by Tim Van Schmidt
The Cell ****
A Dada-esque adventure inside the head of a psychotic killer. Ground-breaking scientific technology allows a researcher to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer to find the location of his latest victim. The dreamscape sequences are stunningly imaginative and frightening.
Directed by Tarsem Singh…2000…107 min…featuring Jennifer Lopez, Colton James, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Patrick Bauchau, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn.
The Beach ***
A “Lord of the Flies” drama for the young traveler’s culture. “The Beach” follows the adventures of Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio), an American traveling in Thailand. In Bangkok, Richard finds little satisfaction in the revelries of the other tourists crowding the beaches and carousing in the streets. Then he meets a character in the hostel he is staying at who describes a beautiful, unspoiled beach on a hidden island. Despite the grisly suicide of the informant, Richard uses a hand drawn map to entice two French travelers- Francoise and Etienne- to go with him.
What the trio find on the island is a marijuana farm guarded by machine gun toting natives and a commune-style group of international travelers. The matriarchal commune reluctantly accepts Richard, but the need for secrecy is fueled by two things- the selfish need to keep the beautiful beach nearby to themselves and the promise they make to the marijuana farmers that no more people would come. Richard gets involved- steals away the French girl, becomes a darling of Sal, who rules the commune, then becomes an outcast when more travelers show up with a map Richard left behind in Bangkok. The new travelers make the situation boil over and paradise is lost.
But paradise is lost for the travelers long before the farmers call off the party. Their selfish need to protect their piece of heaven- living, playing and loving in a place completely tucked away from the rest of the ugly world- leads to foul choices. It’s one thing when a commune member is held down and a tooth yanked to prevent him from going to the mainland to potentially leak word of the island. It becomes another when young Swedish fishermen get mauled by a shark. One dies and must be buried. The other is so badly injured that the group expels him out into the jungle to die. In the final climactic scene, Sal indeed pulls the trigger when the leader of the farmers forces her to make a choice. Human negligence and even potential murder means that the paradise the commune protects is tenuous at best.
The shots of the beach itself- hit hard in the recent tsunami disaster- are stunning- the blue green water inviting and the white sand pure. But this movie isn’t about the beach itself but about the selfish, spoiled humans running around on it. (1 hour, 59 minutes, 20th Century Fox 2000.)
Mission: Impossible II ***
A lot went into this production, but still comes up empty at the end, the antogonists duking it out with fists, knives and handguns in a tedious climax sequence. The motorcycle chase goes on too long, Tom Cruise gives a mannequan performance- not that he has a lot to work with here. The early parts of the movie are promising- exotic locales, steamy interchanges between characters, but becomes just another fist fest when it is over. Oh, there’s a plot here- something about a killer virus and its antidote- but its all sheer excuse to keep the action rolling. The bright spot here is Thandie Newton who sizzles every time she is on the screen. Directed by John Woo. Also includes Anthony Hopkins. Dougray Scott. Ving Rhames. 123 minutes. 2000.
Mission to Mars ***
It’s anyone’s guess what we will find on the surface of Mars once we get there. Sure, we have lots of information from little unmanned rovers- photos, soil samples, atmospheric conditions- but we really won’t get the big picture of the planet until people land on the surface. That makes everything about Mars wide open to the imagination and “Mission to Mars” takes full advantage of the situation.
The action in “Mission to Mars” centers around the first manned mission to the Red Planet. That mission successfully lands on the surface and sets up a sustainable work camp, only to have disaster strike after an inscrutable encounter with a strange, pulsating mountain. The movie then follows the progress of the rescue mission.
Perhaps more riveting than the scenes on Mars, are those taking place on the trip to Mars. Despite the excitement of exploration, “Mission to Mars” rightly demonstrates that desire alone does not get the job done. It takes a tremendous amount of figuring, testing, hypothesizing and simulations to even be ready for interplanetary travel. And even at that, humans are not fully informed about what dangers will exist in space.
This is underscored by several events that happen on the journey from Earth to Mars. That includes being pummelled by micro-meteorites- tiny space rocks that can shoot right through the space ship’s hull and threaten critical functions. It also includes the accidental ignition of leaking fuel that ends up destroying the main ship. These disasters come on with a kind of slow motion effect- weightlessness contributing mightily to the need for slow, measured motions- but they are deadly nonetheless.
There is also a scene in “Mission to Mars” that takes the angst away. This is when the crew of the Mars mission take a little time off of their duties to do a little weightless dancing. The scene reminds that even though these are scientists doing something untried and dangerous, they are still people who need some release.
