Armageddon Blu-ray review

click to purchase
click to purchase

New Blu-ray release of ARMAGEDDON recalls a time when a Michael Bay film was no cause for dread

Difficult as it might be to imagine, the prospect of a new Michael Bay film wasn’t always cause for dread. After a string of successful music videos, Bay hit box office pay-dirt with the buddy-cop action comedy BAD BOYS in 1995, immediately establishing a signature style of kinetic action visuals on a bed of questionably tasteful racial and sexual humor. While the stars were largely responsible for its success, the energy and strict adherence to formula was 100% Bay. He exhibited a far more refined touch in his next – and best film – THE ROCK, which displayed strong sense for casting and a better grip on action sequence pacing. The film was yet another smash, which guaranteed Bay even more control (and a coveted Producer credit) on his third film, ARMAGEDDON, a hugely expensive sci-fiextravaganza that pushed the limits of 1998-era digital effects.
After Manhattan Island is devastated – and the orbiting space shuttle Atlantis destroyed – by a particularly violent meteor shower, a group of NASA’s top scientists led by Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) discovers that the initial strike was just a preamble to the real threat, a giant meteor the size of Texas that’s due to reach Earth in 18 days. With the meteor too immense to be destroyed by missile, it’s decided that a powerful nuclear device buried near the core would be enough to break the rock up before it impacts. To accomplish the necessary drilling, NASA approaches Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his crew of hard-nosed oil rig drillers with the job of a lifetime. The enormity of the task forces Harry to re-hire A J Frost (Ben Affleck) after chasing him away at gunpoint from daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) in an attempt to save her from a blue-collar life. Stamper and his team are trained alongside the crews for the shuttles Independence and Freedom, led by Col. Sharp (William Fichtner), whose military training is put to the test by the less-than-disciplined drillers, particularly the mellower than mellow Oscar Choice and the uber wormy ‘Rockhound’ (Owen Wilson and Steve Buscemi, respectively, making for cinema’s most unlikely geologists). The shuttles finally launch, barely surviving a dock with a Russian space station to gather fuel, where they pick up cosmonaut Lev Andropov (Peter Stormare, reunited with Fargo costar Buscemi). After a dangerous slingshot maneuver around the moon severely reduces the team’s numbers, they must still attempt an unprecedented landing (on a surface without 2 tandem meters of flat space) and then drill through thousands of feet of hard iron for the detonation to be effective. When venting gas destroys the remote detonation system, it’s short straw time for Harry, A J and the remaining crew.
Michael Bay has been making it very difficult to remember that he used to know how to put together a satisfying summer blockbuster. What might have seemed bombastic – or just loud – a decade ago seems almost quaint in the wake of two Transformers films, and Bay’s over-reliance on Americana iconography hadn’t quite worn out its welcome yet (this oversight was taken care of with Pearl Harbor, where we lost count of the number of scenes of Middle-American families huddled around antique radios. Now, were not going to sit here and tell you that ARMAGEDDON is without problems – far from it. The film seriously drags once the crew lands on the offending comet, with Bay creating increasingly incredulous suspense sequences for no better reason than to wring an extra ‘beat’ out of an already exhausted story (and why NASA would think to install Gatling guns on its expedition vehicles would make for a deleted scene that we want to see!)
