Category Archives: 1999 Movie reviews

Magnolia-1999

Magnolia-1999

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore

Scott’s Review #777

Reviewed June 21, 2018

Grade: A

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite modern directors. His best film in my opinion is Boogie Nights (1997), but has also created other dark offerings such as Phantom Thread (2017) and Inherent Vice (2014). Arguably, his most peculiar effort might be Magnolia (1999), a cerebral film with themes of forgiveness and the meaning of life. An ambitious effort with a stellar ensemble cast make the film a fantastic experience.

Set in San Fernando Valley (a mountainous area of Los Angeles), the film resembles David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) in area and oddness alone with unusual dialogue and offbeat characters. A narrator explains three situations of extreme coincidence and surmises that chance may not be the only responsible party. Anderson then carves an intricate tale involving numerous characters, intersecting lives, and a riveting final climax during one rainy California day (an oddity in itself!).

The plot begins when we meet Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), a police officer who is called to investigate a disturbance. After finding a woman’s body in an apartment closet, events turn bizarre as a children’s game show host (Philip Baker Hall), his estranged daughter (Melora Walters), the show’s former producer, Earl (Jason Robards), who is dying from cancer, his drug-addicted wife Linda (Julianne Moore), Earl’s male caretaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a former game show champion (William H. Macy), and finally, an intense motivational speaker (Tom Cruise). Quite a bevy of talented actors!

As the plot moves along in mysterious fashion, the connections of each of the characters is not only revealed, but their peculiar motivations start to take shape. For example, Linda, who clearly married Earl for his money, seems to have an epiphany and demands her lawyer change Earl’s will. Later, a character may have a connection to Earl and Linda, but is all as it seems? In the case of Magnolia, the film is so wonderfully strange that it leaves the audience guessing throughout most of its running time.

Bizarre scenes are commonplace throughout the duration of the film. My favorite one is a marvelously creative scene. Suddenly, frogs begin to fall out of nowhere from the Los Angeles sky with numerous consequences for the characters. The incident causes a ripple effect, of sorts, as many of the character’s fates are determined. Though one may not be able to make heads or tails of this scene or take complete logic from it, it’s enthralling all the same.

Magnolia has an overall quirky tone- sometimes upbeat-sometimes melancholy- that I adore. Films that are tough to figure out and that add an interesting musical score are so rich with flavor. Aimee Mann is responsible for composing many of the songs on the musical soundtrack, so much so that she received a title credit on the soundtrack itself. Mann infuses a richness into her music that is moody and diverse with ambient essentials.

Many actors make frequent appearances in Paul Thomas Anderson films. Magnolia alone seems almost like a Boogie Nights reunion with Moore, Walters, Macy, Baker Hall, and Philip Seymour-Hoffman to name just a handful. The amazing aspect is that all of the aforementioned actors play vastly different, and arguably even more complex roles, than they did in Boogie Nights. Similar to Quentin Tarantino’s actors appearing in many of his films, what a creative treat this must be for them.

There is no doubt that Magnolia (1999) is a complex, dream-like, film. Open to interpretation and reflection, I find it to be a film that feels brilliant and that I would like to revisit and deep dive into even more and more with further viewings, for hopefully a better understanding and an even deeper appreciation.

The Blair Witch Project-1999

The Blair Witch Project-1999

Director-Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring-Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams

Scott’s Review #761

Reviewed May 22, 2018

Grade: A

When a horror film “scares the viewer to death” than that film has superseded what is has intended to do since horror films are really a dime a dozen these days. Fondly remembering sitting in a crowded and very dark movie theater to see The Blair Witch Project (1999), I was left both mesmerized and clutching my seat for dear life. This film had an enormous impact on me.

The film wisely uses hand-held cameras (black and white 16mm film) and Hi-8 video, manipulating the audience into using their imaginations leading to terrifying results making the film one of the scariest horror films of the 1990’s. Sometimes what you don’t see is much more frightening than what is seen on screen.

In 1994 three college aged amateur film makers (Heather, Michael, and Joshua) decide to hike to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a legend known as the “Blair Witch”.  The witch is reportedly responsible for mysterious deaths and disappearances over the past two hundred years. They interview, wander, and joke around with each other as a sense of dread begins to develop.

