Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Love Letter (1998) [UR] ****

In this romantic fantasy, Scott Corrigan (Campbell Scott) and his fiancée Debra (Daphne Ashbrook) are preparing for their upcoming wedding. One weekend, while the two are browsing through antique shops, Scott finds an old 1860s period desk, and decides to buy it. After getting it home, while cleaning it he discovers a secret compartment, and inside it he finds writing stationery, as well as a letter written by a young woman named Elizabeth Whitcomb (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who owned the desk in the 1860s. In her letter, Elizabeth expresses her anxiety about her betrothal to a much older man whom she does not love, a sentiment that echoes Scott’s own anxieties about his upcoming wedding. Fascinated by Elizabeth’s letter, Scott decides to write a reply to her. On the suggestion of his aunt Beatrice (Estelle Parsons), he uses the stationery he found in the desk, and specially-formulated ink from the period. Then, he mails the letter with a stamp from the 1860s, at a post office that had been in continual use from that time to the present.

Incredibly, Scott’s letter is delivered to Elizabeth in the 1860s, and she is mystified when she reads it. Then she discovers that her letter is missing from the secret compartment, realizes that the two events are connected, and that the secret compartment is a portal to the future. She pens a reply to Scott, places it in the secret compartment, and, as the two begin to correspond across a century and a half of time, inevitably a romance blossoms between them.

Produced for the television anthology series The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Love Letter is a hauntingly beautiful and thought-provoking romance about the limitless power of love to transcend time. Scott and Elizabeth find themselves linked by destiny, while separated by a century and a half of time. They fall in love while corresponding, and help each other make decisions about life partners and careers. Poignant, life-affirming and uplifting, this wonderful film is reminiscent of The Lake House and Somewhere in Time. If you enjoy romantic fantasies, don’t miss The Love Letter (1998). 

Labels: fantasy, romance, space-time

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Deep Impact (1998) [PG-13] ***

Jenny Lerner is a TV news reporter in Washington, D.C. While investigating the resignation of the Treasury Secretary, ostensibly due to his wife's illness, Jenny stumbles across evidence that he has a mistress named Ellie, and that the President knows about her. Things quickly become more serious, however, when Jenny finds herself under FBI arrest, and in an unscheduled meeting with the President. She discovers that the resignation story is only a cover for something far more serious... an E.L.E., or Extinction Level Event, in this case a comet the size of Mt. Everest that is headed straight for a collision with Earth, and threatens to wipe out all life on the planet. Jenny agrees to suppress the story, and days later the President addresses the nation, revealing that a spacecraft has been constructed, and a team of astronauts assembled to rendezvous with the comet, and attempt to change its course so it misses Earth.

On the surface, this film is about a global threat from outer space, and how different people deal with it. But the deeper story is about the nobility of self-sacrifice... how loving, compassionate individuals make a conscious decision to sacrifice themselves so others may live. The screenplay is fast-paced and well-written, with attention given to both the impending global catastrophe and how individuals and families are affected. There are a few plot holes and some scientific inaccuracies, but these can be forgiven in the interest of great story-telling.

Direction, editing, special effects and the musical score are excellent, and the acting talent assembled for this film is terrific, including Téa Leoni, Morgan Freeman, Elijah Wood, Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave, Mary McCormack and Maximilian SchellDeep Impact serves as a reminder that this beautiful blue planet is our only home and that we should treat it and all living creatures on it with loving care. If you enjoyed Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow, you won't want to miss Deep Impact. 

Labels: action, disaster, drama, family, sci-fi, thriller, tragedy, wedding       
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 40/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=58, viewers=58)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mercury Rising (1998) [R] **

A film review by James Berardinelli. 

The film may be called Mercury Rising, but that title doesn't describe the trajectory taken by this motion picture, a routine thriller that combines government cover-ups with a cloying and poorly-motivated buddy story. The hook that is supposed to make Mercury Rising unique is that the young protagonist is autistic. However, aside from giving actor Miko Hughes a chance to win raves for his performance, this particular aspect of the film comes across as nothing more than a convenient plot device. Those expecting to see even a semi-thorough exploration of the condition will be disappointed. Mercury Rising treats autism with the same degree of efficiency that many action thrillers accord to alcoholism.

The script for Mercury Rising is exceptionally tiresome and hard-to-swallow. I don't know whether the problem is in the original book, Simple Simon, or in the screenplay adaptation, but this movie easily exceeds the intangible threshold beyond which a suspension of disbelief is no longer possible. Once again, certain standby plot elements -- the high-level government conspiracy and the maverick law enforcement agent -- are recycled, and not to good effect. While Bruce Willis can play the action hero as well as anyone in Hollywood, this particular outing leaves him marooned in situations that are characterized by too little tension and too much nonsense.

The story begins with a formulaic sequence in which The Tough FBI Agent with a Heart of Gold, Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis), is confronted with his own failure. Unable to resolve a hostage crisis in time, he is forced to observe as two teenagers are shot to death. The event weighs heavily on his conscience and heavy-handedly establishes his motivation for protecting 9-year old Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes) when he discovers the autistic child hiding in a closet after his parents have been gunned down by The Evil Hit Man Who Looks Like an Ex-Football Player. Soon, Art and Simon are on the run from seemingly everyone -- fleeing for their lives and bonding at the same time, with The Evil Hit Man Who Looks Like an Ex-Football Player always just a step behind them. Along the way, they are helped by The Best Friend Who Defies Orders to Help Out His Buddy (Chi McBride) and the Supporting Female Who May or May Not Become a Love Interest (Kim Dickens).