But you have to give credit where it’s due, and Bay (along with producer Jerry Bruckheimer) shows an almost wizardly casting sense; in addition to giving Billy Bob Thornton his first truly high-profile role in a Hollywood Studio film, ARMAGEDDON features genuine ‘catch a rising star’ turns from Owen Wilson, Jason Isaacs, Steve Buscemi and Michael Clarke Duncan. Almost more impressive is Bay’s knack for filling many small roles with the likes of Will Patton, William Fichtner and Peter Stormare – all welcome faces who take hackneyed characters and make them entertaining and watchable. Plus, look fast for Udo Kier (as a harried NASA psychologist) and Grace Zabriskie (a nagging wife who unwittingly names the meteor).
As for the leads, Willis and Affleck do just fine. Willis can do this sort of thing in his sleep, but to his credit, rarely does. He can take a potentially cringe-inducing scene like his final communication with daughter Liv Tyler, and find a genuinely affecting emotional beat to build on. Affleck, in an early role, doesn’t have the effortless gravitas that his costar does, but exhibits a nice, unaffected humor when given the chance (“I have no idea what I’m doing! See that button (hits button) I have no idea what that does!”) But it’s Thornton that you’ll be remembering, lending the same sort of authority as the executive director of NASA that Ed Harris did in Apollo 13 – and in far less forgiving surroundings!
Unfortunately, the success of ARMAGEDDON seemed to kill one part of Bay while simultaneously awakening another.  His follow-up film, Pearl Harbor, made money, to the extent that it was shoved down the collective throat of audiences in the months prior to 9/11, but good luck finding anyone who actually liked it. Bay’s casting instincts were off, and the few genuinely affecting moments are lost in an orgy of self-indulgent visuals and carelessly slight characterizations. After a brief detour on THE ISLAND (a film that featured a slow narrative build-up in its first act), things have only gotten worse since then, with the two overblown TRANSFORMERS films.
Unfortunately, Disney has let ARMAGEDDON down with a so-so Blu-Ray release that didn’t have to be. Criterion had previously released a deluxe 2-disc DVD, and though that set sports a non-anamorphic transfer (not, unfortunately, odd for a 1999 DVD release), this long out-of-print edition is still desirable for its extras, commentary, and extended cut of the feature (amounting to about 3min) – none of which are in evidence on the new Blu-Ray.  It’s possible that Criterion owns the rights to all of the above, but given Disney’s business practices, it’s a bit much to believe that they would hand over the rights to all that value-added material without at least tying a string to it.
Armageddon (1998)In any case, what matters is the image quality, and it’s quite good. Like Tombstone, Disney’s other high profile Blu-Ray release streeting on Tuesday, April 27th, ARMAGEDDON appears to have been struck using the same master for the older DVD releases. That’s good news the film, which always looked good on home video – even VHS – and not so good for a heavily filtered and artifact-plagued Tombstone. Unlike Bay’s heavily digitized Transformers films, ARMAGEDDON feels amazingly film-like, enough so that we were amazed to see some textural film grain pop-up now and then (particularly in darker scenes).
Equally good is the DTS-HD master audio that retains aural nuance and readable dialog levels without sacrificing the show-off sequences, like the initial meteor shower over Manhattan (featuring several disturbingly realistic shots of the WTC towers being hit) or the beautifully handled dual shuttle launch sequence.
Back in 1998, nobody was going to argue ARMAGEDDON’s place in the annals of great cinema, but more than a decade on, when summer blockbusters like G I Joe thrash about in an unconvincing digital world that leaves even engaging actors like Dennis Quaid adrift without a paddle, who’d have thunk that we’d be holding up a Michael Bay picture as a paradigm of taste and restraint?