According to the film the trio themselves disappear, but a year later their equipment is uncovered fully intact with the film footage able to be viewed. The 1999 film is professed to be the footage left behind by the group. Throughout the film we watch the individuals conduct interviews with the townspeople and eventually get lost in the woods at nightfall, forced to stay the night as a mysterious entity terrorizes them. Numerous creepy noises and rustlings scare the group.

In retrospect, with more insight and knowledge about the film, it may be easy for critics to dismiss The Blair Witch Project as either a hoax or a complete manipulation, but in 1999 audiences flocked to the theaters in droves as word of mouth spread. In fact, I myself saw the film twice on the big screen and was frightened equally with each viewing. More importantly, with the onset of the reality television craze the film was clever in capitalizing on this trend, so it is to be championed. Timing is everything!

In the film genre, The Blair Witch Project used buzz and word of mouth to elicit interest before the film was even released- and then the craze began. The film was highly influential to subsequent releases that also chose to utilize camcorders as their method of storytelling- think 2007’s Paranormal Activity and 2008’s Cloverfield.

Additionally, The Blair Witch Project is similar in tone to older masterpieces such as 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead- independent releases made on a shoe-string budget that became enormously successful. As with these films the camerawork was tremendously important in eliciting necessary realism.

What makes The Blair Witch Project enormously authentic is the tricks used not only on the audience, but on the cast. Reportedly the film was almost entirely improvised including dialogue and situations that the characters faced. The actors began to feel as if events they were supposed to act were actually happening- their map disappeared and noises were created to frighten them. This clever approach to Method acting elicited the perfect responses from all involved- especially as they got colder and hungrier and more desperate.

My concern is how well 1999’s The Blair Witch Project will hold up as the years pass. Phenomenally effective and tremendously profitable at the time, dozens of imitations have arisen since the films idea was novel. So much so that it makes the original idea seem dated. One thing remains true- the film gave the horror genre a much needed breathe of fresh air and influenced many films to come.

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Eyes Wide Shut-1999

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman

Top 100 Films-#99

Scott’s Review #464

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Reviewed August 14, 2016

Grade: A

Eyes Wide Shut is a film that I saw in theaters upon its release in 1999 and found it fascinating, to say the least. I have watched the film twice more in the years following and it is even more fascinating today- it gets better and more nuanced with each viewing. It is not an easy film to follow or explain, but is rich in mystery and psychologically challenging.

A huge Stanley Kubrick fan, this film is an eerie, plodding, cerebral psychological/sexual thriller. The creepy piano score is very effective, and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are both excellent as affluent, yet restless, thirtysomethings living in New York City. Cruise plays Bill, a successful doctor, and Kidman his gorgeous wife, both sexually restless and escaping into fantasy and otherwise real dalliances with other partners as they bicker about fidelity and jealousy as they lounge in their underwear and smoke pot.

It’s a film about relationships, temptation, desire, and does not always make perfect sense, but boy will it leave you thinking. The supporting characters are some of the most interesting I’ve ever seen as they compel and mystify and one wonders how they fit with the main characters. The naughty Long Island orgy is as bizarre and surreal as one can imagine.

The movie reminded me somewhat of The Ice Storm, Magnolia,and Mulholland Drive, which is the ultimate compliment as the aforementioned are film masterpieces.

Girl, Interrupted-1999

Girl, Interrupted-1999

Director-James Mangold

Starring-Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie

Scott’s Review #461

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Reviewed August 8, 2016

Grade: B+

Girl, Interrupted is a film that I had viewed twice when it came out (1999) and recently viewed again in 2013. The film is a star making performance for Angelina Jolie (unknown before this) and warrants a watch just for that alone. Jolie completely steals the show as she portrays a damaged mental patient during the 1960’s.

The film itself is interesting as it’s intended star is Winona Ryder, at this point in her heyday, but completely usurped by Jolie- glaringly so. Ryder was in prime form when she was the “it” girl during the 1990’s. Sadly, her star has since faded.

Besides the “who is the real star of Girl, Interrupted” saga, the film itself is very good, though it has a glossy, happily ever after, Hollywood, vibe to it. It is not as gritty as it could have been.

Throughout, the film has a very safe feel- even moments of peril, as when one girl commits suicide, or another suffers from burns, it feels light. I did not buy Whoopi Goldberg as the kindhearted nurse. Her performance was okay, but really nothing special. Ryder and Jolie are tops.

