Movie Review – Lantana

Lantana (2001)
Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Ray Lawrence

Ray Lawrence took sixteen years off between his first and second films. His career seems to coincide with the two peaks in international interest in Australian cinema in the last forty years. In the 1980s, there was a sudden spike of interest in the United States around Australian media. Directors like Peter Weir and actors like Mel Gibson became hot commodities. Crocodile Dundee was a pretty massive phenomenon in the States. Even bizarre comedies like Young Einstein starring the comedic actor Yahoo Serious had their moment in the spotlight. Lawrence’s Bliss came out in 1985 and never really swept up Americans, but it was definitely given a high stature in Australia. Jump to 2001, as a new wave of Australian films begins capturing the attention of audiences, and Lawrence gives us the highest-grossing movie in Australian history, Lantana.

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Comic Book Review – Wonder Woman by Phil Jimenez Omnibus

Wonder Woman by Phil Jimenez Omnibus (2019)
Reprints Wonder Woman v2 #164-188, Wonder Woman Secret Files & Origins #2 & 3, Wonder Woman: Our Worlds at War, DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #1-4
Written by Phil Jimenez (with Devin Grayson, J.M. DeMatteis, George Perez, Joe Kelly)
Art by Phil Jimenez, George Perez, Travis Moore, Cliff Chiang, Jamal Igle, Buzz, Lan Medina, David Yardin, and Jose Luis-Garcia Lopez

I absolutely adore this collection of Phil Jimenez’s run on Wonder Woman while acknowledging this isn’t life-changing material. Instead, this is Jimenez’s tribute to the era of comics he loves and a celebration of every iteration of Wonder Woman. He manages to fold in the concepts established by Perez and Byrne in the post-Crisis continuity while also bringing back faces not seen since the Golden and Silver ages. This is one of those instances where letting a fan of the character write the book doesn’t turn out to be a terrible idea. Jimenez doesn’t always bring closure to every single plotline, but he grows the Wonder Woman family to make it rival what Batman and Superman had going on at the time.

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Movie Review – Evolution (2001)

Evolution (2001)
Written by David Diamond, David Weissman, and Don Jakoby
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Ivan Reitman is responsible for many financially successful 1970s/80s comedies. He produced Animal House and directed Meatballs. This lead to pictures like Stripes, Ghostbusters, Twins, and more. As a kid, my feelings about Reitman’s movies were pretty much limited to Ghostbusters and Kindergarten Cop, and we watched them a lot. As an adult, I find his work to not hold up very well; Ghostbusters has been the only one I’ve enjoyed revisiting. I think the style of comedy Reitman made during those decades doesn’t work anymore, and it’s pretty evident with this film.

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Comic Book Review – Young Justice Book Five

Young Justice Book Five (2020)
Reprints Young Justice #33 – 43, Young Justice Our Worlds At War #1, Impulse #77, Superboy #91
Written by Peter David (with Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Todd DeZago & Joe Kelly)
Art by Todd Nauck (with Pascual Ferry & Carlo Barberi)

With the publication of this volume, it was billed as the end of Young Justice…except it doesn’t reprint issues 44 through 55. I’m hoping that is an oversight because, as little as I have enjoyed reading through this series, I would like to finish it up in an official collection. If there aren’t signs of a sixth volume, I may just review those last few as an unofficial set. As I said, I haven’t enjoyed this read through as much as I anticipated because of the emphasis on comedy over drama. It’s good to have both, but Peter David certainly leans into the former over the latter. 

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My Favorite Movies of 2000

You Can Count On Me (directed by Kenneth Lonergan)

From my review: Lonergan isn’t interested in judging his characters are giving them closure but putting them in situations and watching how they react. Sammy is given a new boss who is seemingly resentful of getting a position in a small town in the Catskills but also demands a level of professionalism that cuts through the humanity of his workers. Sammy is trying to be an orderly professional, but she’s also human. It would have been easy to write her as the stuck up/by the book sibling; however, Sammy just has things a little more together than Terry. She makes some pretty significant mistakes at her job, and the film doesn’t really wrap things up neatly. She doesn’t lose her job, but it’s clear that the bank’s environment is going to be different going forward.

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Movie Review – You Can Count On Me

You Can Count On Me (2000)
Written & Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

A brief few moments of tragedy can ripple through people’s lives seemingly forever. This is what has happened to a pair of adult siblings from upstate New York who have drifted apart over the year. Now they find it nearly impossible to reconnect, and their personal lives are a series of missteps and errors. Starting out as a playwright, Kenneth Lonergan came to films after a few successful stage productions. His directorial debut is a melancholy picture, a slice of life that doesn’t deliver the denouement we might expect but just presents a moment from these characters’ lives where they make some decisions, and we see how they live with the consequences.

