren’t going too well until meets Dora (Suvari).  Paul falls for Dora but she’s currently seeing someone - her much older English literature lecturer, Professor Edward Alcott (Kinnear). 

Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari are reunited after their breakthrough performances in American Pie and are really good together.  They are certainly part of the better half of upcoming actors and actresses.  Their “different” hairstyles must have been a real blast for the film’s stylist.   Also keep an eye out for some small Hollywood cameos which I will not give away but were suitably chosen.

There’s quite a few sharp lines is Loser but it’s not a “split your sides laughing” type of comedy and that is made clear from the outset.  It’s a sweet story with some unusual locations and characters thrown in.  It’s not award winning material, nor is it that memorable, but it’s worth seeing Biggs and Suvari in action knowing they’ve both got a fruitful career ahead.

     

Rules Of Engagement


Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by:James Webb, Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Kingsley, Blair Underwood, Anne Archer, Mark Feuerstein
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: A-

Colonel Hayes Hodges (Jones) is a marine lawyer with two weeks to retirement.  He fought proudly in Vietnam but the injuries he sustained kept him from any future combat.  In Vietnam, Hayes forged a friendship with comrade Colonel Terry Childers.  Childers’s negotiation of a ceasefire in trying circumstances saved the life of Hodges and he’s remained indebted to him ever since.

Some 28 years later, Childers, now a highly regarded military leader, is on assignment in Yemen.  His job - to evacuate the American ambassador (Kingsley) and his family whilst avoiding hostility with local protesters.  Unexpected events transpire and the American troops find themselves under direct fire and three soldiers are killed.  Childers gives command to “waste those mother fuckers” and 83 Yemenese (many women and children) are slaughtered.

Back in the U.S., a media circus has erupted and relations between the States and Yemen are at boiling point.  Someone needs to be held accountable for the massacre and the National Security Adviser (Bruce Greenwood) wants Childers “crucified” for the incident.  Thus, a trial begins.

Childers calls on Hodges to defend him whilst young gun Major Mark Biggs (Pearce) is the prosecutor who’s out to make a name for himself.  The key issue of the trial is whether those fired upon were armed and with little evidence to support his “yes” argument, things do not bode well for Colonel Childers.

Rules Of Engagement is an attracting thriller boasting one of the best casts of the year.  Tommy Lee Jones (The Client) and Samuel L. Jackson (A Time To Kill) are no stranger to courtroom dramas and each seem to love the roles they have been given.  Guy Pearce’s American accent needs some work but its great to see Australian representation.

Not all the pieces fit but it’s enjoyable to watch a film where there’s doubt as to how things will unfold.  In most films, we see a pivotal scene that reveals all but not so in Rules Of Engagement.  The leading piece of evidence is a videotape from a security camera atop the embassy which cannot be located.  Conventional wisdom suggests that the tape will be found 10 minutes from film’s end and they’ll all live happily ever after.  Not so.

Most political/legal dramas are glossed up and this is no exception.  A particular downer is the way the National Security Adviser and the Ambassador attempt to conceal evidence - it didn’t make sense as to why they did it and why they we’re so obvious when doing it.

Regardless, it’s a potent film.  The opening half-hour features some fierce war scenes that rival the standards set by Saving Private Ryan.  Whilst not a true story, it has a lot to say about the military and corruption - attracting topics in most anyone’s book.

     

My Mother Frank


Directed by: Mark Lamprell
Written by:Mark Lamprell
Starring: Sam Neill, Sinead Cusack, Matthew Newton, Sacha Horler, Rose Byrne
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: A-

It’s been a great year for Australian films at both a qualitative and quantitative level.  A record 25 films are vying for AFI consideration this year and My Mother Frank is sure to be a contender.  Based on an original screenplay by Mark Lamprell that was inspired from his own life story, My Mother Frank is a poignant film with plenty of light-heartedness mixed with touching emotion.

Frances, known to all as Frank, is a devout Catholic who’s lived a reclusive life since her husband passed away several years ago.  Her son David (Newton) wants to see her mother “get a life” and bluntly puts it to her that she should enrol in an adult education course to get out of the house and learn new things.  Frances takes David’s idea one step further.  She enrols at the same Sydney university David attends and the two worlds are set to collide.

Overwhelmed by new experiences, Frank is soon at odds with her university lecturer (Neill) over a serious plagiarism dispute.  Meanwhile, David finds himself lusting after the girlfriend of his best mate.  Sparks are in the air and when they catch alight, Frank and David find their relationship severely strained.

My Mother Frank is a strong story developed through really great performances.  It is ultimately the tale of a mother-son relationship and I’m sure many can relate to their emotional states.  There are also some nice scenes involving the continual appearance of two nuns.

