The single largest, most devastating disappointment of this summer surely has to be Armageddon. While Mooncrap -- for those unfortunates who remember this -- has appalling acting, a laughable plot, and insanely stupid dialogue, the people behind it at least recognized it as a low budget film and never tried to tote it as that year's most ecstatic movie experience. No such luck for the production team behind Armageddon. It proves, beyond any doubt, that disgustingly large amounts of money can never replace talent, good taste, or even common sense.
For example, it is, apparently, smarter to put ten sociopathic roughnecks through an evening class version of nasa's training compressed into twelve days, than it is to teach fully trained astronauts to handle drilling equipment during the same time. Not to mention the fact that for all the sophisticated equipment pointed towards the sky -- along with all the professional and amateur astronomers peering in the same direction -- something the size of Texas hurtling towards the Earth at unnerving speed goes undetected until it's a fortnight away from putting a serious dent in anyone standing in the way.
In addition to the horrendous plot, the hair-raisingly appalling acting, and the gut-wrenching American nationalism, the entire film is frighteningly similar to a 1930's German propaganda film. You just know that God wears boxer shorts embroidered with the Star-spangled Banner after seeing this film. I guess that now that the Cold War is over, and the Soviets cannot be accused of despicable acts any longer, the USA has to take on Mother Nature and the Laws of the Universe as its new adversaries.
To give you some idea of the order of magnitude of this film's brain-liquefying lack of quality, Steve Buscemi is type-cast as himself and he is over acting. The film's one, single, and only, redeeming feature is Peter Stormare. But then, he is European...
So, rather than spend your money on such painful torture, take out a subscription to the Sci-Fi channel and see films like Within the Rock (also shown on TV1000 recently). Like Deep Impact and Armageddon, this too stars a massive lump of rock hurtling Earthbound carrying a drilling team. However, this time there is a stowaway who is less than friendly and partial to random acts of extreme violence. Sort of Aliens meets Deep Impact. Certainly not brilliant, but unquestionably more entertaining than Armageddon.
In fact, Earth-hurtling boulders with piggy-backed drilling teams seem to be the latest movie trend. The same esteemed purveyor of low-budget sci-fi films has recently shown Falling Fire. Here we follow the lives and misfortunes of a crew planted on an inbound lump. Their delectable task is to nudge said rock from its course by means of nuclear detonations. Sound familiar? Ah, but rather than blow the whole thing into eyelash-sized particles with one good whack, caution is the order of the day, and thus several, well-timed and perfectly executed explosions must be set off. This means that the suspense is extended and much more time is available for killing the crew in new and exciting ways, while revealing a plot twist or two.
Leaving sci-fi for a moment, we turn our weary eyes to another of the summer's disappointments. If you go and see Wild Things you can safely leave your brain at home. You won't need it for the duration of this film, because absolutely everything is over-explained to such a painstaking level of detail that a slide rule would get bored. That is, of course, providing it could sit still for long enough: This film never ends.
It should end. In fact, there is a point at which is does. A perfect point. A beautiful end. A magnificent conclusion. A satisfying climax. You suddenly forgive the film for all its shortcomings because it ends on such a marvelous note.
Imagine, thus, your shock, when, for some unimaginable reason, the film continues!? As you sit there in total disbelief, another good fifteen minutes of absolutely unnecessary footage assaults your senses, adding nothing to the story. Finally, when the film does end, still more is shown interspersed with the final credits. Outtakes, which explain the bits that every sentient member of the audience has already understood (slide rules included).
Finally, since Hollywood obviously is incapable of exercising prudent restraint, there ought to be laws passed against making more than two follow-ups to any given film. If you need proof, just see Lethal Weapon 4.
The third film in the series was not much good and, trust me, no amount of gifted rewriting could breathe life into the tired jokes or the worn plot. If only the rewriting for this film had been gifted. Provided you survive the dreadfully long 127-odd minutes to the bitter end, you end up sitting through the credits simply because Apathy has writhed its long, clammy fingers around your cerebral cortex and slowly started to squeeze.
Lethal Weapon 4 collects One Overflowing Bucket, largely because you're too apathetic to eat out the popcorn first. Wild Things scores about $5/6$ buckets because of over-explanation and a severe case of malignant terminus procrastinatum.
In the category ''Earth-shattering Events'', both Within the Rock
and Falling Fire get about $5/8$ Bucket, suggesting that they are
perfectly acceptable sci-fi horror-thrillers, but leave no deeper
impression (pun intended
Terrible as it may sound, Armageddon registers off the scale in the ''Red Bucket'' system. Thus, to comprehend the horrendous devastation this monster leaves in its wake, we must resort to more powerful means. Armageddon evokes $<$gasp$>$ One Small Blue Vial! Proceed with extreme caution.
In my initial draft, the text ended here. Some of you will probably argue that it should have done just that, but I thought that I cannot leave you only with reviews of poor films, with no hope for improvement, or even suggestions for escaping the current crop of rubbish. So, we quickly turn away from Hollywood and find this summer's salvation among the independents.
Clerks is a wonderful little comedy drama from 1994 shot in black and white. It chronicles a day in the life of Dante and Randal, the former of whom is forced to work on his day off, the latter of whom only works when forced. If you've ever wondered what the distinction is between `sex' and `fooling around', or the fate of the independent contractors working on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, this gem of a film will tell you. The punishment for selling cigarettes to a four year-old, how to find the perfect carton of eggs, and exact lyrics for Berserker, all will be revealed in this film. No longer running at cinemas, this can be seen currently on TV1000 or rented on video.
Followers of Rumour Control will know that beneath the cold, hard, cynical exterior, I'm an absolute sucker for a well made romantic comedy. Sliding Doors is just one such film and (at the time of writing) is still running at the cinemas. It has the perfect balance between romance and drama on the one hand, and comedy and relief on the other. The film is so hilarious in places, I'll even forgive Gwenyth Paltrow for her rather poor, fake English accent. John Hannah stars opposite her in this and it's this reviewer's suspicion that we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the future. Perhaps the best thing about this film is that the end is not a traditional sickeningly sweet Hollywood ending, yet it is avoids ending on a note of despair. Imaginative, witty, sometimes sad, at others painfully funny, this film leaves a smile lingering on your lips as you exit the cinema.
In view of recent current events (an oxymoron?), nip out and rent a copy of Wag the Dog. Not only is this a very funny film, with Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Heche all putting in good performances, it also has some rather nice understated humour. In any case, see it, and then tell me that Life doesn't imitate Art.
It's always fun to read the Internet Movie Database genre and keyword classifications. For example, Gattaca is in the ''wheelchair'' and ''vacuum-cleaner'' category of films (no, it is not alone in the latter). One of the keywords for Wag the Dog is ''real-life parallel''. Interesting. Did they know that before the film was made...?
Not enough, you say? Want more, you say? Very well. Load up with Shallow Grave, Trainspotting or Fargo for a more cynical outlook on Life. Alternatively, pick up a copy of City of Industry but make absolutely sure that you don't read the blurb on the back of the cassette, nor see any trailers for it. For a lighter look on Life (and Death) see Grosse Point Blank. Has the same effect on you as Sliding Doors, but for different reasons. Finally, for some solid drama with a few twists, check out Lone Star, but try to ignore that Matthew McConaughey is in it: I would say ''acting'', but this would imply ability on his part. Otherwise, credible characters, interesting story, and brilliant scene transitions.