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Movie Review – The Gift

The Gift (2000)
Written by Billy Bob Thornton & Tom Epperson
Directed by Sam Raimi

I noticed that, without planning, every Flashback to a year I’ve done in 2020 has included a Sam Raimi picture. There had been no desire to do a look at his work specifically, but through these series, I’ve had the opportunity to see how he grew as a director over the years. The Gift is the most jarring of these films because it’s so unlike anything else I’ve seen from him. It’s a much more muted picture and feels like an independent film from the late 1990s/early 2000s. It seemed like he was becoming more over the top and stylistic with pictures like Darkman and The Quick and The Dead, but here everything is so sedate with mild touches of Raimi’s aesthetic.

Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) is a widow living in a small Georgia town who makes ends meet with her late husband’s social security and a side gig as a clairvoyant fortune-teller. Her readings for Valerie (Hilary Swank) lead her husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves), to become irate with Annie and threaten her life if she keeps putting what he sees as evil thoughts in his wife’s head. Annie is also becoming close with her eldest son’s principal, Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), engaged to a wealthy local socialite, Jessica (Katie Holmes). Things turn tragic when Jessica goes missing, and Annie has visions that the woman has been killed and tracks her down to a specific location outside of town. Annie realizes that, while the law believes the killer’s identity is apparent, things are much more complicated than she first thought.

Raimi definitely leans into many Southern-fried cliches, and his actors don’t necessarily capture the accent’s essence. The cliches are pretty abundant with swamps, weeping willows, the class divide between the wealthy and poor, and even a To Kill a Mockingbird-esque trial with Annie’s son secretly watching from the balcony. Raimi is pulling back with only some uses of his tropes. There’s a scene early on where Annie has a vision while in the principal’s office, and a supernatural wind blows her hair while the camera pushes in, and you can see just a little touch of the director’s aesthetic there. Otherwise, I see this falling more in the camp of pictures like Sling Blade and The Apostle. It plays things pretty low key.

Cate Blanchett does the best job of things and plays Annie with total believability, which helps ground the sometimes silly proceedings. You can see how this role could very easily be hammed up by a lesser actor, someone who overplays into farce. Her abilities are represented through short quick visions, a pencil rolling off a desk, falling into a puddle of water, which reveals a character’s corpse-like foot, hinting at their fate. Blanchett finds ways to play Annie as vulnerable but can pull herself up when circumstances become dangerous to her and her family.

There is a lot of plot here, and not all the arcs feel like they belong together initially. By the end of the film, characters’ stories begin to flow together so that the finale is incredibly satisfying and provides a reason for every person’s presence in the narrative. Surprisingly, this film didn’t do well at the box office because it had the star power to get people’s attention and deliver a very well-plotted mystery story with classy special effects. I wouldn’t say I hope Raimi makes more films like this one, as I love it when he goes insane (see Darkman), but it is a pleasant surprise in his filmography. The Gift appears to have become one of those overlooked gems that people will hopefully rediscover from time to time.

Movie Review – Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps (2000)
Written by Karen Walto & John Fawcett
Directed by John Fawcett

I’d heard about this movie periodically since its release in 2000 but never sat down to watch it. I’m sure it played at the local arthouse theater when I was in college, but I was skeptical of most horror back then (now I’m just very picky). I have never been that big of a monster movie fan. I prefer more Lovecraftian/weird horror that spends its time in atmosphere and dread rather than fangs dripping with blood. When I was coming up with the list of movies to watch for my Flashback to 2000, I decided now was the time to finally view Ginger Snaps and see why it has garnered a cult following over the years. 

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Movie Review – Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich (2000)
Written by Susannah Grant
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh had quite a year in 2000. In March, he released this film, and in December, Traffic came out. In both these films and others, Soderbergh focuses on themes centered around working-class/poor people being victims of a cruel, uncaring system. Even Ocean’s 11 is about an ex-con with nothing trying to screw over selfish, evil, wealthy people. Magic Mike is all about people struggling to make ends meet and raise themselves out of the poverty they seem stuck in while being exploited. Soderbergh doesn’t make traditional advocacy films and is more interested in telling character-focused stories that touch on economic struggles & hardships.

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Movie Review – Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot (2000)
Written by Lee Hall
Directed by Stephen Daldry

In 1984 in the United Kingdom, the Thatcher government led an effort to shut down coal mines and oppose strikes as a means of union breaking. This led to violent clashes between striking miners and police to protect the corporation’s property and help get scabs into the mines. These strikes were declared illegal by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and by 1985, the unions had been weakened to the point that they took concessions that were much less than they had been fighting for. This is the background of Billy Elliot, an unexpected time and place to set this story. When I first saw this film around 2001, I did not expect to be introduced to this conflict, and it is a pretty great thematic element for Billy’s story.

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