The Mask

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★★★

Stanley (Jim Carrey) has been thrown out of a nightclub. His suit is smudged and dirty. Then he finds a wooden mask.

When he puts it on, he starts spinning wildly. After stopping, he discovers that he has changed. A green head with a big smile appears before the mirror. He wears a red suit and contains boundless energy. But the next day, Stanley wakes up and thinks that the transformation was a dream.

Then the mask begins to tempt him. Later at night, he puts it on again and rushes to a bank. He stops a robbery. He then goes to a night club and dances very well with an attractive singer named Tina (Cameron Diaz). They’re attracted to one another but Stanley is unaware that she works for a feared gangster.

Stanley is a simple nice guy when he’s not wearing the mask. But with the mask on, he’s a bizarre powerful character. He goes out of control like when he physically punishes two automechanics for overpricing the repairs of his car. The mask exaggerates the wishes of its wearer. A gangster gets to try it on and is able to spit bullets from his mouth. Stanley’s pet dog Milo borrows it and grows long and sharp teeth. The films special effects are outstanding. 

Jim Carrey as Stanley is funny. He has that ability to act normal and suddenly burst out with awkward energy. Cameron Diaz is charming as Tina. And Peter Greene makes a worthy sinister villain against the masked Stanley. The film is directed by Charles Russell, and it’s wacky, fun, and entertaining.

Dante’s Peak

  1. dantes_peak_ver2★★★

As a volcano erupts, Harry is driving through heavy ash. He gets to a station, picks up his girlfriend, and speeds away. Then as they drive further, a rock breaks through the roof of his jeep and his girlfriend is killed.

 Several years later, Harry is still working as geological surveyor. He is hired to study Dante’s Peak, a dormant volcano. It stands by a small cozy town rated as the 2nd best place to live in the USA. But unusual activity is detected. The lake has high acidity. Fauna are found dead. Trees are decaying.

Then two human corpses are found burnt in a hot spring. Harry meets with the mayor Rachel(Linda Hamilton) to discuss options. One is to begin a town evacuation. But the town leaders are against the idea. So is Harry’s boss Paul(Harry Hallahan), who believe’s there aren’t enough signs for a volcanic eruption. A false alarm can cause real estate values to plummet and the loss of jobs.

Until finally the symptoms become clear and it’s too late.  The Volcano explodes and panic ensues. Traffic jams are followed by earthquakes, falling posts, crumbling buildings, and collapsing bridges. The city slowly gets buried in ash.

The film’s special effects are realistic displays of destruction.  Lava, cloud, and ash appear vivid. The spectacle of a collapsing dam is effective. And action sequences are frightening. Harry drives two jeeps of incredible durability. One is able to drive through deep water while another runs on Lava.  

Pierce Brosnan plays Harry as a man with good judgement. And Linda Hamilton as Rachel is level headed and supportive of Harry’s reasons.   Harry Hallahan as Paul means well but is losing the right instincts for his job. They have supporting characters who provide some light humor. The narrative is efficient without getting sidetracked. Directed by Roger Donaldson, Dante’s Peak follows a familiar formula for disaster movies but demonstrates its effectiveness.

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Demolition Man

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★★1/2

In the year 1996, Los Angeles is a ruined city with scattered fires. A cop called John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) apprehends a maniac kidnapper called Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). Although he catches Phoenix, he disobeys protocol and there are casualties. Spartan’s penalty is Cryostasis, to be placed in a frozen slumber until the year 2046.

Fast forward to 2032 and the city of Los Angeles has changed. It is clean and polished. Life is peaceful and there hasn’t been a crime in 16 years. That is until Simon Phoenix escapes from prison. His violent abilities have been inexplicably enhanced. Modern policemen are unable to stop him.

This compels the police chief to make a tough decision. To release John Spartan for the sole purpose of catching Phoenix. It comes after much deliberation and the conclusion that an old fashion cop is needed to stop an old fashion criminal.

The film has a satiric vision of the future. Apart from a modern looking city, Electronics are voice activated. Vehicles speak and drive themselves. Meat and spicy foods are outlawed. People speak without cursing. Any form of violence would garner shocking reactions. Then to offset this totalitarian city, there is an underground society of scavengers who fight for freedom of choice, drink beer, and eat rat burgers.