Dee Snider's Strangeland (1998) Film Review

strangeland 1998Dee Snider’s STRANGELAND 2: DISCIPLE is scheduled for production later this year, some eleven years after the first STRANGELAND was released on DVD. Dee Snider has been fighting the courts to claim back his creative rights over the movie, after the original production company Shooting Gallery had all of its material seized by the government. Finally, this year, he won and is promising us a sequel much more shocking and terrifying than the first, but is it really a case of better late than never? I revisited the original to review it, knowing that the release of the sequel would spark a new interest.
Firstly, I have a confession to make, and I may as well just come out with it: I’m the world’s biggest Dee Snider fan. I love the guy. My admiration for him is borderline obsession. So could this film possibly live up to my expectations of it? Well, to be fair, no. That’s not to say it’s all bad, however.
Carleton Henricks [played by Snider] is a glorious and menacing villain, obsessed with tattoos and body modification. He looks intense to say the least, with his flaming red Mohawk, pointed teeth and multiple piercings, not to mention a fantastically muscular and heavily tattooed body; he is a very intimidating character. Carleton, using the name Captain Howdy [the same as the demonic presence in The Exorcist] frequents internet chat rooms under the guise of an ordinary teenage boy. He invites the people he meets to ‘party,’ and once he has them, he tortures them. When he lures Detective Gage [played by Kevin Gage]’s daughter into his insane world, he keeps her with his other ‘party guests’ in his candle-lit basement where he sadistically tortures them whilst he gently explains his reasoning. The detective tracks him down, and he is arrested, prosecuted and declared insane. After four years and now a reformed character he is released with a whole new image and subdued demeanour. [I never want to see Dee Snider as a bespectacled cardigan wearer again; this was the most disturbing image in the whole film for me!]. He is hounded by the unforgiving locals who are hell bent on revenge, and when Jackson Roth [A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund] gets together with a group of friends, Hendricks is lynched and left for dead.
Of course, it couldn’t end there! Surviving the ordeal, Hendricks reverts to his old sinister self and sets out to terrorise those responsible…….
The best thing about Strangeland is Dee Snider’s character. Sinister, perverse, and yet strangely charming, Captain Howdy is brilliant: he looks amazing; he is well acted and thoroughly believable. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are not so great. In particular Kevin Gage was terrible; the screenplay went some way to excuse his lack of emotion at his daughter being taken, by explaining that he is ‘a man of steel’, but even with this reasoning, his calmness is more down to poor acting than bad writing. Robert Englund, however, is brilliant opposite Snider as the equally evil, but socially more acceptable rough neck, and it is promised that he will also appear in the sequel.
The screenplay is fair. For a first attempt, Snider did a good job, apart from one line that must be the worst line I’ve ever heard: On discovering his daughter trapped – naked in a cage, her lips sewn shut, and having endured agonising torture at the hands of this mad man – Gage puts his gun to Henricks’ throat and says ‘Give me a reason!’ What? There’s the reason right there swinging naked in that cage, you looney! 
The direction was poor and did nothing to build any kind of atmosphere, so I hope there’ll be a different director for the sequel. The soundtrack was good, including tracks from Megadeth, Pantera, Marilyn Manson, and Anthrax.
Strangeland arrived in theatres before torture porn became a recognized sub-genre (post-SAW and HOSTILE), and it may have been a bit ahead of its time to be properly appreciated. With decent actors and a good director, Strangeland could have been brilliant; instead the film is below average. Captain Howdy was every bit as good as I’d expected, however, and I have high hopes for the sequel, if it is well produced with a talented director and a strong supporting cast.
DEE SNIDER’S STRANGELAND (1998). Directed by John Pieplow. Screenplay by Dee Snider. Cast: Dee Snider, Kevin Gage, Elizabeth Pena, Robert Englund.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) – Retrospective Film Review

