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Beetle Bailey (1963)
The Best Part of this Cartoon Series Was The Theme Song
Painfully unfunny entry from King Features Syndicate. The same kind of very funny and striking observations from the Mort Walker strip we see everyday, at this writing from the newspaper, is greatly lacking in this blistering, shrieking and boring cartoon.
Beetle is portrayed as a moron, not a rebellious soul. Sergeant Snorkel as a fascist tyrant, not an upholder of the proud traditions of the army. The characters Killer, Plato and Zero are neither fleshed out, or even bothered with. Captain Scabbard, Lieutenant Fuzz or even the beloved Chaplain are simply just nonentities to be recognized here.
The cartoon artwork seems to come from some sweatshop in Shri Lanka, not from anywhere the near the type of "Termite Terrace," that's for sure. Pretty embarrassing stuff for those those involved.
It's terribly ironic that for a theme song that boasts: "...From the General, Colonel, Major and the Captain; The Lieutenant, Sergeant and the Corporal...they would tell you with a shout, they would gladly live without, a certain Private by the name of Beetle Bailey..." They would all take a break and go to the mess hall.
And, dear reader, a "mess" is what this cartoon series is.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A Piece of American Western Heritage which happens to be Gay
CAUTION TO THE READER-SPOILERS AHEAD: Director Ang Lee's film BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN delves deeply into the American psyche. A psyche of puritanical, almost rabid, reverence for the cowboy myths and legend. They were truly the U.S. version of "The Nobility of the Sword." They entered hostile and unknown lands, making a slow path for the rest of immigrant and established America to follow westward. Some of it is bona fide American history, much of it sketchy legend.
Then, we flash forward to the early 1960's where the last bastion of independent cowboy employment is reaching its finale, of sorts. They are lone cowboys not belonging or working for any particular ranch. Against this backdrop is where we meet the main characters of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, two drifters looking for work in Wyoming.
The work is hard and the pay was low, however these were men who needed money. We, as viewers, take this journey with them and discover an indirect affection between them. As this affection evolves into the physical act of love, we find both characters struggling with their perceptions built upon their life up to now, and their emotions.
For individual reasons and reasoning, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar keep their love, yet lose their happiness, much due to the mores and times in which they live. One of these men find life away from Wyoming, and moves to Texas. His life takes a path where he doesn't want it to go, yet makes his way with success in a chameleon-like existence. He is bold and visionary, and not afraid of life's chances, if only the man he loves would dare to jump for the brass ring of happiness. He is not interested in a solo act, it has to be a team effort. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger are simply great. A standout performance is delivered by Michelle Williams as Alma, and Anne Hathaway as Lureen. Graham Beckel and Randy Quaid provide solid, entertaining support. Peter McRobbie and Roberta Maxwell are terrific, as Jack's parents.
The viewer cannot help but get involved into the lives of these men. The fluidity of the screenplay, thanks to Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana the screenwriters, keep your interest in the raw emotions, subtle tenderness and warm humor of the plight of these two men. It illustrates the anguish that such relationships with men or women can be wrought when true honesty is absent. The screenplay succeeds most of the time in its intent.
Unfortunately, it tends to falter near the critical juncture of its conclusion. No one is saying these two should hold hands and go skipping off into the sunset. That certainly would not have been a realistic ending, considering the travails of Ennis and Jack. A tender, yet long overdue understanding and acceptance of each other would have sufficed. However, the oldest cliché in Hollywood history was dusted off, and presented as the dessert, after a spectacular five course meal. I'll let you ponder a guess. Question: In Hollywood film production, when two star-crossed lovers meet and pursue romance, you can almost bet your last check that one of them will...? a) Win the lottery. b) Move to The Netherlands where it's not illegal. or c) Get whacked or murdered. It is a strong critique of an otherwise brilliant movie.
Therefore, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is certainly well above average, and worthy of your consideration for emotional and intellectually stimulating entertainment. You will not be disappointed in the least. The almost 2.5 hour run flows effortlessly by, due in large thanks to the pacing by director Lee. Highly Recommended.
