The Nine Best Video Releases of 1998
1. Starship Troopers
D: Paul Verhoeven (1997)
with Jake Busey, Patrick Harris, Clancy Brown, Caspar Van Dien
Mauled by critics (even cited by some as one of the worst films of '97), Starship Troopers missed the mark with many filmgoers. Nonetheless, this tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Robert Heinlein's classic novel provided cheap thrills, disturbing imagery, and a satirical look at military life in the not-too-distant future. As a whole, Verhoeven packages the film with a clever balance of bad taste and intelligence. Visually stunning, Verhoeven's product is captivating if not shamelessly decadent in its gore, sex, and politics.
2. The Batman and Superman Movie
For the past few years, Warner Bros.' animated Batman series has been a delight to behold. It's been the most potent translation of Bob Kane's Dark Knight to hit any screen. Likewise, the recent Superman series has had its share of bright moments. This was originally aired on the WB, but found its way onto home video. The result is a capable story that depicts the initial meeting between the two super friends. On the evil side are the Joker (voiced effectively by Mark Hamill) and Lex Luthor (ditto for Clancy Brown). Smart, funny, and beautifully drawn, it certainly holds its own against the last two live action Batman abominations.
3. Boogie Nights
D: Paul Thomas Anderson (1997)
with Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham
As if there weren't enough movies about the Seventies, Paul Thomas Anderson served up another slice of polyester and disco dancing. Nostalgia aside, pornography is at the heart of this quirky tale of misfits and misanthropes. As campy as it could have been, the subject matter is fairly enticing. As Dirk Diggler, Wahlberg offers a fascinating character who's a cross between John Holmes and Beaver Cleaver. And as director Jack Horner, Reynolds makes everyone wonder why the hell he chose to make crap like Cannonball Run in the first place. Outstanding characterizations and solid directing made what could have been a wide-lapeled, sex-and-drug farce into an imaginative, semi-biographical account of a scene long gone and too often forgotten.
4. BET's Soul Cinema
(Foxy Brown, Black Caesar, Coffy, Truck Turner, and others)
with Pam Grier, Isaac Hayes, Fred Williamson, Allan Arbus
BET cashed in on the revitalization of such stars as Grier and Hayes by remastering an assortment of blaxploitation flicks. Most are pretty laughable, but there's still entertainment value galore. Most watchable are Grier's Coffy and Black Caesar (with a killer James Brown score) starring Williamson. Although unintentional humor is abundant, these films were harsh in violence and bleak in outlook, reflecting environments and social climates in turmoil.
5. Scream 2
D: Wes Craven (1997)
with Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Arquette
Few horror sequels pack the same punch that the originals do. Scream 2, however, succeeded on several different levels. By sticking to a whodunit format and applying a new set of cliffhanger scenarios, Wes Craven triumphs on his second time around with this slasher saga. The suspense level is effective as are the colorful suspects, and even the shock ending. Best of all, there's room for a third installment, which is actually a welcome sight in comparison to the mindless Jason and Freddie flicks of the Eighties.
6. Planet of the Apes
D: Franklin J. Schaffner (1968)
with Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans
There's talk of a beefed-up remake starring Schwarzenegger, but after seeing the 30th anniversary re-release of the original, one can only ask, "Why?" The cinematography is brilliant and the score is wonderfully eerie. Plus, a pre-NRA Charlton Heston prepares for his gun lobbying by running around with a loincloth and a rifle. His gritty speeches and constant torture, however, humanized the once epic-sized
film star. Even the 30-year-old makeup effects seem well intact, which is more than can be said for most fantasy films of the era.
7. The Big Lebowski
D: Joel Coen (1998)
with Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman
This is far from the Coen Brothers' best effort, but it's a sturdy piece of work with a sharp story. All of the Coen regulars are present (Goodman, Buscemi, John Turturro) as well as some familiar eccentrics (Bridges, Sam Elliot, Moore). As "Dude" Lebowski, Bridges is a sympathetic yet contrived burnout who stumbles upon a freak caper involving porn queens, billionaires, and German nihilists. All of this and lots of bowling make for an innovative comedy that borders on being overly psychedelic yet rarely strays from its whimsical spirit.
8. Good Will Hunting
D: Gus Van Sant (1997)
with Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver
Mork finally got an Oscar for this tale of a genius Bahs-ton janitor and his tough shrink. Ironically, this is the most toned-down audiences have seen Williams, so it may seem difficult to believe that this is what the Academy recognized him for. Nonetheless, his subtle performance actually displays more dramatic range than any of his prior films (save of course, Popeye). Likewise, babyfaced Matt Damon is convincing as the bad-boy math whiz. Director Van Sant keeps things relatively light for the most part, delicately adding doses of heavy drama and cute romance to this affair. It's sophisticated popcorn stuff to say the least, but as a whole, the folksy Elliott Smith soundtrack and Boston backdrop make for an effective flick.
9. The Zero Effect
D: Jake Kasdan (1998)
with Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller, Ryan O'Neal, Kim Dickens
This is undoubtedly Bill Pullman's finest effort. As Daryl Zero, the world's greatest detective, he displays his character's awkward social mannerisms and Tab-addled diatribes with sheer flair. Backed by faithful assistant Stiller and millionaire sleazebag Ryan O'Neal (looking more like William Shatner these days), Pullman carries a rather bland story into superior heights. A so-so mystery, Zero Effect benefited most from its delivery and its likable characters, which is a testament to director Kasdan (Lawrence's son) and the film's stars. --Mike Emery