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)By the time this film reached theatres in 1998, viewers knew better than to expect good science-fiction from STAR TREK features. The franchise had long since reached the level where the selling point was not to “go where no one has gone before” but to put familiar characters through familiar paces, preferably by reviving some villain or other concept from the small screen. So it was a mildly pleasant surprise to see STAR TREK: INSURRECTION – the ninth STAR TREK film and the third featuring the cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – make some small attempt to stand on its own as a self-contained movie. Sure, there were continuity references to STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, but at least you did not have to be up-to-date on the latest episodes to follow the plot; in fact, you did not have to watch the series at all.
The basic premise of STAR TREK: INSURRECTION – a planet blessed with a fountain of youth – is not original; certainly, the classic STAR TREK visited its share of paradise planets, but thankfully there are no references to any of these episodes. Instead, the idea is used to launch a story in which Picard finds the ideals of the Federation being undermined from within. The result is a moderately engaging adventure that provides plenty of action without resorting to the HELLRAISER-type horror elements used to enliven the previous big-screen entry, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT.
Along the way, the cast is well served. One of the big problems of the films, particularly those based on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, has always been what to do with all the regular characters while still introducing some guest stars and new villains. Michael Piller deftly solves the problem by making the screen time count, in neat little scenes that tickle audience expectations (as when the youthfully rejuvenated Riker and Troi rekindle their long-dormant romance).
Frakes, meanwhile, does a competent job as director. STAR TREK: INSURRECTION has fewer opportunities than STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT to show off spectacular visuals, so the result feels even more like a made-for-television film (a problem with most of the TREK features). Fortunately, Frakes keeps the story moving and even pulls off a few poignantly poetic moments, as when Picard’s love interest, Anij (Donna Murphy) teaches him to enjoy a perfect moment, wherein time seems to slow down, as evidence by the blurred wings of a hummingbird suddenly clearly visible in slow motion.
Unfortunately, this romance is one of the weak points in STAR TREK: INSURRECTION. (Others include the videogame joystick Riker uses to manually pilot the Enterprise, a holodeck supposedly large enough to surreptitiously transport an entire village that turns out to be exactly the size of a ship’s bridge.) Apparently, more was in the original cut to invest emotional substance in the love story, but it was trimmed down after test screenings. This may be an example of actually slowing the pace down by cutting, leaving the remaining footage without the necessary grounding to make it compelling.
Also altered is the film’s conclusion. No longer does Ru’afo undergo a youthful regression that takes him past childhood to an embryonic stage; instead, he blows up in a space ship – a fiery climax that is a tad too typical. Fortunately, F. Murray Abraham’s performance remains otherwise intact, and he is an effectively malevolent force, even under all the make-up. Even more important, he is in control of his deviousness so that one believes he could gain the cooperation of the Federation’s Admiral Dougherty (a fine performance from Anthony Zerbe, who avoids sinking into outright villainy while clearing portraying a man willing to make moral compromises). One exchange between them is priceless: Ru’afo, who wants to prevent the Enterprise from contacting Starfleet, says, “I could send a ship to… [long pause for the right euphemism] …escort them back.” The look in Dougherty’s eyes clearly shows he knows just what he is agreeing to.
Unlike the foolish STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, with its off-screen and unseen populations threatened by a kid’s science project rocket, STAR TREK: INSURRECTION establishes a sense of something worthwhile at risk that is worth defending. So when the shooting starts, it is not mere gratuitous violence but an expression of dramatic conflict. Frakes and production designer Herman Zimmerman’s vision of the bucolic Ba’ku village may straddle cliché, but the film brings this cliché to life in a way that makes us believe the Enterprise crew would risk everything to defend it. Thus, the film captures the idealism of STAR TREK that is often missing from the big screen.
For all of this, however, the conflict is registered in terms that seem rather mild, hardly rising to the level to justify the use of the word “Insurrection” in the title. This ninth feature film voyage of the Starship Enterprise seemed like reasonably good STAR TREK back in 1998, perhaps mostly because no one was expecting much. At a time when the legend stated that odd-numbered TREK films always sucked, it was not hard for INSURRECTION to exceed expectations, so being half-way decent was good enough.
Over a decade later, the film fades from memory – it’s like one of those not-quite-favorite episodes from the series that you might enjoy watching again if it happens to air during  a STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATON marathon, but it comes nowhere near achieving the best that STAR TREK can do, either on the small screen or the big screen. Taken on its own terms, STAR TREK: INSURRECTION is a a minor success with enough appeal to satisfy undemanding fans, but it never rises above its genre, and it lacks the panache that enlivened even the less successful features starring the classic TREK cast.
The crew of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION would make one more appearance in a feature film, 2002’s STAR TREK: NEMESIS, which tried to pump up the proceedings with a darker tone and an oh-so-serious storyline, but it was not until 2009’s STAR TREK that the franchise would once again yield a film that succeeded not only as a big-screen episode but also as a blockbuster big-screen entertainment.
STAR TREK: INSURRECTION (1998). Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Written by Rick Berman & Michale Piller, based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry. Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates mcFadden Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Zerbe.

