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2000 in Film

THE ROAD TO EL DORADO: fun but erratic animation lost to the ages (2000 In Film #13)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of March 31st, DreamWorks’ The Road to El Dorado

Though containing all of the elements you would imagine might make a rip-roaring, animated comedy adventure, The Road to El Dorado was, surprisingly, one of the biggest initial box office failures of the year 2000.

DreamWorks Pictures, founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, as an arm of his own Amblin studio, had up to this point been on something of an animated roll. Antz did well in the animated battle with the similar A Bug’s Life, from their rivals Pixar. The Prince of Egypt was a prestige animated picture, with a star cast and a blend of animation and musical picture elements in working to recapture the scale of The Ten Commandments for new audience. The Road to El Dorado was very much designed to follow suit in Katzenberg’s eyes – a sizeable rival to Pixar’s almost immediate, revolutionary skill with Toy Story, and part of a challenge to Disney’s long-held animated dominance.

For whatever reason, it didn’t happen, despite the alchemy that one would consider a recipe for success. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, both talented comedic and dramatic actors, voicing the lead characters; a clear and recognisable legend and setting with the 15th century and the lost city of gold; and even songs from Elton John & Tim Rice, who helped define 90’s Disney animation with their music for The Lion King. A sure-fire hit would almost certainly be a safe bet and while The Road to El Dorado opened fairly well, second on it’s debut weekend ahead of Nick Hornby adaptation High Fidelity while in the slipstream of the rampant Erin Brockovich, it soon plummeted to a worldwide gross twenty million under it’s hefty, near $100 million budget.

This is probably the main reason The Road to El Dorado has ended up forgotten in the annals of recent animated cinema: nobody went to see it.

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ROMEO MUST DIE: less star-crossed lovers, more impossible physics (2000 in Film #12)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of March 24th, Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die

Just to underscore the box office power Erin Brockovich had at this point in March 2000, Romeo Must Die actually debuted in 2nd place at the box office, despite being the highest grossing new release of that week.

On paper, Andrzej Bartkowiak’s action picture might have appeared enough to see off Erin’s David vs Goliath drama, even with the star wattage of Julia Roberts behind it. Romeo Must Die front-lines two major new stars of the moment from the Chinese and African-American community, contains a plot filled with Hong Kong-action cinema styled ‘chopsocky’, not to mention a surfeit of guns and a couple of car chases thrown in, and would have appealed to a broader audience, particularly of teenagers and people of colour. And while by no means a flop, almost quadrupling its fairly minuscule budget, Romeo Must Die nonetheless is barely remembered two decades on save for one tragic factor: Aaliyah.

One of the biggest stars in hip-hop and R’n’B of the late 90’s into the early 2000’s, Aaliyah was a child prodigy mentored by R. Kelly (which is worrying with the benefit of hindsight…) who broke out into an era-defining star who, to many, was changing the face of her musical sub-genre around her. Aaliyah would have no doubt had a hugely successful career and still be relevant today. Fate took a cruel turn, sadly, when in August 2001–less than a month before the epoch-defining events of September 11th, Aaliyah was killed along with much of her retinue in the Bahamas when her private jet crashed before takeoff. She was a mere 21 years old. Romeo Must Die was not the final film she starred in during her budding cinematic career (that honour goes to the poorly made sequel to Interview with a Vampire, Queen of the Damned), but it was the most successful.

The fact Romeo Must Die only stands out because of the sad, untimely death of its co-star is a telling indictment of a leaden misfire which has not aged well at all. …

Tony Talks #20: Cultural Conversation Strikes Back!

Friends! Readers! Countrymen!

You may have noticed that around a month or so ago, I said I was saying goodbye to WordPress for a site called Substack – some of you may well have followed me over there (thanks if you did).

It didn’t, however, quite work out. Substack is great. I was really impressed with the style and presentation of it, how easy it was to use, and how it facilitates what I want with my blog writing – contact and interaction with *you*, the reader. What it lacked, for me, was the sense of curation. It is designed more as a newsletter to communicate and interact, rather than a way to importantly store work online as a repository, which is what I prefer about WordPress. So, I’m back, and I’m going back to basics.

I’m going back to the original name – Cultural Conversation.

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS: High concept, low returns (2000 in Film #7)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, I’m looking at Jonathan Lynn’s mobster comedy, The Whole Nine Yards

The Whole Nine Yards is a strange confluence of elements. It puts together a high concept Hollywood comedy premise with two household names, one known for comedy, the other not, alongside a director from an entirely different pedigree.