Van Helsing (2004)
Van Help Me, This Was Not Very Good
The star of this film, known to many of us, as CGG (Computer Generated Graphics) does well, despite its overuse and obvious animation. This is a rehash of many a horror film, and when one is retooling it for an updated modern version (as they will in the future for this popular genre), the screenwriters and director need to add an essential, original point that will make people stand up and take notice. VH has no such originality, nor zing. Hugh Jackman delivers such a wooden performance, one is terribly tempted to call Geppetto to see if he was missing one of his puppets. The chemistry between his character and Ms. Beckinsale's character is so poor; I was assuming he was gay. Not that there's anything wrong about that, and it would have been a cool and groundbreaking route to go with this venerated character of horror movie lore. Once again, I digress to hint of any originality which could spice up a deadly dull flick like this one. Kate Beckinsale does sparkle in her role, exuding sexuality and vim, which saved this writer from having to rate this whole escapade as a bomb/turkey/junk/pond water, etc. Also, Richard Roxburgh, who literally and figuratively chews upon the scenery like an Atkins diet drop out on a loaf of fresh baked pumpernickel. Richard had a good time with this role, and it shows, as his relish is strong. Aside from these, the film get stodgy, dull and CGC happy for most of its cruel, crushing 132 minutes. The Hyde character, conveniently borrowed from another turkey (League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen...*yawn*) doesn't perk up the production a flip. A lot more backfires than starts, in what should have been a fun romp around the macabre side. Instead, VAN HELSING tries to dazzle us with poor animation and script, as well. As I stopped yawning, pondering this picture, I regain the senses enough to type out the following words: NOT RECOMMENDED.
50 First Dates (2004)
ROM-COM WITH GOOD HUMOR, BUT DOES WEAR THIN AT TIMES
*WARNING--Possible spoilers*: Nice romantic comedy with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the leads. There are some serious laugh out loud moments, mostly due to Rob Schneider's character, "ULA." It centers around an outdoor theme park vet who falls for a sweet lady in a restaurant, in Hawaii. The main problem with 50FD is that how does one overcome the repetitive, proverbial "One Trick Pony" joke that surrounds Barrymore's character? Well, outlandish attempts on Sandler's part to keep continually wooing her helps. However, it tends to make the pic drag here and there, and sometimes this gets more than slightly tedious. The chemistry is better than average between them, and it shows. Unfortunately 50FD also commits a droll sin of introducing animals for cutesy, quasi-humorous moments, and tries to play that for laughs, too. Nice try, but doesn't get Nanna a new pair of shoes. Dan Aykroyd is painfully dull as the physician who's treating Barrymore's character, which doesn't help the film one iota. Throw in a few zany locals, and several earnest attempts at poignancy; and you've scored about a mixed bag. There's some crude humor, so early Sandler fans won't be disappointed. The ending was very sweet, yet was a welcome sight, as 50FD also runs pretty long in the tooth at 99 minutes. It certainly wasn't awful, that's for sure. In fact, 50FD would be a pretty smart date movie or a couple of chuckles on a rainy afternoon. In lieu of this benefit, I recommend it. RECOMMENDED.