Copyright 1998 Steve Biodrowski. This review, in different form, originally appeared in Cinefantasitque magazine.

Perfect Blue (1998) – Film & DVD Review

Click to purchase PERFECT BLUEWhen reviewing disreputable genres, it is not uncommon to extoll the virtues of little known films in the hope of starting a buzz that will attract attention to films that might otherwise be obscured by more high-profile projects. To some extent, this happened with PERFECT BLUE, the anime psycho-thriller that received an art house theatrical release in 1999. In a year that saw some excellent animated films – ranging from PRINCESS MONONOKE to SOUTH PARK to TOY STORY 2 – PERFECT BLUE received some of the best critical notices; it turned up on a few year-end “best of” lists, and one or two critics even ranked it higher than Hayao Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE. Is this the Little Movie That Could? Or is it another instance of well-meaning critics hyping a small movie because it is small? The answer is: a little of both, actually. PERFECT BLUE does not completely deserve the accolades it received, but its virtues are more than apparent enough to explain why critics would want to give it a boost: general audiences in the U.S. are not eager to give anime a chance; and whatever its flaws, PERFECT BLUE offers much that is intriguing.

The film has style and then some—maybe too much, in fact, but the visual interest always remains high, and the storyline is intriguing. Under pressure from her managers, Mima, a semi-successful pop singing idol, leaves her band to pursue a career as an actress in a psycho-thriller TV show called Double Blind (which seems to be a rip-off of Silence of the Lambs). The writer of the show can’t figure out what to do with her character until he comes up with a brutal rape scene that has less to do with drama that with destroying her innocent image (tellingly, she wears the same costume during the scene that she used to wear on stage). Unfortunately for Mima, an irate fan is outraged by this new tarnished image, and sets out to save the “real” Mima from this tarnished “imposter.”


The film does a great job of establishing identification with Mima, and the suspense sequences are handled with aplomb. The violence packs a punch, but so do the quieter moments, as when Mima logs onto a fan website devoted to her, and realizes that whoever is running it knows far more about her private life than anyone possibly could, without spying on her. There are also numerous satirical jabs at the entertainment business and at the world of fandom. (Besides the mad stalker, there is also a contingent of cynics, who comment periodically on the Mima phenomenon—sort of the equivalent of “Trekkers” who look down on “Trekkies.”).
What damages this otherwise excellent effort is two things: one plot oriented, the other stylistic. The script resorts to the kind of lamebrain thinking that affects many thrillers, in which the characters do stupid things in order to keep themselves vulnerable. In this case, the story nearly destroys audience credibility early on, when a fan letter addressed to Mima explodes in her manager’s hands, badly lacerating them—and then no one calls the police! Even if we assume that Mima’s managers don’t care about her personally, they should care about the welfare of their meal ticket.
The film’s second fault lies with a certain stylistic excess in terms of playing self-reflexive games with the audience. In order to portray Mima’s mental deterioration under the duress of being stalked, the events of her “real” life story begin to mimic the events of her “reel” story on the TV show. This would no be confusing in and of itself, but the film takes another step, during a prolonged sequence midway through, wherein Mima repeatedly goes back and forth between “real” and “reel” life—and then wakes up as if from a dream, leaving us to wonder whether any of what we have seen actually happened. This all leads to a revelation at the end that leaves at least one question wide open, and also relies on a rather high degree of coincidence. (The killer’s psychosis rather too neatly dovetails with Mima’s delusions, in order to continue the visual imagery of Mima struggling with her phantom alter ego long past the point when she is actually struggling with a flesh-and-blood opponent.)
These stylistic quirks, however, are part of what makes the film interesting, and if occasionally they lead to artistic dead-ends, more often they bring the film to life. The milieu is effectively displayed, and the struggle of Mima to make the transition from a kind of semi-stardom to an actual acting career is involving. Audience identification with the character is effectively achieved, making her more than just an objectified victim. The televised rape scene is particularly interesting in this respect, with the cameras stopping at a crucial moment, necessitating that the cast hold their awkward positions. The actor’s whispered “I’m so sorry” to Mima somehow rings true, making the scene more believable than is safe for comfortable viewing. In fact, the whole sequence seems like a commentary on anime’s predilection for stripping its heroines down and subjecting them to all sorts of graphic sexual violence. (It’s just a little too bad that, once filming resumes, the scene goes on way past making it dramatic point and ends up becoming the very thing it seeks to criticize.)

