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In this episode: Notting Hill | Election | The Mummy

I can sum this one up very simply. It's formula, but very funny and well-written formula.

Why's it formula? Because it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. You can tell exactly what's going to happen, and frankly there are a few scenes that were, unfortunately, too predictable, but there are many others that are fresh, funny, witty, and well-acted. The movie rests not only on the shoulders of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, but on a fantastic ensemble cast of British actors. They are all great fun to watch, and offer the perfect support in the movie. The characters and actors, along with the writing, bring Notting Hill above the cliché it could have been to something smooth and likable.

It was wise for Hugh Grant to lay low for a while after his little automotive mishap, but it's good he's back because he's really very funny and has fantastic screen presence. In Notting Hill, he's an unassuming Englishman named William who owns a not-so-successful travel book store. As Will meets then falls in love with Julia Roberts' movie star character, Anna, it's very entertaining to watch his disbelief at his "luck." It's also entertaining to watch his friends' reactions when he brings Anna to his sister's birthday party. Hugh does a bit of his stammering, stuttering shtick, but it's all good, as they say, and I found it amusing. I can think of no other English actor who would have pulled this role off so well.

Julia Roberts is fine. Since she plays a big movie star, she gets to be sort of cold and unemotional most of the time, but when her feelings for Hugh get stronger, she does a nice job of letting them show through. I did notice her sort of mirroring Hugh's mannerisms at times. This may have been an acting problem à la Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing in Star Wars (I knew I could work Star Wars into this!), or it may have been a directorial choice, to give the two a connection to make their loving each other more believable. Whatever. Julia was good. In a scene near the end, Anna exposes as much of herself emotionally as she dares to or hopes to while also trying to keep her composure, and it's sad. I was moved. Poor little rich actress! She's standing there, looking so alone and lost, like she knows she's about to be hurt. You'll see which scene I mean when you see the movie.

Special kudos should go to Rhys Ifans, who plays Will's disgusting flatmate Spike. Spike is a rare character, one that is aggravating and annoying, but also so well acted that he grows on you. Rhys plays this crackpot with a strange intelligence (or maybe just common sense) that gives his actions weight. Dare I compare him to Jar Jar? No. Jar Jar's useless and infuriating. Spike is gross but eventually likable. Sure, I would have kicked him out of my place almost immediately, if I had somehow allowed him to move in in the first place. But Will is sort of a pushover. And Rhys adds a lot to Notting Hill. He stays.

Another scene of note is when Will's friends meet Anna for the first time. It is a great mixture of reactions, from elation to embarrassed silence to non-recognition. As everyone becomes more comfortable around each other—Anna with the friends and the friends with Anna—you for the first time get to learn something about Anna other than she's a mega star. Unfortunately, the formula shows through here, too, and while the scene works, it's also a bit trite. But the interaction of the characters is very well done.

As I mentioned, this is a boy meets/loses/gets girl story, so you know it has a happy ending. I won't ruin anything by saying I was actually hoping it would end on a more bittersweet note. I knew it wouldn't but for a few minutes I was hoping it would. That had everything to do, however, with my own recent experiences with those blasted English, and so I'm sure it was for the good of the movie that it ended exactly as you'd expect. I don't know why I keep watching films where love conquers all through humongous odds. I must enjoy the torture.

But enough about that. Notting Hill is absolutely worth seeing, and I recommend it highly. Watch for the scene where the seasons change while Will is walking down the street (note, too, the preganant lady, who reappears at the end of the sequence with her child). Very clever, and extremely well done. I was wondering why his hair wasn't getting wet!


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Another fine film! However, where Notting Hill was fine because it overcame its cliché plotline with writing and humor, Election has to overcome nothing because it's solid and original. It's creative. Funny. Wicked.

Election is a small film released by Paramount. I'm always shocked when Paramount releases small, quality films because I normally equate that studio with large, stupid, loud schlock. At least lately.

Election is about a high school campaign for student body President. And so much more. I'd call it kind of a companion piece to Rushmore. Though the two films have many differences, they both succeed in telling stories about young people who go too far for what they want and don't know that they've done so, or at least don't really learn much from having done so. Both films also deal with the sort of inbred world a school can foster. They also have similar tones. They'd make a great double feature.