Die, Mommie, Die! (2003)
TOUR DE FORCE for 60's Hollywood Send Up
Very humorous, always campy tale of aging star whose parade has long since skipped off down the road. (Yes, shades of SUNSET BOULEVARD, to be sure). Charles Busch brings his stage drama/comedy/what have you to the big screen, and it's a pretty enjoyable romp, at that. Throw in some great performances by Jason Priestley, in his stingy brim hat, shorts and occasional penny loafers; looking like a rich Tab Hunter, or a poor Peter Lawford, you choose, between snickers. Philip Baker Hall (a great dramatic actor, with a superb nose for comedy), is a standout. Natasha Lyonne as Edith, the daughter and Stark Sands as the sexually confused (or is HE?) son, and you've got the makings for some nostalgic, and yet irreverent fun. Frances Conroy is also a standout for her folksy, Southern, religious demeanor, as the maid, Bootsy. Without ruining it for you, essentially DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! is a tip of the hat to the late sixties movies where happy mom's were popping valium, terms like "baby" punctuated every third word in a sentence, and the thought of having a gigolo on the side didn't seem so remote. Of course, this doesn't take place in Nebraska, naturally it's Tinseltown. People there were so desperate to be hip (have times changed too much? Hmmmm.) and nobody dared to be square. You'll find others nods, winks and tips of the hat throughout, if you're a film buff, and if not, you'll still have a great time. Busch, who wrote the original stage play and this screenplay, stars in the lead, and does it with relish. This is a labor of love, and it shows. An enjoyable little indie, indeed. Recommended.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
SEE THIS MOVIE
*perchance might contain spoilers* Yes, see this movie, if anything to tweek off the armor chestplated, shrieking and spasmodic GOP types, who declare Hades and damnation upon all whose eyes fall upon this motion picture. Michael Moore has hewed together an interesting, spell binding and slam bang salute to democracy with this heavy fall out documentary. If IL' daddy, the 41st President (papa of the current Bush) had to shimmy down the pole from the ivory tower to personally attack Moore, calling him: "...A slimeball...", then you know, this is a must see of a pic. If he had just blown it off with the wave of a hand, then most of us "proles" (i.e. dirty blue collared types) wouldn't have bothered, I think. Moore mixes together in montage and audio a deeply probing relationship between the Bush clan, American defense and intelligence communities and those happy-go-lucky Saudi folks, for whom lots o' cash has been passed around. Moore's wry (and I do mean as wry as a Saharin desert) commentary, combine with words captured straight from the horses mouth, after a fashion, make for an informative and compelling saga from start to finish. I think you'll laugh (as I did), get uneasy over the moribund foreign affairs (as I did) and take a long, long second look at our current President (as I know I sure did and will do with my vote come next ballot can collecting). This is heavy stuff, and will make you think long and hard. Yes, you might even shed a tear or two, yet the choice is clearly up to your own mind. Yes, you can dismiss this as Anti-American pap or you can shake the pom-poms of democracy; either way, you are thinking for yourself (hopefully), without some obnoxious soundbite doing it for you. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Reagans (2003)
TAUT DRAMA OF FAMOUS PRESIDENT AND HIS LADY
*May Contain Spoilers, Cookies* Stirring biopic of the 40th President and his relationship with his wife, family, friends and the nation. James Brolin and Judy Davis, as Ronald and Nancy Reagan give four star performances, and each worthy of an Emmy nod. It traces their special relationship throughout their heydays in Hollywood, Ron's eventual capitulation to the ideology of the GOP, and the political bug they develop. Also, their sometimes stormy relationships within the family, friends and the political cohorts they attract. One can feel nothing but admiration for Nancy (Davis) Reagan, who defends and protects her husband from some of the murkier characters in the political circle. Donald Regan is portrayed as an absolute fiend, the father of the hair-brained and highly illegal Iran-Contra mess. The actors who portray Ed Meece, James Baker, et al, as Al Haig refers disparagingly as "The Troika," are exceptional and show political cronyism at its best (or worst). Michael Deaver is showed in a sensitive light, despite his legal troubles for lobbying on behalf of Canada and South Korean interests after he left government service. Zoie Palmer, who portrays Patty Reagan, does an incredible job as the misunderstood and oft-ignored daughter. Maureen Reagan's character was tastefully and tactfully created, and Shad Hart gets major kudos for his turn as Ron, Jr. The big bouquets go to James Brolin, who gives his best performance in years, as Ronald Reagan and Judy Davis as Nancy. Brolin embodies the character with fervor and not caricature. We don't get the massive head bobbing and "aw-shucksism" we've