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

ALIAS – ‘Passage – Pt 2’ (2×09 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

The second half of Passage is proof positive that Alias might have benefited more often by indulging in the traditional two-part episode structure of old, given how well it makes use of the breathing space afforded to it by part one.

The Box, as we previously discussed last season, played structurally with the classic two-part event episode by seeding a high-concept idea within the ongoing, serialised fabric of Alias, in a different manner to Alias’ penchant for ending stories week by week in a truly serialised fashion with a cliffhanger, frequently Sydney-in-peril. This lessened over time, with many Season Two episodes having the confidence to end on an emotional beat, but connected narrative structures remain – take how Salvation flows into The Counteragent, for example.

Passage, like The Box, has a condensed conceptual idea—Syd, Jack & Irina work together on a mission—that only exists within the construct of these two episodes, while helping the forward the broader arcs of the season.

Passage therefore has the space to establish the global stakes—in this case stolen suitcase nuclear weapons inside contested Kashmiri territory—and establish the emotional stakes—here surrounding whether Syd, Jack and the broader CIA can trust Irina enough to let her out of her cell—which gives this entire story a greater depth than some Alias episodes are afforded. It is a sign that Alias can break from the traditional Season One template of a mission Sydney goes on with a specific objective, broken up into two or three set-pieces per episode. The mission in Passage is the episode, and it works entirely to service the Bristow family drama. Not until Season 4 premiere Authorised Personnel Only will Alias again give itself the two-part framework to tell a story in quite this manner.

That is part of the reason Passage works so well, indeed rarely for the second part of a story, it works better than part one and the establishment. Passage also works because the payoff is as satisfying, if not more so, than what the episode sets up.

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Last Action Hero (1993)

Last Action Hero is both ahead of its time and perfectly positioned *within* the era it was made, such is the paradox of a forgotten curiosity of 1990’s action cinema and the stratospheric career of Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Here’s my story and why I’m writing about Last Action Hero some twenty five years on from its release. I was 11 years old when Last Action Hero was released in cinemas, in the US one week after Steven Spielberg’s decade-defining Jurassic Park. In theory, I was the perfect age to consume a film which is entirely about the youthful obsession of a similarly-aged child, Austin O’Brien’s Danny Madigan, with action adventure cinema. Jurassic Park I badgered my parents to take me to see three times yet I didn’t go anywhere near Last Action Hero. It didn’t even register with me. It has taken me until age 36 to actually sit down and watch it, and this is after spending at least the last twenty years being an enormous fan of Schwarzenegger’s movies and career. Last Action Hero was always the Arnie film I missed.

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