DVD DETAILS

The great thing about Manga Video’s DVD (originally released on May 2, 2000) is that it allows you to go back and appreciate what you liked about the film, while what you disliked gradually fades in significance. PERFECT BLUE rewards on subsequent viewings, and anime fans (not to mention fans of thrillers in general) should not be deterred by critical comments regarding flaws that are outweighed by virtues. The disc presents the film with good Dolby stereo sound (also in Dolby 5.1, if you have the equipment to access it) and a clear, widescreen print (of the unrated director`s cut) that captures the visual beauty of the backgrounds and leaves de rigueur sex and violence intact. (Despite Roger Corman`s quote, much used in the press materials, that PERFECT BLUE resembles a combo of Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock, the real stylistic reference point seems to be Dario Argento; the film even recreates the broken-shard-of-glass-in-the windowsill-impaled-through-the-abdomen, as seen in Argento`s Deep Red.)
Even better, for the purists among us, the disc contains both the English-dubbing and the original Japanese-language soundtrack, with the option for English subtitles. The print itself is from the American theatrical release of the dubbed version, so the credits are in English and include the names of the American voice actors, even when you’re listening to the Japanese dialogue—a surreal experience, to be sure.
The disc also includes numerous extras. In a real stroke of genius, the supplements are gathered in a menu area called “Mima’s Room,” designed to look like the fan website seen in the film itself, run by the stalked known only as “Mr. Me-Mania.” A behind-the-scenes video shows three Japanese singers recording the vocal tracks for the band’s signature song. If you’ve watched the Japanese version and found the subtitles insufficient for following the lyrics, you can access the English-language version from the extras menu without having to sit through the film again. (By the time you’re through, you’ll be hearing the song in your sleep, believe me!) There are interviews with the American voice actors, who mostly answer abstract questions on how they identify with their characters, what they think of pop stardom, and things like that. Most amusing is the voice of Mr. Me-Mania, who admits he has no idea how his character hooked up with the conspirator who supplied him with all the inside info he put up on his site.
There are also interviews with the Japanese voice actress, who talks a bit more specifically about getting the role of Mima and working with the director, Satoshi Kon. Kon himself answers several questions about the making of the film, but finds it hard to explain specifics when asked to analyze the meaning. He does insist that some confusion on the part of the audience was inherent in the storytelling, but adds that he did not go out of the way to emphasize that.
Finally, there is a photo gallery of images from the film, set to music; lists of other Manga DVD and video releases; and a page of web links you can access if you have a DVD-Rom drive on your computer. Beware, however, if you’re looking for the film’s trailer: it’s not identified in “Mima’s Room”; you access it by clicking on the apparent web link for the Perfect Blue site while the disc is in your DVD player instead of in a DVD-Rom drive. Other web links will take you to trailer-type collages of scenes from other Manga releases. (Presumably, this was done so that you could still get something by clicking on these points even if you don’t have a computer with DVD-Rom capabilities.)
Overall, Perfect Blueis an intriguing film that has a powerful visceral impact while also inviting a certain amount of thought on the part of viewers. It warrants the kind of special treatment given by Manga on this DVD, and the supplemental materials do enhance the viewing experience. If the film itself is not without its flaws, the strengths are more memorable, and this disc brings them to the forefront.
PERFECT BLUE (Manga Entertainment, 1998). Directed by Satoshi Kon. Screenplay by Sadayuki Murai, from the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Japanese Voices: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuiji, Masaaki Okura. English Voices: Bridget Hoffman, Bob Marx, Wendee Lee, Barry Stigler.
[NOTE: The DVD portion of this review is based on the original 2000 DVD from Manga Video (available below). The film was subsequently released on DVD as part of the “Essence of Anime” series, pictured at top.]

