Movie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Out of Sight [1998]

Out of Sight [1998]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Romance
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 123 minutes

Out of Sight has a little bit of something for everyone: comedy, romance, crime, random outbursts of violence… The film is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, and it is backed by an absolute star-studded cast. It also happens to be one of my early favorites in this year’s movie project.

George Clooney stars as the charismatic bank robber, Jack Foley. After escaping from prison, Foley immediately (and unexpectedly) stumbles upon U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), waiting outside for an unrelated reason. This mix-up leads to both Foley and Sisco getting thrown into the trunk of a getaway car driven by Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames). Right away, despite being on different sides of the law, there’s an instant spark between them. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Their trunk encounter is brief, but it sets the stage for a pleasurable game of cat-and-mouse for both sides. Sisco is able to escape when she persuades an accomplice of Foley and Bragg, a perpetual stoner named Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), to leave them stranded. Foley then goes on the run, with Sisco always remaining not too far behind.

Out of Sight [1998]

Foley’s end goal is to score one last big heist and then retire to a tropical island somewhere (where have I heard that before?). His target is a financial criminal (Albert Brooks) who, while in prison, had foolishly mentioned how he had millions of dollars in uncut diamonds back at his home in Detroit. Foley and Bragg make the long trek up to snowy Michigan to scope out the situation and see if they can pull this off once and for all.

Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned. Glenn’s big mouth leads to even more people wanting to get in on the action, including an explosively violent ex-boxer named Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle). Soon this seemingly simple burglary turns into a far more complex operation than initially anticipated.

Out of Sight [1998]

The plot is labyrinth-like with its nonlinear narrative, and director Steven Soderbergh expertly weaves his way through the many layers that are always in motion. There is never a dull moment, especially when Clooney is given time to show off his trademark charisma. According to Clooney, this is the kind of role he had always dreamed of: a bad guy who you couldn’t help but root for in the end. He makes his mark in the very first scene, as he pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery I have ever seen. It can be argued that this performance is what made Clooney a bona fide movie star. Much of the film relies on his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez, and it really is something to behold. This is one of Lopez’s finest performances, as she is effortlessly equal parts sexy and badass.

Although the focus is on the two leads, every character has their chance to shine. I was most impressed with Don Cheadle, whose character grows to become more and more frightening as the film progresses. His two partners in crime, played by Isaiah Washington and Keith Loneker, are memorable themselves. The latter is involved in one of the most unexpected and absurd on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

Out of Sight had me cracking up often, and that was something I did not expect. The humor is very dark (case in point: the aforementioned unforeseen death), but the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads provides a bit of a balance by being fairly light. In the end, this is still a love story more than anything else, but its unconventional format and impeccable performances make the film stand out from the rest.

9/10

Movie Project #30: Ringu [1998]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Ringu [1998]

Ringu [1998]
Director: Hideo Nakata
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani and Yûko Takeuchi
Runtime: 96 minutes

My experience with Japanese horror movies is very, very limited. In fact, I can only remember seeing Audition, and that was many years ago. When I initially compiled my 50 movies project, it was suggested that I include something from the genre. As the highest grossing horror film in Japan, Ringu seemed like an obvious starting point.

Those who have seen the 2002 American remake, The Ring, are likely familiar with the premise. A group of teenagers have discovered a cursed videotape that will kill its viewers seven days after watching. A reporter, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), starts a personal investigation of this matter after it is rumored that her niece and a few friends died from the curse. Eventually she discovers the tape herself, watches it and then frantically has to find a way to reverse the process and stay alive. She gains help from her ex-husband Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), but can they solve the mystery in time?

Ringu [1998]

By now, more than a decade later, the film’s more memorable moments have been ingrained into the pop culture canon. The creepy little girl with long black hair, the bizarre content on the videotape, the sudden appearance of a large eyeball — anyone with half a pulse will recognize these. The common perception, with these idiosyncracies in mind, is that Ringu is scary as hell. I was expecting to *finally* be scared by a movie, something that has never happened to me. Alas, I was surprised to learn that Ringu is more of a mystery film than anything.