Director Mark Lamprell could not find the perfect actress to play Frank in Australia and was forced to look abroad.  His eventual choice, Sinead Cusack, is an Irish actress who’s most widely seen performance was in Stealing Beauty so she’s not exactly a big name.  Regardless, she is the shining light of My Mother Frank and her performance is one of the best of the year.  Her character has a tough exterior hiding a vulnerable interior and Cusack exhibits these qualities with her brilliance.  Matthew Newton, son of Bert, also shows he’s got a big future ahead of him with this film coming hot on the heels of his role in the big Australian hit, Looking For Alibrandi.

It is the strong screenplay that makes My Mother Frank such an enjoyable view.  There has been a striking lack of story in many films this year that makes this all the more appreciated.  It doesn’t rely on typical Australian stereotypes and doesn’t rely on rehashed Hollywood formulas.  Winner of the audience prize at the 2000 Brisbane International Film Festival, My Mother Frank is not to be missed.  It’s a tribute to Australian filmmaking and shows the rest of the world just how we like to see it done.

     

American Psycho


Directed by: Mary Harron
Written by:Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Starring: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Reece Witherspoon, Chloe Sevigny
Released: August 10, 2000
Grade: B+

“There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman.  Some kind of abstraction.  But there is no real me.  Only an entity.  Something illusory.  And though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh ribbing yours.  And maybe you can even sense our lives are probably comparable.  I simply am not there.”

Working at his father’s firm on Wall Street, Patrick Bateman’s life revolves around appearances.  He enjoys grooming, exercise, dinners at exclusive restaurants, picking up “hardbodys” at clubs and doing as little work as possible - creating the illusion to all that he is a successful individual.  Patrick Bateman is also a psychopath.

Bret Easton Ellis’s novel is a work of art.  Banned in Queensland for its subject material (which is much worse than that seen on the screen), American Psycho is an intricate novel that has a lot to say about people in the late 1980s.

It is surprising to see the film directed by a woman, particularly as it so acutely illustrates the depravity of men.  Her direction and screenplay are strong but the impact left by the book isn’t fully captured in her adaptation.  At times the film resembles a jumble and for those unfamiliar with the novel, the pieces won’t always fit together.  What became of Luis Carruthers, Courtney Rawlinson, Evelyn Williams?  Special credit has to go to the opening credit sequence that was extremely well designed.

American Psycho has had a colourful past on its path to the big screen.  Christian Bale was touted as the lead until Leonardo came along, following the success of Titanic, and sought the part.  Women’s groups protested claiming DiCaprio’s teen-idol status would encourage younger viewers to idolise his character and DiCaprio subsequently turned down the role leaving Bale to sign on the dotted line.

Christian Bale does a great job in a most difficult role.  I was most surprised by his ability to capture the soul of the character - he’s not really “evil”, he’s just a psychopath.  Some of his wittiest moments come as he discusses the musical talents of Phil Collins and Whitney Houston and how he kept a straight face I will never know.

There’s a lot behind Patrick Bateman and American Psycho that makes entrancing viewing.  It’ll leave you thinking just what it all means and whether such people really do exist.  Trust me, they do.

    

Road Trip


Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by:Todd Philips, Scot Armstrong
Starring: Breckin Meyer, Sean William Scott, Amy Smart, Paulo Costanzo
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: B

There must be something about road trips that I’m missing.  They’re a popular subject item in films - most people would be familiar with the term “road trip movie”.  I’ve been on many myself but nothing exciting ever seems to happen to me.  It must be an American thing.

Road Trip is told through the perspective of university tour guide Barry (Tom Green) and he introduces us to Josh Porter (Meyer).  He’s a freshman at a New York college who is trying to conduct a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend, Tiffany, in Texas.  They talk every day on the phone and send videotapes telling each other just how much they love and miss each other.  Awww.

At a mad on-campus party, Josh hooks up with Beth, who’s had her eye on him for some time and in a wild evening, end up sleeping together and videotaping the process.  Lo and behold, the tape is accidentally sent to Tiffany and Josh has three days to get to Texas to intercept the tape and save his relationship.

The four guys who take the trip are your typical stereotypes.  Josh is the lead and the serious one.  E.L. (Scott) is the jock that gets all the laughs and gets them into trouble.  Kyle (DJ Quails) is the nerdy kid who discovers a new side of life.  Finally there’s Rubin (Costanzo) who’s mysterious and takes a back seat all the way.

Most of the jokes are an attempt to take further the gross-out comedy routine seen recently in American Pie and There’s Something About Mary.  There are some really disgusting moments that I’m ashamed to admit I found funny at the time although in hindsight...

Sean William Scott is creating a real niche for himself (following his turn as Stifler in American Pie) and is the standout amongst the four.  The funniest moments of the film though were reserved for Tom Green with his outrageous, side-splitting comedic style.

Bound to rake in plenty of bucks and provide spice to conversations, Road Trip has plenty of top moments with more than a dash of filler thrown in.  Laughter is always the best medicine and this film is guaranteed hilarity.