grown to be tortured with by bad impersonators. He is a man with a mission, and a kindly fellow at that. We may highly disagree with where he's going, but we've no doubt the man actually believes in the direction he's chugging. Judy Davis fleshes out the character of Nancy Reagan so well, it can make one shudder. She strong as steel, tender as fresh grown flowers and everything else within the mix. The point of mockery at the Washington Press Club, where Ronnie describes it as: "The nicest lynching we've ever attended..." Shows Nancy at her finest, where she meets adversity with an equal hand and a fine sense of humor, to boot. THE REAGANS offers an intimate, though not always complimentary view into the lives of the fortieth President and his lady. It's certainly a fine motion picture, and truly not deserving of the awful, heavy handed attempt at censorship by the Corporate and political power mongers. This kind of disgusting muting of creative thinking hasn't been pulled out of the moth-ridden closet, since America's flirtation with fascism in the McCarthy era. Don't let the stiff armed salute givers or those who wish to build their political empires on the Gipper's legacy give/tell you a bum steer. Watch this stimulating movie, and decide for yourself. After all, it's democracy. We know this might bother some, who are busying themselves with the sanctimonious deification of the man. Yet, we should never fall short of the sight, that he was indeed a man, after all. Roses all around for this movie.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
DRAMA AT ITS BEST
*Might Contain Spoilers* Exceptional drama of mores, cultures, happenstance and just plain human beings. Vadim Perelman's direction and screenplay (from the Andre Dubus III novel) is top notch, in the story of a house and the dreams of its current and former occupants. Jennifer Connelly, Sir Ben Kingsley, the dear Shohreh Aghdashloo and company offer Oscar caliber performances in this outstanding movie. Kingsley offers his best since the wildly entertaining stand he did in SEXY BEAST. An acute study in humanity and indeed, human nature, guides this story of one losing a home, and the other seeing it of salvation. The tenderness and loss of each character can be seen in mirrored fashion within the other. Connelly as the weak, stymied and paralyzed emotional wreck. Kingsley as the proud, dignified man, for whom reality and want of lost recognition are not separate roads. Throw in the passion and misguided help of Ron Eldard's character, and you have the ingredients for a first rate motion picture that explores all avenues of its characters, and fleshes them out nicely. HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG is a fine motion picture, that will stay with you for a good while. ABOVE AVERAGE and highly recommended.
Demon Island (2002)
THE COST WAS $6.00, WHICH EXCEEDED THE BUDGET OF THIS FILM
*CAUTION*POTENTIAL SPOILERS* Tepid, bottom of the barrel horror flick with a tissue thin plot, and enough bad performances to embarrass both actor AND viewer. Once again, as is a must in these films, a pack of drunken, horny college kids skip off to some exotic locale. Naturally, they end up as luncheon meat for some creature, toothless redneck or psychotic. Well friends, when it's done right, the film is entertaining and often clever enough to offer a subtle nuance or wink to the audience. Some films offer this as a way of somewhat saying; it's okay, have some fun and don't sweat it too much. There are others, done so well and so suspenseful, they truly succeed in scaring the freckles off of us. DEMON ISLAND or PINATA: SURVIVAL ISLAND, or whatever they're changing the title to this week, is in neither camp. The film is not suspenseful, clever, well acted or scary, unless bad CGI images send shivers down your spine. The dialogue is so insipid, I'd have found more interest listening to a toilet backing up. The actors and actresses, in between looking scared, screaming or bored; the range isn't exactly challenging nor met. They try in fits and starts, but to little avail. Whatever possessed dear Garret Wang, a serious and good actor, to appear in this bit of fluff left me scratching my head in confusion.
You should recommend this terrible film to someone you do not like; other than that, avoid this turkey. NOT RECOMMENDED.
The Gathering Storm (2002)
Biographies Rarely Get This Good
Finney adds yet another stupendous role to his acting credits. He plays Churchill warts and all, wisdom and all. Vanessa Redgrave is stunning as Mrs. Churchill. Finney and Redgrave, between the two, portray an interesting, intimate and wholly plausible complexity of their marriage and homelife. This, adding a major league cast of the Best of Britain, Jim Broadbent, Tom Wilkerson, Linus Roache, Derek Jacobi and on and on. If Nigel Hawthorne (God Rest him) was still among us, he would have been here. Richard Loncraine, the director, keeps the pace moving without compromising the performances. Finney deserves a special mention for his attempt to sound like WSC, without resorting to parody. A fine film, worthy of roses all around. A sumptuous screenplay that even Labour could support. Highly recommended.