It feels like a long time since I’ve posting one of these. I think that’s because my last batch of favourite/least favourite movie posts were written months ago, then posted sporadically in the weeks afterwards, but I haven’t actually written any new ones in 6 months. Time to get back into these now.
I had a tough time with this one – I had to resort to scanning down all the movies released according to Wikipedia, and it wasn’t until the letter H that I found one that I was even remotely inclined to include here. Quite a few of the movies I’ve listed – I don’t think they’re bad, I don’t even dislike them much. It’s just that out of the movies I’ve seen from 1998, these ones I liked least or had some personal issues with. There are, of course, a few stinkers.
The letter ‘H’. It’s a film I don’t have anything against, it’s just a little meh. Underwhelming. It was one of Christian Slater’s last shots at the big time before he sadly fell into straight to DVD fare. He’s one of my favourite actors, he’s in some of my favourite movies, and he’s capable of so much more. Here he rejoins Morgan Freeman in a sort of action, sort of thriller, though both the thrills and action leave plenty to be desired. It’s a decent idea, coming around the same time as all of those 90s era disaster special effects blockbusters, but it lacks the entertainment or the scope of those.
The film looks good – it just lacks that spectacle. Danish Cinematographer Mikael Salomon directs – famed for his work on The Abyss – but the story doesn’t deliver the thrills which the setup promises. It’s basically a heist movie inside of a disaster movie, which sounds great on paper, and the disaster is the flooding of a small US town. Slater is the everyman good guy, while Freeman plays against type as the villain. It’s worth seeing, it probably didn’t deserve to flop as badly as it did, but it’s hardly the most memorable movie of the year.
In the 1980s, Jean Claude Van Damme made his name for himself as a respectable action movie star. Then again, in the 1980s you could get away with a lot of nonsense which simply wouldn’t work in any other era. When we entered the 90s, much of the cheese went away and the surviving successful action stars had to adapt – bigger budget movies, higher concepts – with Van Damme doing well in the first half of the decade thanks to Universal Soldier and Timecop. Those less inclined to follow every movie such stars release would have though JCVD dropped off the map, but he was still there pushing out a mixture of cult classics, lesser known fun times, and shite like this.
It seemed good on the surface – Tsui Hark is a man renowned for his flamboyant, amusing, action packed Hong Kong movies, with the Once Upon A Time In China series being one of the greatest Martial Arts franchises. But then Rob Schneider appears in the cast. And Paul Sorvino. And the plot is about… stolen pairs of jeans? It doesn’t matter. It all circles on Knock Off clothing and Van Damme and Schneider are the cops tasked with sorting all this shit out and making sure only wholesome American brands are worn on ever thickening American asses.
The movie is camp as get out, something I’m usually resolutely against in my humour, but there are a few amusing moments. Mostly because the whole thing is ridiculous. It tries to follow the straight man/weirdo buddy cop formula… but the mixture of Hong Kong algorithms into the mix really throws things off meaning it becomes a bizarre, unwieldy mish mash which isn’t really suited to anyone. The most egregious crime is that it lacks the kinetic and visual flare of the HK side, or the brutality and coherence of the US side. If you like JCVD, it’s certainly one of many curios in his career, but it’s not worth the time for anyone else.
1998 was one of those years where the influence of Britpop and Cool Britannia spilled over into British Cinema – on the surface all of these new British voices – writers, directors, actors, were hitting the mainstream. The worldwide mainstream. British Cinema was firmly on the map again. Four Wedding And A Funeral kind of kicked it off, and Trainspotting blazed the trail in a different direction, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the decade that all of these British (English) movies made an impact beyond our shores. People suddenly loved British Cinema again. The stupid thing is, the whole era resulted in a grand total of fuck all good movies. There are a few of them on my list this year, and each in their own way signifies everything I hate about English film in the populist sense. From the sickeningly desperate leg-humping attempts to be notice by the big boys in Hollywood (rather than having the self respect to be their own thing), to the inevitable cutesy twee humour which, again, is something which exists only because it’s what the big boys in US expect. These movies are always, always comedies, with slightly offbeat characters – the types of people you cross the street to avoid, then wait until they’re out of sight before following them home and shitting on their doorstep – but they completely avoid the truest, best trappings of British humour. Look at any number of British sitcoms of comedy TV shows from this same era, which were made primarily for British audiences; there’s simply no comparison. TV writers were pumping out some of the finest characters and sketches ever committed to screen, while movie makers were shoving this shite down everyone’s gaping holes.
You know exactly what this film is before seeing it – it hits all of the same character, comedy, and story beats of every other film of its ilk. Shy woman from working class background hides from the world and impersonates her favourite singers (read – has zero personality of her own). Her mum, who is a shit, thinks she is shit. She is encouraged to sing in public, and after some misfires becomes a success. The end. The amount of awards this was nominated for is ridiculous.
There was any number of other British films this year that I could also have included here (further down the list I have) but the likes of The Land Girls, Waking Ned, Titanic Town almost made the cut but were just redeemable enough to avoid such embarrassment.
Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
With its poster adorning the walls of idiots around the globe, Lock…. was a sensation and launched the career of Guy Ritchie – a man who has yet to make a single film I have even tolerated, never mind enjoyed. His success is truly bewildering to me. I get that people love his early work, but I just don’t understand any of it. It’s cut rate Tarantino at its worst, and even more unforgivably it centres on a bunch of Cockney twats who I wanted out of my life within seconds of seeing. A bunch of people I don’t like arsing about in a convoluted yet empty crime plot with a soundtrack by artists I can’t stand – the only good thing about this was that I generated a nickname for one of my English teachers at the time – Mr Blackstock And Two Smoking Armpits. Because he was a sweater. And because I am a genius.