Despite the subject matter the film suffers from a chick-flick, cliché, happy ending sort of style, but despite all of this, I still immensely enjoy the film.

Boys Don’t Cry-1999

Boys Don’t Cry-1999

Director-Kimberly Peirce

Starring-Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny

Top 100 Films-#73     Top 10 Disturbing Films-#10

Scott’s Review #340

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Boys Don’t Cry is a fitting tribute to real-life figure Brandon Teena, a transgender man from Nebraska, who adopts a male identity and attempts to find love with Lana, played by Chloe Sevigny. Brandon is played by Hilary Swank. Sadly, Brandon was brutally raped and murdered at the hands of some local men- a fact that the film does not gloss over. Boys Don’t Cry is a heartbreaking and tragic film that will disturb some with its shocking and violent content- sadly it is a true story. Swank deservedly walked away with the Best Actress Oscar statuette.

Set in working class Nebraska and right smack in the midst of the heartland, Brandon has the cards stacked against him from the start. Not exactly the most open minded of areas, the film also sets a working class environment for Brandon as most of his friends are poor factory or bar workers. Born as Teena Brandon and female, Brandon (Swank) is a drifter and in trouble with the law for various unpaid tickets. He befriends ex-convicts John and Tom and becomes part of their crowd, falling in love with Lana- they are all unaware of Brandon being a female. When Brandon’s secret is revealed, Lana is accepting and the pair decide to run away together, but Tom and John decide to murder Brandon.

Swank’s portrayal of Brandon is brilliant and believable and very few actresses could successfully pull this off. Swank has angular, androgynous features to begin with, but her drastic physical transformation is jaw dropping. Having closed cropped hair and a male swagger, Swank immerses herself in the role, so much so, that as I watched the film I completely forgot that Brandon was not physically male. Her physical transformation is not the sole reason for the fantastic performance though- Swank is emotionally there in the role and in a heartbreaking scene, after being beaten and raped, is treated poorly by a sheriff handling the accusations- just when Brandon could use an understanding ear.

What a cold world it can be for someone who is different from most others as Boys Don’t Cry reveals in brutal, honest fashion. Anyone who knows the true story of Brandon Teena, knows he led a painful, tragic life, but was also filled with life and love- mainly for Lana. Worth mentioning is Sevigny’s performance as Lana- in love with the person that was Brandon, not so much the gender. Sevigny plays Lana as supportive, confused, and loving.

Director, Kimberly Peirce, became obsessed with the real-life case and does a fantastic job at tackling the film in a true, compelling way. To say nothing of the writing and the acting, Peirce also successfully uses a hand-held camera during Brandon’s strip scene and a surreal, muted light to portray the gloomy mid-west and the cold, hard lives that most of the characters lived. Impressively, Peirce accomplished all of this on a shoe-string budget, and took a wealth of inspiration from independent film legend John Cassavetes, who proved that gorgeous films can be made for very little money.

Many scenes take place in bars as Lana, a devoted karaoke singer, croons one tune after another, the highlight being Restless Heart’s 1988 country hit, “The Bluest Eyes in Texas”, which Lana sings in Brandon’s presence. The use of somber or sad songs gives the film as tragic soundtrack. Famed film critic, Roger Ebert, described Boys Don’t Cry as “Romeo and Juliet set in a Nebraska trailer park”.

Boys Don’t Cry is an enormous victory in film for the LGBT community and, along with Brokeback Mountain, is a perfect double-feature, as both are similar films, only one featuring males, the other females. Both are tragic, bleak, and all too real.

The Sixth Sense-1999

The Sixth Sense-1999

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring-Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment

Top 100 Films-#56     Top 20 Horror Films-#15

Scott’s Review #182

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Reviewed October 8, 2014

Grade: A

The Sixth Sense is a psychological thriller/horror film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, made in 1999, about ghosts, that was an incredible box-office and critical success at its time of release and made the line, “I see dead people” universally imitated.

