Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

" For your information, my life is a living Hell "
— Elizabeth Hurley (as the devil), Bedazzled

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Ellen Goodman, columnist for the Boston Globe, writes a piece at the end of every year called “media culpas,” in which she looks back over her year of writings and acknowledges her mistakes.

While we don’t have time to acknowledge all of our mistakes, we do have some thoughts on the year in movies. We looked at four of our reviews, two where we were probably wrong, and two where we were probably right.

Maybe we’re just adding to the total number of mistakes on the year, but here they are anyway, our own mea culpas, along with some “they-a” culpas. Enjoy!

The Mummy Returns

The “original” 1999 The Mummy was a lot of fun. It was a campfire kind of movie, good old-fashioned storytelling with a swashbuckling and funny hero, a beautiful damsel in distress, and a decent villain that could pull off some pretty wicked tricks. It successfully filled the gap in the absence of a new Indiana Jones excursion.

Unfortunately, The Mummy Returns gutted everything that was good about that first installment and amplified everything that was wrong with it. A shameless, brainless, loud, and bloated waste of a huge budget, it’s a landmark to a director’s ego gone amuck. Prior to the huge success of The Mummy, Stephen Sommers had only directed modestly successful films such as The Adventures of Huck Finn and a live action version of The Jungle Book. Apparently the taste of success was a little too much for the guy and he still needs to learn more of everything does not necessarily mean better.

Topping off the ridiculous mayhem that is The Mummy Returns, the climax is impossibly silly and poorly executed, with World Wrestling Federation star The Rock’s mug stuck on a big ol’ scorpion. (Is anybody out there actually excited to see him star in his own movie this year?) Ray Harryhausen created more convincing special effects on a shoestring budget using clay figures than the cinematic geniuses behind these not-so-special effects could conjure up with the latest computers and almost all the money in the world.

If I had reviewed The Mummy Returns, it would’ve been lucky to get one star.

Zoolander

Zoolander’s most notable crime was being released right after the September 11 attacks. The movie was held back while the filmed skyline of New York was cleansed of the World Trade Center, and then released on a still-shocked American audience.

But the movie’s most heinous crime was sheer stupidity. Like the worst Saturday Night Live spinoff movies, Zoolander shows that it was built for the small screen. The comic set pieces required neither the dignity of film, nor the detail of a big screen, nor the budget of a major studio release. Stiller magically pulling off his underwear from beneath his leather pants is barely funny. (Compare to Rowan Atkinson, who in a Mr. Bean episode actually put on his swimsuit and removed his pants without revealing a single naughty bit. Now that’s funny.)

In the hands of a good director, Ben Stiller is a comic genius. But if Zoolander is any indication, Stiller is not among them.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

I gave this movie three stars and I stand behind that rating even as virtually everybody else disagreed with me. Checking RottenTomatoes.com, their “Tomatometer” tallies only 15% of the Tomb Raider reviews as favorable.

Yes, it’s a movie based on a series of video games (which, by the way, I’ve never played). That alone seems to be a source of derision for many critics. However, Lara Croft is such a strong female character, I’m surprised she (and Angelina Jolie) wasn’t given more credit.

No, it’s not a perfect movie. Tomb Raider does not have the pacing of an Indiana Jones adventure and the relationship between Lara and Alex West is seriously flawed and confusing. However, there are a lot of good ideas in this flick and it is worth giving a second chance on DVD. After all, how can you argue with a gun-toting, motorcycle-driving, multi-lingual, athletic, intelligent, globetrotting, fashion conscious siren like Lady Lara Croft?

Granted, if they do make a sequel, I hope Simon West does not return to direct it. But I’ll give him credit for getting enough stuff right.

The Deep End

Scoring an 85% on the “Tomatometer,” The Deep End is one of the most respected films of the year. It’s also one of the most overrated.

Critics praised Tilda Swinton, and rightfully so. But they also praised the tension and the direction, which makes me wonder what version of the film I saw.

The film’s conflict turns on a blackmail plot, but it doesn’t offer a new angle. We’ve all seen a blackmail movie at one point in our lives. Simply feeding us the same plot is not enough. The Deep End doesn’t give us a twist or a hook, or something to make it stand out from the crowd, and so it doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

The ending is unsatisfying, neither tragic nor relieving. The award-winning cinematography is “neat,” but it doesn’t always serve the story. And Grandpa’s (Peter Donat’s) dialogue was written to make him sound suspicious — a blatant attempt to heighten the tension at the cost of solid character development.

These compromises add to the film’s amateur feeling, and although the film gets points for being an indie, it still doesn’t deserve praise, much less a recommendation.