There’s a silly argument which goes on about remakes of foreign movies – that the US version must somehow be superior, or that the original is somehow inferior or overhyped simply because it is foreign. Because it is subtitled. Pushers of this argument double down on the remakes which are essentially scene for scene. Ignoring the casual racism inherent in such a statement, it’s a very silly argument to make. I could make the argument that if the US remake isn’t very good but the foreign original was lauded and lavished with praise – simply that the critics and reviewers were wrong or that the wrong films are being remade. The whole thing is rendered pointless when we think of US shot for shot remakes of US films. Gus Van Sant’s remake of Hitchcock’s masterpiece is as close to a shot for shot remake as you’ll ever get. Yet it somehow lacks the chills and the shocks and the atmosphere and the intelligence of the original. Which highlights the simple fact that, no matter how similar you make your remake it’s still an entirely separate entity. Different director (probably), different cast, different filming period, different everything. Before comparing remake to original or blindly assuming the original must somehow be a product of reviewer bias if the remake is poor, maybe go watch the fucking thing yourself.
Ringu is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. It’s also one of my personal Top Ten movies of all time. Rasen is the forgotten… side sequel? Honestly, the whole Ring book and movie series is quite complicated, but basically both Ringu and Rasen are based on the original books by Koji Suzuki – Ringu is the first novel and Spiral is the second, with Rasen based on Spiral. Both movies share some cast members – namely Hiroyuki Sanada and Miki Nakatani, and exist in the same universe. That’s about where the similarities end. The book series is loosely horror, and as it proceeds begins to deal with artificial intelligence and the link between the supernatural and technology, and that’s kind of the tone which Rasen follows. Ringu is all terror, all the time. Ringu was a massive hit, singlehandedly kicking off the J-Horror movement, while no-one remembers Rasen exists. It’s hardly surprising, because Rasen is a slog to get through, isn’t scary, and doesn’t really know what it’s supposed to be.
It doesn’t make an ounce of sense. The books are incredibly well written and in dealing with complex theories they actually drive an engaging narrative and convince the reader of what is being proposed. Rasen jumps from scene to scene and twist to twist with little explanation, and what explanation there is ends up bewildering further. The film was such a flop that those in charge demanded a new sequel – the vastly superior Ring 2 more closely following the events of Ringu insteaf of the books.
Shakespeare In Love
Here we go again. Another British Rom come. This ticks a tonne of my no go boxes – English (kind of)? Rom Com? Period Piece? When I first heard about it… I thought it was a good idea. As an English Literature Degree holding guy this should have been up at least one of my alleys. But a combination of irritating casting and misguided humour, along with the aforementioned no go boxes meant this was at best an annoyance best forgotten. The fact that the film was such a monumental success was salt, ketchup, and garlic and chives into the wound. We’ll get to the whole Oscars debacle at some point in the future, but it’s neither here nor there – the film is utter balls.
Two Gwyneth Paltrow movies in one list in one year? I’m not surprised, given how garbage an actress (human?) she appears to be. Existing in this space entirely on the backs of famous parents, her entire career is a mess. If I look down her entire filmography, there isn’t a single performance that I’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed, and her appearance in films I have more or less liked – The Talented Mr Ripley…. actually, that’s probably the only one – her appearance has brought those films down. Why is she a thing?
Sliding Doors… another quirky English Rom Com which panders to the big boys. It’s actually an okay premise – how something as uneventful as getting on or not getting on a train could be on your life. In reality, such things don’t actually make a difference to anyone’s existence – few things do, but that’s the Hollywood lie to keep us poor folks hoping and dreaming and giving over money to our betters. The idea is used only to serve the ‘romance’ which is what really matters, but the horrible dialogue, the cutesy twee crap, the awful casting, the production line beats of the script… it all adds up to yet another wholly unnecessary entry in a genre which has produced more shite than almost any other.
The Thin Red Line
Terence Malik, I love ya but… this increasingly feels like a meandering misstep. With every new Malik film released it feels like the dude is only good at one thing, and thing stopped being interesting in the 70s. Still, The Thin Red Line is a beautifully shot experience and should be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in Cinema as an art form. It’ll certainly pick up plenty of nominations in my personal Oscars lists when I get around to those. I only wish I cared about any of what was happening. By no means a bad film… it just passed me by like yet another exhibit in a gallery I didn’t have to pay to enter.
You’ve Got Mail
Gwyneth Paltrow and Meg Ryan may well be the same person. Have you seen them in the same room at the same time? In any case, they both select the same sort of material and play the same sort of characters regardless of the film or the genre. Of course, that genre is usually RomCom, but you get the idea. Ryan, to her credit, is a better performer and has sometimes chosen more edgy and exciting material, but it’s movies like this that she is known for. Films for hopeless romantics (read – hopeless people), movies which have these people in ridiculous situations and somehow come out of them with a diamond ring and a nice pretty husband. You’ve Got Mail is one of the most notable of these sorts of movies – it’s equally illogical and annoying as the others, it’s a void of ideas, it’s shot with the flare of a housewife filming her baby’s first birthday, and… well, it’s just for me. I think we’ve established that repeatedly by now. If people enjoy this, more power to them. For me, it’s just another inane entry and the garbage spewing canon.
What are your thoughts on 1998? Have I treated any of these films unfairly? Which films from my list, or from 1998 would you include as your least favourite? Let us know in the comments!