It’s a big movie of large sets, pyrotechnics, and special effects. The Cryostasis chamber is an impressive creation. At its center is a large robotic arm that carries prisoners locked in ice cubes. Attached to the cubes are monitors to read neurological activity. However, there is no mention of recovery from Cryostasis. Don’t human muscles require acupuncture?

It’s jarring at times when comedy shifts to violence. In one scene, a goofy character sings a jolly song. In another, Snipes and Stallone are striking each other mercilessly. They are at the top of their physicality and deliver some exciting sequences. Directed by Marco Brambilla, it’s a movie that combines hard action and satire.

Jerry Maguire

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★★★★

After listening to his conscience, Jerry (Tom Cruise) writes a mission statement. It says fewer clients but handled with more care. It’s an emotional moment. He rushes to make copies and distributes them to his coworkers. But days later, he gets fired.

Jerry was a successful sports agent, representing top athletes. But after being fired for his bold mission statement, he is left with one client and an inspired assistant. The former is Ray(Cuba Gooding Jr.), a talented wide receiver with a boisterous attitude. And the latter is Dorothy(Renee Zellweger) a passionate worker, who drops her job to follow Ray’s noble mission.

But it becomes increasingly difficult for Jerry to negotiate for Ray.  Ray’s primary concern is earning the big bucks, which no team is willing to pay. His skills are overshadowed by a brash personality. Jerry advises him to drop the attitude but Ray is offended. And meanwhile on the side, Jerry starts to have feelings for Dorothy. It becomes a matter of priorities as Jerry must decide on where he must dedicate himself to.

The story inserts Jerry’s mentor ‘Dicky Fox’ who speaks to the camera with inspiring quotes like “roll with the punches”, “tomorrow is another day”,  and “ I have failed as much as I succeeded”. These typically follow the struggling moments of Jerry.

Romantic chemistry is felt by the performers. Tom Cruise as the title character is well placed and boundless with energy. Renee Zelwegger as Dorothy is cute and optimistic. Jonathan Lipnicki as her son is smart for his age. And  Cuba Gooding Jr.  gives an over the top, entertaining performance.

This is a movie of great moments, usually taking place at the home of Dorothy. There, in the living room are frequent meetings of divorced women, friends of her sister(Bonnie Hunt). And in the climactic scene, their ranting is silenced when Jerry publicly opens his heart to Dorothy. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe , this is a heartwarming film that brims with humor and delight.

Jackie Brown

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★★★1/2

Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a stewardess who gets caught with undeclared money.  According to two officers, she can face up to two years in prison if she doesn’t cooperate. The officers are an ATF agent(Michael Keaton) and LAPD cop (Michael Bowen) who need information on Ordell, her dangerous employer.

Ordell (Samuel Jackson) is an illegal arms dealer who articulates himself with clarity and foul language. In his beachside home, he boasts about his operation in the presence of an ex convict Lewis and the pot smoking Melanie. He goes on about selling guns to Mexico and getting the money flown back via stewardesses.

Then Ordell learns that Jackie is in prison. He is unable to receive his money. So he hires a bail bondsman named Max (Robert Foster) to release Jackie. But Ordell doesn’t intend to help her. This is a cold blooded man who will kill to cover his tracks. Jackie knows this and devices a careful plan. She cooperates with the ATF and LAPD and proposes to deliver another bag of cash for Ordell so the officers can catch him in the act of receiving.

What complicates matters though is Jackie’s lack of trust in the officers. The way they apprehended her at the airport. Their suspicious offer of pardon and protection if she cooperates. The only one she grows faithful to is Max, the bail bondsman who seems sincere in helping her.

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the movie is a tale about criminals outsmarting criminals. It uses long takes and some non-chronological sequences. It has engaging dialogue and a complex predicament. Conversations are sharp with a combination of profanity and intelligence. Though some mannerisms are off-putting, they fall in line with the personalities. They are brought to life by terrific performances. Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda take on unusual but effective roles as Lewis and Melanie. Samuel Jackson is perfect as Ordell. But the surprise is Robert Foster and Pam Grier who are just as good in their parts.