When it comes to box office, the concoction worked. In one of the most crowded weekends for cinematic releases in the year 2000 up to this point, The Whole Nine Yards ends up qualitatively ruling the roost on those terms. You can understand why. Bruce Willis has by this point brought in punters on the strength of his name for over a decade, well established as one of the defining leading men of the 90’s. Matthew Perry, conversely, was perhaps the breakout star of the era-defining sitcom Friends as Chandler Bing, the deadpan master of the sarcastic one-liner. Friends was here in its wind up years, with Perry and many of the main cast spreading their wings into cinematic careers; indeed coincidentally this same weekend, Friends co-star Lisa Kudrow appears in another comedy, Hanging Up, just two weeks after Courteney Cox’s key role in Scream 3.

If back in the late 90’s you would have put money on the Friends star most likely to maintain a successful, post-show movie career, it would have been Jennifer Aniston, and by and large you would have been right, but The Whole Nine Yards puts a lot of faith in Perry that he can hold his own as a leading man against someone with the casual on-screen magnetism of Willis. And on the whole, Perry manages to translate elements of his awkward, geeky Chandler persona into the role of dentist Nicholas ‘Oz’ Ozeransky, and the fact The Whole Nine Yards doesn’t entirely work is not on Perry’s shoulders. The film doesn’t convince you that Perry is a natural romantic comedy lead but the problems lie in deeper roots.

Ultimately, The Whole Nine Yards—a phrase which translates as “the lot”—is remarkably, for a comedy, lacking in a lot of what you would call laughs, thanks to a cluttered, needlessly muddled script.

THE HURRICANE: A powerful case of injustice lacking punch (2000 in Film #1)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

To begin, released over New Year 1999-2000, Norman Jewison’s The Hurricane

There is perhaps a little bit of cheating going on by including The Hurricane in a collection of 2000 movies, given it was released on December 29th, 1999. It is more of a bridge, notable as the major cinematic offering over Millennium Eve; a film that sits between cinema’s first and second centuries.

1999 was last year celebrated across film culture as among the greatest years in cinema history, with a whole range of retrospectives from articles to books to podcasts devoted to its fusion of high-concept event movies, powerful franchise films, and the big-budget legitimising of the Sundance indie-darling filmmakers who would build their careers on some of that year’s defining works. The Wachowski Sisters with The Matrix, David Fincher’s gut-punch adaptation of Fight Club, Sam Mendes’ now tainted American Beauty and Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling Magnolia lined up against George Lucas reviving the Star Wars franchise with The Phantom Menace, Pixar’s animated marvel Toy Story 2 and the blockbuster romance of Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill.

It was, looking back, a remarkable year to close out cinema’s formative century. The year 2000 was always going to struggle in its shadow and, truthfully, struggle it does. This is a year in which Mission Impossible 2 is the most profitable box office hit. A year not without its triumphs, among them Ridley Scott’s Gladiator or Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, but beyond them little that truly remains iconic at a distance in the manner we look back at 1999 and see around the corner The Sixth Sense or The Blair Witch Project or so on and so on. And if any film marks this transition, manages to serve as a pointer to how 2000 will struggle to carve out the same kind of historical legacy as the year before it, that film is surely Norman Jewison’s The Hurricane.

As, while by no means a poor piece of cinema, beyond the most ardent supporters of Denzel Washington, it struggles to truly define itself in any meaningful way.

Tony Talks #19: Happy New Year + 2020 Update!

Happy New Year (and decade) everyone!

Firstly, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who reads this blog when you get the chance. I’ve worked hard particularly in the last few months to keep content rolling on a daily basis and I appreciate any interactions I have with you, whether via likes on posts or comments or on social media. I hope for more of that in 2020 and to get to know many of you better, if I don’t know you already.

This blog has kind of become my central focus point over the last six months ever since I quit my role as co-founder/co-editor of Set The Tape in April. That was a really interesting almost 2 year project that taught me, primarily, that I am not an editor! I am a writer, for better or worse. I have enormous respect for anyone who edits copy and runs a website with multiple staffers and content daily because it is an all-consuming task with little financial reward that can end up quite the grind. It just wasn’t for me, in the end.

Ever since, I’ve been toying with what the future holds as we enter the 2020’s in terms of writing and podcasting and I thought I’d share my musings with you on this New Year’s Day.