Sure, the suspense is riveting and the atmosphere creepy, but there was never a moment where I became frightened. The eyeball was alarming, but that was more peculiar than anything. Taken as a horror film, this is a little disappointing. As a mystery, however, this is more intriguing.

Ringu [1998]

Even though I knew what to expect from most of the film, I was generally interested throughout. The slow build creates subtle tension, and while it has its more convoluted moments, the culmination into an epic 10-minute frenzy at the end is unforgettable. For some, though, I imagine this payoff is too little, too late.

Ringu is a good, solid film, but I feel that it has lost some of its flair over the years. The mystery story is well-crafted and the performances are strong, but it is mostly forgettable outside of a few select moments. That being said, I am definitely interested in seeing more of the genre.

7/10

 
Now I’m ready to revisit The Ring. What do you guys prefer? Ringu or The Ring?

Movie Project #26: Rushmore [1998]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Rushmore [1998]

Rushmore [1998]
Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams
Runtime: 93 minutes

I was a little worried about seeing Rushmore for the first time. I had yet to fall in love with a Wes Anderson film, aside from the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox. But it had been years since seeing any of them, and my tastes have changed drastically since. What better movie to give Anderson another shot than with his much-loved Rushmore?

Jason Schwartzman stars as the 15-year-old Max Fischer, a student of Rushmore Academy who is more interested in joining every extracurricular activity available than improving his grades. After finding an intriguing Jacques Costeau quote in a library book, Max tracks down those who have checked it out in the past and eventually finds the culprit: Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), a widowed first grade teacher. Max befriends her but quickly falls in love.

In an attempt to win her over, Max connects with a millionaire steel magnate named Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Problem is, Blume begins to fall for Miss Cross as well. The two begin a back-and-forth battle to steal the teacher’s heart, with Max in particular becoming increasingly more drastic with his actions. The love triangle quickly spirals out of control.

Rushmore [1998]

Rushmore, in a nutshell, is quirky. Everything about the movie is awkward, from Max’s non-stop pestering of Miss Cross all the way down to his hilarious take as a theater director. What high school student other than Fischer would run stage productions of Serpico and Apocalypse Now? The movie has a unique brand of humor, no doubt, and it’s one that can divide audiences. I found myself chuckling quite a bit, but your mileage may vary.

One thing that surprised me about Rushmore that I really dug was its obvious homages to The Graduate, one of my favorite films from last year’s project. From the concept of a student/young male falling in love with a much older teacher all the way down to a scene where Blume cannonballs into a pool (much like Benjamin Braddock), it’s easy to see that Wes Anderson had this 1967 classic in mind while filming this.

Rushmore [1998]

I can’t place my finger as to what made me like Rushmore so much. There was nothing in particular that made me say “hey, this is a great movie” but I really enjoyed everything it threw at me. The soundtrack, full of classic 60s tunes, is well-curated, and everything about the film is eminently likable. Even Max Fischer, who would almost certainly be an annoying little twat in real life, is somehow charming. For that, I will give credit to the always enjoyable Schwartzman. Also, you simply can’t go wrong with Bill Murray, who obviously shines in this role.

I was torn between giving Rushmore a 7 or an 8. Ultimately, I have decided on the latter simply because I had a smile on my face as the movie ended. Anderson’s offbeat humor isn’t for everyone, but I quite enjoyed it in Rushmore. I’m ready to give him a second chance, and I can’t wait to dig into the rest of his filmography.

8/10

Movie Project #16: The Truman Show [1998]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Truman Show [1998]

The Truman Show [1998]
Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney
Runtime: 103 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see The Truman Show. Maybe it was because I thought it would be too similar to Edtv, a likeminded film I remember seeing around that time period (though now I honestly don’t remember much about it). Perhaps it was because I had reservations about Jim Carrey in this type of role. Whatever the case, I am glad that I included this in my new project and finally seeked it out.

Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, a man who is unknowingly under surveillance 24/7, the star of a TV show he knows nothing about. He has been filmed since the day he was born, set up in an artificial world built under the watchful eye of its creator, Christof (Ed Harris). The life designed for Truman is not unlike what you would find in Suburbia, U.S.A.: he has a loving wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), a stable desk job, and a best friend (Noah Emmerich) to drink beer with. Every detail has been thought out, and a large number of viewers watch his show every day.