Once the action of “Mission to Mars” moves to the planet’s surface- after the stressful loss of the rescue mission’s commander- it becomes a Wild West show of guesswork and conjecture, resulting in a fantastic ending. For one thing, it seems the base camp experiment worked in terms of growing plants that produce food and oxygen, which gives the actors the opportunity to take their helmets off for some scenes. The Mars wind blows through the sides of the habitat the astronauts are meeting in like some breezy place on Earth and the concern about the deadly pressure and lack of atmosphere on Mars is shuffled aside.
But it is the big shiny head buried in a mountain of dirt that ends up taking “Mission to Mars” beyond any applicable science. Instead, it becomes a fairy tale about how Earth and other planets in the solar system were colonized by the civilization on Mars after a planetary disaster. Bring up the dramatic music, send one of the explorers off into space in an alien craft to go meet our ancestors- the one with nothing left to go back to- and then get the rest of the crew off Mars’ surface by the seat of their pants. That about wraps it up. What starts as fairly plausible ends in the fantastic- more fantastic than “Rocket Ship X-M”- making “Mission to Mars” more about what would be fun or interesting to find on Mars and not what anyone expects to really be there.
Directed by Brian De Palma…2000…Gary Sinise (as Jim McConnell)…Tim Robbins (as Woody Blake)…Don Cheadle (as Luke Graham)…Connie Nielsen (as Terri Fisher)…114 min.
Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 ***
This sci-fi vision of the future supposes that a brutal race of aliens takes over Earth and enslaves the people while robbing the planet of its resources. John Travolta is devilishly humorous as the overgrown bad guy, but the dialogue throughout most of the movie heavily depends on cliched platitudes. The good guys here are the primitive human slaves who rise up in rebellion after one of their kind receives some alien education.
Directed by Roger Christian…2000…118 min…featuring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker.
Miss Congeniality ***
“Miss Congeniality” is a comedy showcase for Sandra Bullock, who plays a tough, graceless FBI agent going undercover as a beauty pageant contestant to catch a killer. The movie is basically one long joke about how unsuited her character really is to the assignment. It’s completely for fun, not to be taken seriously in the least. My favorite scene: Bullock performing on water glasses while dressed in costume.
Directed by Donald Petrie…2000…109 min…featuring Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Heather Burns, Steve Monroe.
Red Planet ****
There doesn’t seem to be anyone who believes that Mars would be a hospitable environment for humans and “Red Planet” underscores that heavily. But it isn’t just Mars that’s inhospitable, it’s space travel in general.
It all begins with a problem. To escape the polluted Earth, scientists shot oxygen producing algae up to Mars, which seemed to grow, but then suddenly disappeared. A manned mission is undertaken to reach Mars and find out what happened. The Earth is desperate and a thin hope clings to this crew.
Everything seems to go well enough at first, the small crew, headed up by a female captain and a philosophizing science officer, getting to know each other in the long months of travel. It’s all cozy until a gama burst rakes through the ship and sends all critical systems into failure right inside a Mars orbit. The captain stays, the rest jetison and so begins the fight for survival. It takes everything the captain’s got to save the ship and the rest will have a hard time of it, to be sure.
“Red Planet” continues the tradition of the talking computer with a female voice assisting the captain on board the ship. There is also a robot- AMEE- a dextorous machine with scientific and military functions that torments the men on the planet surface. But what makes this a very good science fiction movie is that it is about survival at its very core.
Never mind the surprising conditions the explorers on the ground find, or the amazing things they see along the way. It ends up being a human triumph because, finally, one guy keeps putting one foot in front of the other, overcoming immense obstacles with applied knowledge, strong will power, sacrifice and luck. The message here isn’t about Mars explorers, but about people in general, going to extremes to find an answer to each succeeding problem. That Mars will be a tough customer to settle is just another one of those problems.
Directed by Antony Hoffman…2000…106 min…featuring Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Simon Baker, Terence Stamp.
The war between the mutants and the mutants and the humans begins.
Directed by Bryan Singer…2000…104 min…featuring Hugh Jackman (as Wolverine,) Patrick Stewart (as Professor X,) Ian McKellen (as Magneto,) Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Davison.
Pitch Black ***
The opening scenes of the crash landing are riveting. The ambiance of the planet is haunting. Riddick is delightfully menacing and mysterious. Interesting photography.
Directed by David Twohy…2000…109 min…Vin Diesel (as Riddick,) Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Claudia Black, Rhiana Griffith.