Category Archives: 1996

Movies released in 1996.

Review: Primal Fear

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Year: 1996
Score: 6.5/10

The only primal fear the movie engendered in me was fear of man boobs. Zing!

The only primal fear the movie engendered in me was fear of man boobs. Zing!

Crime thriller focusing on the trial of a young altar boy (Edward Norton) charged with a gruesome murder, the hotshot defence attorney (Richard Gere) convinced of his innocence, and the prosecutor (Laura Linney) who used to be romantically involved with that defence attorney. It’s more cinematic than your standard TV courtroom procedural, though not by much; the plot has a few more twists and turns, the actors are of higher calibre, and the scope is a bit wider (at least compared to what TV producers can fit into an hour). Norton, making his film debut, is quite good in a showy role; his performance deserved to get him noticed, but I’m not sure it deserved the Oscar nomination it garnered him. There’s a sordid church scandal angle that feels a bit clichéd. I suspect it all falls apart if you think about it too much; if you don’t, it’s an engaging enough way to spend a couple of hours. Ultimately your assessment may depend on your reaction to the ending.


Review: Bottle Rocket

Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 1996
Score: 4.5/10

Disappointing debut from Wes Anderson. It features most of what would become standard in his movies: quirky characters, excellent and eclectic musical choices, one or more Wilson (in this case, Owen, Luke, Andrew and Teddy), and a distinctive visual style with precisely and interestingly framed shots. Unfortunately there’s not enough humour and it doesn’t really go anywhere. The stuff with Andrew Wilson and Lumi Cavazos (a hotel maid he falls in love with) is quite nice, but it can’t save the movie. Owen Wilson is incredibly irritating throughout and I’d be happy to never see him again.

Review: The Late Shift

Director: Betty Thomas
Year: 1996
Score: 4/10

Vaguely interesting but mostly unsuccessful HBO movie about the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman (and network executives, agents, managers, etc.) over The Tonight Show in the early ’90s. My interest in the material was sparked as a result of following the later battle between Leno and Conan O’Brien (and NBC) as it transpired, and reading at the time that the Leno/Letterman kerfuffle had been equally crazy. Unfortunately, despite the intriguing real-life events, this movie is pretty lifeless and shoddy. The key figures are all included, but these aren’t performances; they’re impersonations, and often poor ones. John Michael Higgins isn’t too bad as Letterman, though maybe I just like Higgins so I didn’t judge him as harshly as his co-stars. Somehow Kathy Bates won awards for her portrayal of Helen Kushnick, Leno’s insane manager; in my view she completely overacts in the role.

Review: Sling Blade

Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Year: 1996
Score: 9/10

A truly beautiful moment.

A truly beautiful moment.

Brilliant, unique, sensitive rural drama about an intellectually disabled man finding his way and developing a friendship with a young boy after being released from long-term incarceration in a mental hospital. It’s hard to decide whether Billy Bob Thornton deserves more praise for his writing, his direction, or his singular performance as Karl. It’s a performance that could easily have come across as over-the-top or condescending or distracting or unbelievable, but it ends up being none of those things. An interesting point of comparison is John Malkovich’s performance as Lennie in the 1992 adaptation of Of Mice and Men: in that case, familiarity with the actor, combined with his overacting, make it hard to swallow; in this case, on the other hand, though I’ve seen Thornton many times, and this is not a subtle performance by any means, he somehow seems to just become Karl and you quickly stop thinking of it as Thornton pretending to have an intellectual disability. Anyway, beyond his performance, there’s so much more to this: wonderfully drawn supporting characters, great work from the actors playing them (especially John Ritter, Lucas Black and Dwight Yoakam), a depth of sadness matched by an undercurrent of optimism and hope in humanity, a palpable sense of pathos, and numerous moments of extreme power. The ending feels somewhat inevitable, but I wouldn’t have it another way. I can’t write this review without reproducing this quote from Doyle in full: “Hey is this the kind of retard that drools and rubs shit in his hair and all that, ’cause I’m gonna have a hard time eatin’ ’round that kind of thing now. Just like I am with antique furniture and midgets. You know that, I can’t so much as drink a damn glass of water around a midget or a piece of antique furniture.”

Review: Half Baked

Director: Tamra Davis
Year: 1998
Score: 6/10

Stupid stoner comedy starring – and co-written by – Dave Chappelle. Objectively I can see that this is a pretty bad movie, but Chappelle is so likeable and funny that somehow it’s not only watchable but actually quite entertaining at times. There are some good cameos from Jon Stewart, Tracy Morgan, Janeane Garofalo, and the always great Bob Saget, among others. Beyond general stupidity and a lot of jokes that fall flat, a major problem is the annoyingness of Jim Breuer’s character; Breuer completely overdoes it as a stoner caricature, and he stops being funny almost immediately. Apparently Chappelle claimed in an interview years later that his original script was much better than the movie ended up being, which makes me wish he’d directed it himself with Louis C.K.-level creative control. One for Chappelle fans only.

Review: Lone Star

Director: John Sayles
Year: 1996
Score: 6.5/10

I interpreted this movie as a thoughtful meditation on the question of whether we’re trapped by our history and the history of our community, or whether instead we can strive to live our lives unburdened by the stains of our past. Either that or it was just a crime procedural about a sheriff (Chris Cooper) investigating the murder of a corrupt sheriff decades beforehand and suspecting his own father – yet another sheriff (Matthew McConaughey) – of having committed the crime. Also has some interesting things to say about racial tensions in small Texan towns.