While the story and plot of Election are very original and fun, they are completely character-driven. Everything happens because one character or another has designs on some other character. So let me talk about character. Ready? Begin.

Reese Witherspoon is Tracy Flick, a Junior running for President. She's a nightmare! A perfect caricature of the too-perky, too-involved, too-good-to-be-true high school student. She wears tartan skirts and colored hose and has a robotic luster in her shiny, shiny eyes. She wants to be President, and she will be president. You may think, "Gosh, I've seen that before, the goody-goody overachiever who stoops to nothing to win." Oh, but you haven't. Reese is brilliant in this role. Her seething is spooky. Her joy is creepy. And her denial that she does anything wrong is HAL-like in its absoluteness. A hilarious tidbit is the screeching musical cue that pops up when Tracy Flick (a perfect name for this girl) gets angry. Small musical cues like this can also be found in Welcome to the Dollhouse and Rushmore. In each movie, they are hilarious. Tracy's cue in Election is very piercing and, really, insane. I'm laughing now thinking about it.

Matthew Broderick is made up perfectly as high school teacher Jim McAllister (Mr. M, his students call him). He's got a clip of keys hanging from his belt loop, a taste for unstylish clothing, and wisps of gray hair at his temples. Mr. M is the Student Council advisor, so he's in charge of the election. He's the husband of a dowdy but kind nursing student who can't conceive a child, he was the friend of a former teacher who was let go for his "unprofessional" relationship with Tracy, and, worse yet, he's allergic to bees. I don't know how Matt will fair in Inspector Gadget, coming out later this year, but he's great in Election. He still looks young, and that's kind of why his teacher persona works so well. Mr. M loves to teach and is liked by the students, but the character is just sad enough, missing just enough of the spark of life (though he looks young), to bring your thoughts back to some of your own high school teachers. What were their private lives like? Why did they become teachers? What keeps them going year after year doing the same stuff? Mr. M has his own sort of sad life to live, so you get some insight into at least one teacher's mind. You also end up understanding... er, what he does. I can't say more than that.

The rest of the movie revolves around yet another fun cast of ensemble characters. Chris Klein is Paul, the dense jock who breaks his leg and ends up running against Tracy. Chris has a beefy Keanu Reeves look. In fact, I don't think Keanu could have played Paul as well. Ouch.

There's Tammy, played by Jessica Campbell. Tammy is Paul's sister and "not a lesbian." A heartbroken Tammy also ends up running for President, mostly to get revenge.

Then there's your compliment of perfectly-honed high school characters: the principal who talks just like a principal; the mother who pushes Tracy just a little too hard; the janitor who speaks no words but just glowers from behind his glasses; even the troublemaking kids who shout out "eat me" during assemblies and slouch around the halls making trouble.

It's in a movie like this that you can get away with having characters that are not all good or all bad. Everyone has their moments of honor and their moments of immorality ("Morals, ethics... what's the difference?"). Hey! My God! Just like life! Alexander Payne, who directed and was one of the writers, lets his characters evolve naturally, humorously, tragically, redemptively, so they become more than cardboard cutouts.

So the plot comes from the characters. The plot also twists and turns, which is part of the joy of watching Election. Therefore, I won't talk about any of them. Go see this one. Don't wait to rent it, because it's a wide-screen movie, and you'll miss the good, subtle cinematography here. It will definitely play more like a TV show on a cropped screen.


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Oh, whatever. It's dumb but fun. It's fun, but not fun enough. It's not fun enough to be memorable. It's not memorable enough to like. It's not likable enough to matter. Oh, whatever.