Why is Simon in danger and why were his parents turned into Swiss cheese by The Evil Hit Man Who Looks Like an Ex-Football Player? Apparently, the government has spent millions of dollars developing an ultra-secret code called Mercury. To make sure it can't be cracked, they do the most intuitive thing possible: place a sample of it in a nerds' puzzle magazine. Of course, no one can solve it -- no one except autistic Simon, that is. When he calls the phone number listed in the solution, he gets the NSA. As a result, The Cold-Hearted, Sneering Government Man (Alec Baldwin) decides that Simon has to be eliminated -- for the good of the country, of course. But he hasn't counted on The Tough FBI Agent with a Heart of Gold, even though everyone in the audience has.

It's hard to get worked up about a routine thriller that doesn't do anything exceptionally well, and does quite a few things rather poorly. For those who are desperate to find elements of this movie to like, Mercury Rising manages to manufacture tension from time-to-time, but even the most exciting scenes (such as the one where Art and Simon are crouched down, avoiding passing trains) aren't that pulse-pounding. The climactic struggle is a real ho-hum affair which leads to a finale that is painful in its obviousness. Overall, director Harold Becker is constantly struggling (and failing) to generate even a moment that isn't derivative or obligatory.

Bruce Willis' star seems to be fading. This is his fourth straight lackluster outing, following Last Man Standing, The Fifth Element, and The Jackal. Willis isn't terrible, but this is the kind of role he can sleepwalk through, and often does. Alec Baldwin, combining elements of his characters from Glengarry Glenn Ross and Malice, does some scenery-chewing, but his performance is surprisingly lacking in menace. The film's real star is young Miko Hughes (Heather Langenkamp's son in Wes Craven's New Nightmare), who does as good a job as Dustin Hoffman playing an autistic individual, but is about 50 years younger.

Mercury Rising joins the likes of Hard Rain, The Replacement Killers, and U.S. Marshals on the heap of pallid 1998 thrillers. For those who like action and adventure in the theater, this has not been a good year. Hopefully, the advent of summer will change that. Until then, the best choices (for Bruce Willis or any other action hero) are on video. And, if you're determined to see Mercury rising, check out the morning sky in early May.

Labels: action, crime, drama, thriller

Kissing A Fool (1998) [R] ***

It's been over a year since Jay (Jason Lee) was dumped by his girlfriend Natasha. He's writing a book about the breakup, and his publisher has assigned Samantha (Mili Avital) as his editor. Jay and Samantha have a great working relationship; they have similar tastes, they love to read, they have a fondness for Florence, Italy, and they've each had their heart broken. Then Jay introduces Samantha to his buddy Max (David Schwimmer), a swinging-single TV sports broadcaster.

Although Max and Samantha have nothing in common, they fall for each other. Max proposes marriage, and they move in together. Then, after an evening of great sex, Max panics; he's afraid Samantha won't be faithful to him. He needs a test to see if she'll cheat on him, so he asks Jay to seduce her. If Samantha falls for Jay, she fails the test, and the wedding is off. But what Max is really hiding are his doubts about his own ability to be faithful. Jay understands this; while he's repelled by Max's plan, his problem is that writing the book has served its purpose; he's gotten over Natasha and fallen for Samantha. And so Jay is torn between his new love for Samantha and his old loyalty to Max.

In the film's pivotal scene, as they recognize their growing affection for one another, Jay asks Samantha: How do you know beforehand that you're with the wrong person, so you can avoid having them wreak havoc on a large portion of your life? And Samantha replies: I don't think you do know until you meet the right person. Because then you feel something you know you've never felt before.

Jason Lee and Mili Avital have great romantic chemistry, and Jason Lee brings the same intensity to this role that he did in Chasing Amy. There's a terrific romantic soundtrack, and Max sums up the film's philosophy in the final scene, when he paraphrases the famous quote from La Rochefoucald: True love cannot be found where it does not truly exist. Nor can it be hidden where it truly does.

Labels: comedy, romance
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=27, viewers=46)

Six Days Seven Nights (1998) [PG-13] ***

Robin (Anne Heche) is a New York editor for DAZZLE, a women's magazine. Her boyfriend Frank (David Schwimmer) is always surprising her with romantic gestures, but now he's outdone himself... he's taking her to the French Polynesian island of Makatea for a week-long getaway, and to propose to her.

Soon after Robin and Frank arrive on Makatea, however, Robin's boss Marjorie (Allison Janney) calls Robin and asks her to fly back to Papeete for one day to supervise a photo shoot. Since the regular aircraft is laid up for maintenance, Robin is forced to fly with the gruff, heavy-drinking Quinn (Harrison Ford) in his vintage DeHavilland Beaver. And when a storm comes up and lightning hits the plane knocking out the radios, Quinn and Robin are forced to crash-land on an uninhabited tropical island. Most of their time on the island is made up of light, sitcom moments, but the mood briefly turns dark when the pair must outwit and escape from a band of murderous pirates.

Filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i, there's beautiful costumes and scenery, the soundtrack is lovely, Jacqueline Obradors is perfect in a supporting role as Quinn's voluptuous girlfriend Angelica, and there's genuine romantic chemistry between Harrison Ford and Anne Heche.

Labels: action, adventure, comedy, flying, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 51/100
Tomatometer (critics=36, viewers=36)
Wikipedia (caution: spoilers)
The real island of Makatea