Bruce Willis stars as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a successful and admired child psychologist, who lives a perfect life with his wife Anna in Philadelphia. Enjoying a romantic night at home, Malcolm and Anna are interrupted by a deranged former patient- played by an unrecognizable Donnie Walhberg. Malcolm is shot by the patient, who also shoots himself, and the story picks up a year later as Malcolm takes an interest in Cole, a troubled 9 year old boy, played by Haley Joel Osment. Cole is a peculiar boy- an outcast taunted at school, who can see the dead. His worried, over-worked mother, Lynn, is played by Toni Collette. Meanwhile, Malcolm and Anna appear to be going through marital problems and lack any meaningful communication towards each other. Anna begins to be pursued by a new beau much to Malcolm’s chagrin. Malcolm and Cole develop a special bond as Malcolm convinces Cole to speak to and help the ghosts that he sees rather than be terrified of them.

As the plot slowly unfolds, Cole helps a recently deceased girl named Kyra Collins, who is around his age. Kyra gives Cole a videotape that reveals she was murdered and proves who killed her. The subsequent scene is my favorite- there is a haunting quality to it and the camera follows the events in an interesting fashion- slowly and sedately. The setting is a wake at Kyra’s house where family and friends are gathered to pay respects and support Kyra’s parents. Malcolm and Cole arrive and present Kyra’s father with the plain videotape. The entire scene is powerful in its simplicity yet high emotional value. It is slow, but devastating in its climax and reveal. Small nuances are revealed- why is Kyra’s mother wearing bright red when the other guests are all wearing black? Will Kyra’s younger sister be the next victim? Superlative  film making.

A scene involving Cole’s teacher is riveting- being able to sense aspects about people’s pasts Cole realizes his teacher had a stuttering problem as a child. When his teacher is condescending towards Cole, the young boy explodes with rage and begins a chant of “Stuttering Stanley” that reduces the teacher to childhood traumas. Yet another powerful scene involves Cole and his mother sitting in a car caught in traffic- Cole admits the truth of his skill of seeing dead people to her and introduces an emotional story to her as proof. This is a scene where Toni Collette shines brightly.

Clearly, well over a decade since The Sixth Sense was released, most people know the twist and subsequent surprise ending and it is such a joy to go back, see the manipulations in the story and individual scenes, add them all up, and revel in the clever way that Shyamalan puts them all together. The Sixth Sense is not dated and is quite fresh, holding up tremendously, and I personally still get chills during the big reveal all these years later. But more than this pleasure, the film is written beautifully. Somewhere between horror and psychological thriller, it successfully tells a ghost story with interesting characters and jump out of your seat thrills that are not contrived and predictable in the traditional horror film way.

From an acting perspective, Bruce Willis is amazing and under-appreciated as Malcolm- he is calm, cool, collected and his performance is quite understated as the inquisitive and pensive psychologist. More praise should have been reaped on Willis. Haley Joel Osment gives an astounding performance of a lifetime- he emits an image to the audience of being strange yet sympathetic and he relays his very frightening fear of the ghosts so well that the pain and conflict he endures is evident on his face. Toni Collette is effective as the scared, concerning, haggard mother. Collette and Osment were rewarded with Academy award nominations- sadly Willis was not. Shyamalan was subsequently ridiculed for his later films (The Village and Unbreakable) – perhaps the manipulation and trickery from The Sixth Sense angered some people?

The Sixth Sense is a film that remains with you for days, weeks, even years and can be revisited and rediscovered for an intelligent, chilling good time.

American Beauty-1999

American Beauty-1999

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening

Top 100 Films-#65

Scott’s Review #70

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Reviewed June 25, 2014

Grade: A

American Beauty is a film that holds up magnificently well and packs the same punch that it did when I originally saw it when it first premiered in 1999. The film won the Best Picture Oscar in 1999, surprisingly so, as it is not a mainstream film and is edgy, artistic, and poetic.

The film is a thought provoking story of the American Dream gone wrong and how most people live ordinary, humdrum, on the surface, happy lives, but in truth are unhappy, damaged, or otherwise unfulfilled. It is a truthful film and reminds me quite a bit of The Ice Storm, a film from 1997. American Beauty is not a downer, but rather is witty, dark humored, and filled with dry sarcasm. Kevin Spacey is tremendous as the central character going through a mid-life crisis and Annette Bening is frighteningly good as his neurotic, controlling wife. Their daughter, played by Thora Birch, has her own teenage angst and falls in love with a neighborhood misfit. Every character, even small and supporting, is troubled in some way.

American Beauty is a film that was loved or hated at the time of its release; some simply did not get it or did not want to invest in the thought it requires, but, to me it’s a work of art, which has achieved a timeless quality.