This is a good example of a movie trying to be too clever and do too much. It hops all over the friggin' place, and always at a frenetic pace. I know frenetic paces are the new standard these days, and sometimes it can work. Not here. We're in ancient Egypt during the reign of the Pharaohs. Oh, then we're in Egypt in the 1920s. Oh, then it's a couple years later. Oh, then we go to the Lost City, which is not lost enough to not be the scene of a Big Big Battle. Then we're in Cairo. Oh, then we're back in the Lost City. Then we're back in Cairo, then back to the Lost City. There's a Mystical Key. Inside the Mystical Key is a map to the Lost City which isn't at all lost because at least 1,000 people know how to find it. There's the group of guys, some kind of Brotherhood like in Indiana Jones 3, who are supposed to keep the Evil from being discovered which means they should really be keeping people out of the Lost City but don't do a very good job of it. There's the Temple in the Lost City, which is so easy to get into, all you gotta do is walk thorugh a doorway, but it's not been disturbed for 3,000 years and there's tons of gold treasure that hasn't been looted. Not even by the thousands of soldiers in that Big Big Battle. Then there's Brendan Fraser as a really boring Indiana Jones Rip-Off who is at the Lost City during the Big Big Battle, escapes, almost gets hanged for nothing in particular, then takes the Lovely Damsel to the Lost City, then back to Cairo, then back to the Lost City. There's the Lovely Damsel herself, one of those new-generation damsels who's smarter than the Indy Rip-Off and capable of doing all this by herself if she didn't have to live in such a male-centric society, darn it all! There's the part where the Lovely Damsel opens the Mystical Key her Bumbling, Jar Jar-like Brother stole from the Indy Rip-Off, the part where she reads the map and knows what it's for but after she knocks down all the shelves in the ancient library like dominoes, oops. There's the part where she saves the Indy Rip-Off from being hanged for no particular reason, the part where he takes her on a boat that catches fire thanks to the Brotherhood. Oh, and then there's the 427 times she reads the hieroglyphs just in time to almost save the day but not enough because there haven't been enough special effects yet to have the day saved without the audience getting mad. There's the special effects themselves, which could all have been done using Photoshop plug-ins and animated GIFs. There's Imhotep, the priest in ancient Egypt who snogs the Pharaoh's body-painted Love Muffin and therefore becomes mummified alive and buried with thousands of flesh-eating beetles who are said to eat away at the body very slowly but who later in the movie do their damage almost instantly. Imhotep is then The Mummy of the title and is a sufficiently creepy rotted CG corpse who sucks the juices out of the living, especially the cursed Americans and the Guy from Titanic, to become full again and turns into and out of sand and steals the Lovely Damsel so the Love Muffin's mummy can suck the Lovely Damsel's juices and come back from the dead and it'll be Imhotep and Love Muffin forever and ever. But then there's the Weasely Side-Kick who was the only guy to even bother going into the Temple during the Big Big Battle but the guys who are supposed to protect the temple never kill him so he ends up being one of the 1,000 people who know how to get to the Lost City and he leads the Americans there who are led by the Guy from Titanic and they all get cursed when they open the chest under the statue that contains the Black Book but they don't have the key because the Lovely Damsel has it but she steals the Black Book from the Guy from Titanic and opens it and Imhotep the Mummy comes alive but then there's a Gold Book no one thought to look for until later and the Bumbling Brother finds it and he can read hieroglyphics even though he's really stupid and they open it with the key and it brings the Pharaoh's guards back to life as mummies but Imhotep controls them because the Bumbling Brother doesn't read the whole inscription because if he had the movie would have had one less fight scene with mummies and there weren't enough mummies so far and the sores-and-boils people in Cairo don't count because they aren't mummies but they do kill the guy who ran the library the Lovely Damsel almost destroyed and who is also one of the guys who protects the Lost City but we didn't know that even though he stupidly held the map from the Mystical Key so close to his candle it caught fire but he ends up having the Brotherhood guy with the long hair and tattoos under his eyes take the Lovely Damsel and the Bumbling Brother and the Indy Rip-Off and the Old Drunk Glory-Seeking British Air Force Man back to the Lost City after they were already there once after getting chased away by the Brotherhood but mostly by the scary Mummy they awoke who is Imhotep who was buried with his priests, who were all also mummified alive and they all come back to life because of the Black Book and even if you cut them in half they live they live THEY LIVE!!!!!

You know what? I can't not recommend this one, but don't come to hang me for no particular reason if you don't like it.


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©1999 Steven Lekowicz