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Biggest disappointments of 1998: Could have, should have, didn't

Web posted on:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 2:10:36 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

Paul isn't always pessimistic. Check out his Top 10 Best Movies for 1998

In this story:

(CNN) -- It's been quite a year. In the last few months, our president was impeached and the military has bombed three countries. But Hollywood has bombed our nation's cineplexes all year long. Oh sure, there were some wonderful films in 1998, but the stinkers out there overwhelmed the odor of stale popcorn and fake butter.

Rather than belabor the point of just how awful "Burn Hollywood, Burn" or "The Holy Man" were, let's look at those films we expected to be good. There were films that we looked forward to in 1998 because they had interesting scripts, actors or directors -- or even all three. However, the reports of their potential greatness surpassed the eventual results.

Too long ...

First, the golden "Ye gads, my butt is numb" awards. More than ever this year, directors just didn't know when to yell "CUT!" Read my lips. Three hours is almost always too long for any movie, anywhere, anytime.

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"Meet Joe Black"

Directed by: Martin Brest
Starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani
Rated PG-13. 176 minutes.

If you schedule time to "Meet Joe Black," plan on a very long meeting. Brad Pitt has his movie-star glow on high beam here, but it doesn't change the fact that this flick is boring. As I remarked in my original review of this film, it's been said that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. "Meet Joe Black" starts out in a rut and ends up in a grave. You could drive trucks -- large trucks -- through the pregnant pauses in this 3-hour film.

Watch a clip:
2.3Mb QuickTime movie
"The Horse Whisperer"

Directed by Robert Redford
Starring Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rated PG-13. 160 minutes.

Ditto with "The Horse Whisperer." Robert Redford is in love, and her name is Montana, and he provides a magnificent travelogue of that state in this long, long film. I really wanted to like this movie, and at times I did like it. Redford can be a brilliant director. But ultimately, the pacing of this movie nearly put me into a coma. Plus, how many lingering close-ups of a horse's nostrils and eyeballs can you put in one film?

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Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton
Rated R. 174 minutes.

"Beloved," the highly anticipated adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel of the same name, is a ponderous, bloated, and self-important film. "Beloved" had the best of intentions, but got caught up in its own hype despite some wonderful performances. It's way too long! I never read the book, and in all honesty, I had no idea what was going on for the first hour and half of this movie. I suspect that Oprah Winfrey and director Jonathan Demme were so close to the subject matter that they failed to see how confusing this material would be for anyone who hadn't read the book first. Sorry, films don't come with homework.

Too old ...

Now, the envelope for the golden 'Should have left well enough alone' awards. In other words, those remakes of old films, or ideas that were adapted from TV, that should have been left as they were -- old and covered in dust.

Watch the trailer:
5.6Mb QuickTime movie
"The Avengers"

Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman
Rated PG-13. 89 minutes.

Leading the pack is "The Avengers." Why anyone thought this British cult TV show from the '60s would make a good movie is beyond me. Apparently audiences, who stayed away in droves, agreed. Not only didn't the idea travel well through the decades, but the casting was hideous. Ralph Fiennes is an intelligent and wonderful actor, but the role of John Steed, a great wit with a mischievous glint in his eye, is not Fiennes' cup of tea. Putting Uma Thurman into a skintight catsuit doesn't make her Emma Peel, either. However, it would be wrong to blame these two actors. No one could have saved this sorry mess.

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Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring: Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore and Viggo Mortensen
Rated R. 101 minutes.

"Psycho" is considered by some to be a classic example of the genius of Alfred Hitchcock. Others feel this film was not one of his best. But no matter where you stand on that issue, everyone seems to agree that the final verdict on this frame by frame remake of a 30-year-old film is, why bother? The shower scene has become a cliché, and it's not very scary to today's audiences. This film turned out to be an interesting film-school project. The most frightening aspect of this update is that Anne Heche didn't wear her seatbelt when driving to the Bates Motel.

Watch the trailer:
5.6Mb QuickTime movie

Read Paul's review of "A Perfect Murder"
"A Perfect Murder"

Directed by Andrew Davis
Starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen
Rated R. 110 minutes.

There is nothing perfect about "A Perfect Murder," which is a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film "Dial M For Murder." The original, also about a younger woman married to an older man, starred Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. That one worked -- sort of. The age difference wasn't a problem in "Dial M For Murder." But the plot was creaky then, and it's even more so today. In addition, "A Perfect Murder" suffers from perfectly dreadful casting. A 25-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow supposedly married to the 54-year-old Michael Douglas? Do her parents know about this? Does his doctor know?

What happened?

Now finally, the golden "Maybe it looked good on paper" awards." Or in other words, these films are so bad, they must have looked like a good idea at some point. Otherwise, why would anyone make them?

Read Paul's review of "54"


Directed by Mark Christopher
Starring Mike Myers, Ryan Phillippe, Neve Campbell, Sela Ward and Sherry Stringfield
Rated R. 89 minutes.

Trust me. The definitive film about the most famous, and infamous, nightclub of the '70s, New York City's Studio 54, has yet to be made. "54" was not it. There is so much wrong with this film, the story itself, the casting, the direction, it's impossible to know exactly where to start. So let's make it simple. Don't see this idiotic film.

Watch a clip:
2Mb QuickTime movie

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Leonardo DiCaprio, Winona Ryder, Melanie Griffith and Judy Davis
Rated R. 113 minutes.

For me, Woody Allen lost his charm in 1998. Well, actually he lost it last year too with "Deconstructing Harry," but I digress. What used to be cutting-edge humor is now down-and-out mean-spirited. Poor Judy Davis has been turned into a total shrew, and made a victim of Allen's obvious hatred of women. Mia get you down, baby? Thankfully, Allen spared us by not actually appearing in "Celebrity." We therefore don't have to suffer through the spectacle of seeing him bedding various beautiful young women. No, instead we get Kenneth Branagh's impression of Allen throughout the film, which set my teeth on edge and made me cringe.

Watch the trailer:
2Mb QuickTime movie

Read Paul's review of "Snake Eyes"
"Snake Eyes"

Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino and Stan Shaw
Rated R. 99 minutes.

Casting Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage and critically acclaimed actor Gary Sinise in a thriller directed by Brian De Palma should be a surefire hit. In fact, for the first half-hour, "Snake Eyes" is thrilling. But the bad guy is revealed way too early, and it's all downhill from there. Hello, this is supposed to be a 'cat and mouse' type thriller-chiller. That doesn't work when you know who the cat is so damned early in the plot. It doesn't help that Cage's performance is all over the block. And don't dare get me started on the stupid ending you have to endure if you choose to see this flick.

Watch the trailer:
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"What Dreams May Come"

Directed by Vincent Ward
Starring Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max von Sydow and Annabella Sciorra
Rated PG-13. 113 minutes.

Finally, "What Dreams May Come" is a nightmare. It's visually stunning, but emotionally vapid -- not good news for a movie that's supposed to be spiritual. This gooey confection made me feel as if I were drowning in a vat of metaphysical fudge. Everyone, including the family dog, dies in this film and then are reunited in heaven. Oh, did I spoil the ending? Good. Don't go. The idea of a love so powerful it can defy the boundaries of heaven and Earth is appealing, but this is just sentimentality with a cherry on top.

Well, that's it for 1998. I'll now go to a little soundproof room with lots of padding for a couple of weeks, and I'll see you next year.

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