Practical Magic (1998) – Review

practical_magic.gifThe best you can say for this film is that everyone meant well; unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with…well, you know the rest.
Basically, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play the latest generation in a family of witches, who have been cursed by an ancestor whose love was betrayed. Now, if either one of them falls truly in love, the object of their affection will meet a horrible fate.
That’s the premise anyway, and it sounds interesting enough, but the actually story has precious little to do with it. Instead, most of the movie is devoted to Kidman’s tarty Gillian, who gets involved with a really dangerous dude (Goran Visnjic), who causes all kinds of trouble – even after he is dead. There is an early section of the film dealing with the husband of Sally (Bullock), who gets run over by a truck. Why did she get married in spite of the curse? Because her aunts (Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing) put a spell on her. Why did the aunts put a spell on her, knowing the terrible consequences?  Because they did not expect her to fall truly in love. Huh, what? They hoped she would marry someone she did not love?
The whole films operates on this haphazard level. Whatever works for a big scene is used, whether or not it fits into the film as a whole. The result is a handful of great entertainment bits that add up to one big episodic mess, with major characters disappearing for long stretches to make room for other business to intrude.


To wrap things up, director Griffin Dunne (who really should know better, having produced some cool movies) stages a goofy exorcism with lots of computer-generated effects, but the film is too silly to support the scene as anything other than a lark – it’s a light-show, completely lacking in suspense or horror, despite all the sound and fury.
Then, for a happy finale, the witches, dress in cliche garb and fly off their roof to amuse their neighbors on Halloween. It is hard to say which is more ridiculous: the very existence of the scene or the fact that, having decided to include it, Dunne handled it in such a perfunctory manner.
For those of you wondering how the curse is finally lifted so that Bullock and Aidan Quinn can live happily ever after: it simply happens automatically, in order to provide am upbeat ending, courtesy of a voice over by Sally, admitting that she does not know how or why it happened. If nothing else, the screenwriters deserve recognition for the nerve it took to employ what must be the most outrageously lazy writer’s device in the history of cinema.
PRACTICAL MAGIC (1998). Directed by Griffin Dunne. Screenplay by Robin Swicord and Akiva Goldsman and Adam Brooks, from the novel by Alice Hoffman. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, Goran Visnjic, Aidan Quinn, Evan Rachel Wood.

Species II (1998) – Science Fiction Film Review

“It’s awful; it’s just awful,” gasps Marg Helgenberger in one scene of this absolutely abysmal follow-up to the entertaining 1995 hit, and viewers are likely to find their heads nodding in agreement, because truer words were never spoken. It is as if the filmmakers suddenly realized the quality of their own work. This self-awareness is admirable, but it would have been truly honorable if they had included this line in the trailer, as a warning to audiences.
SPECIES had a certain integrity to its plot: having conceived an alien on the loose, scripter Dennis Feldman treated the scenario like a piece of science-fiction, at least to the extent of maintaining some logic about how Sil behaved and how her human pursuers could capture her. SPECIES II, on the other hand, is an out-and-out dumb gore horror movie, in which the behavior of the alien genetic material varies from scene to scene, depending on what is good for the best shock effect. Filled with repeated scenes of sexual couplings leading to grisly death, the result is about as loathsome as producer Frank Mancuso’s late and unlamented FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels. Read More