The Truman Show [1998]

Things begin to go awry when Truman suspects something is off with the town he lives in. Strange happenings occur on the 30th year of the show. A falling spotlight from the artificial constellation above nearly hits him on his way to work. Later, his car radio picks up a strange feed from the show’s crew, and Truman hears them describing his actions in real time. The kicker, however, is when Truman sees his allegedly dead father on the street dressed as a homeless man. Before he gets the chance to talk with his “father”, the man is whisked away on a bus by the powers to be.

Now questioning just what the hell is going on, Truman becomes determined to leave his town and see what life is like outside of Seahaven.

The story sets itself up as a drama, but also as a sneaky satire that lends way to some amusing moments. There are several funny jabs at in-show advertising. Characters make sure to show product logos at all times, and occasionally make the sales pitch to go along with them. Even Truman’s wife is in on the act.

Jim Carrey was given a chance to show off his dramatic acting chops in this movie, and he passes the test with flying colors. Right from the start, Truman is easily likable as Carrey injects his natural charisma into the character without going overboard. He still has his funny moments, but they are much more subdued (when compared to, say, The Mask or Ace Ventura).

The Truman Show [1998]

I was also impressed with the rest of the cast, a laundry list of strong names that add quite a bit to the film even in small roles. Laura Linney and Ed Harris are terrific, but the pleasant surprises of seeing Natascha McElhone (as Truman’s forbidden love interest), Paul Giamatti (a control room director) and Peter Krause (Truman’s boss at work), among others, were great as well.

In a way, The Truman Show was a bit of foreshadowing for something that would happen the year after its release: the debut of CBS’s voyeuristic TV show, Big Brother. Looking back now, the movie is even more relevant today with the unfortunate rise in popularity of these so-called “reality TV” shows. Hell, the film even has its own psychological delusion titled “The Truman Show Syndrome“.

I quite enjoyed The Truman Show, and I am happy that I saw it for the first time in 2012 with several years perspective. It’s not a perfect film — there are some ideas that I would have loved to have seen elaborated — but its sharp satire and strong cast really hit the spot for me.

8/10

Movie Project #31 and #32: Jaws [1975] and Dark City [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.

I had seen parts of Jaws over the years, but had never sat down to watch the entire movie. I am kind of amazed that it has taken me so long to do so, as this is a top-of-the-line summer blockbuster flick. It’s impressive that a movie of this caliber can wait until the hour-past mark to actually show the great white shark. In fact, I found the first half of the movie to be the most fascinating, as we are watching an unseen creature terrorize a small island town. This is when the horror elements kick into full gear; we know a huge shark is out there, but since we don’t see it we feel somewhat invincible to a potential attack. But then, of course, the shark kills a couple people, including a child, and all hell breaks loose.

The second half of the movie focuses on three men — the town sheriff (Scheider), a ‘professional’ shark hunter (Shaw), and an oceanographer (Dreyfuss) — as they head out on a boat to kill the shark. I wasn’t as enthralled with this part of the film, although it did have some great moments (such as the hunter’s lengthy story about his time on the Indianapolis). Still, I enjoyed the cast, especially Dreyfuss, and John Williams’ epic score makes things even better. I can agree that this is one of Spielberg’s best. 8/10

Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly.

I added Dark City to my project because I have some friends that absolutely love it, and because it was listed as Roger Ebert’s best movie from 1998. While watching the film, I was intrigued by its neo-noir style. It has obvious similarities to The Matrix, which was released one year later, and I can see why it has a bit of a cult following now. The dark atmosphere, dystopian city and intriguing sci-fi plot were all things I enjoyed from the movie. Unfortunately, the acting hampered things a bit for me.

Rufus Sewell seemed aloof and disinterested in the lead role, and I still don’t know whether I liked or despised Kiefer Sutherland’s overacting while playing the stuck-between-good-and-evil Dr. Schreber. The visual style is impeccable, but at the same time, the movie almost feels amateur-ish. I enjoyed Dark City, but I can’t help but feel that a better movie could have been made, considering the interesting sci-fi story and (normally) strong cast. 7/10