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King Kong (2005)
A 10-star 2-hour movie screaming to get out of a 7-star 3-hour movie
Let me be the first to admit that there's nothing wrong with a long movie, nothing at all. "Titanic" was a long movie that was as exactly as long as it needed to be. "Gone with the Wind" was a really long movie that was exactly as long as it needed to be. "Dances with Wolves" was a long movie that I wish had been even longer when I saw it in the theater. But "King Kong"? Phhewww...this sucker clocks in at least 30-60 minutes longer than it needs to be. While it played, I kept inadvertently thinking to myself, "Boy, we really should be out to sea by now...they haven't reached the island yet?...man, are they EVER gonna find Ann?...jeez, when are we gonna go back to Manhattan already?..." and so on. Hand to God--I actually yawned twice during the last third of this movie. I even closed my eyes for a second before I realized, 'hey...you can't just rewind this when you wake up!'
Sure, many scenes in "King Kong" were thrilling (e.g., LOVED the T-Rex sequence) and, yes, I even teared up a little a couple of times. And I must say, Kong himself was beautifully realized--he looked and acted like a REAL gorilla (albeit a tiny bit anthropomorphized)! But I gotta tell you...I was more relieved than exhilarated when this movie ended. (If I saw one more flyover of the native village, I was gonna scream!) Peter...baby...why spend so much time developing all these extraneous secondary characters if you don't really have much closure with them by the end. For example, the ship's captain and Jimmy...once we leave Skull Island...pfffftttt...we never them again. Why all the backstory scenes about them? As with the original version, Jackson should have concentrated simply on the four main characters throughout: Kong, Ann, Driscoll and Denham. Period.
The problem is Jackson tried to make an epic out of a thriller, when these two approaches are generally exclusive to each other. The original "Kong" MOVED because it was simply a thriller and content to be so, but Jackson's remake starts and stops, and starts and stops, and starts and stops, merely frustrating the thrillseeker in us that wants to keep going every time Jackson establishes some momentum. But instead Jackson pauses to "delve" or "explore" or "elaborate" a la David Lean or something like that. One can excuse Jackson for shooting so much material for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy--consider the rich source material . But how anyone could have taken the 100-minute original and nearly doubled it for a remake has far too much memory on his Mac. He should have saved all the extra footage (and I'm betting there's a LOT more we didn't see in the theatrical cut) for the DVD release as he did for LOTR. Mr. Jackson's first priority as a filmmaker (well, all filmmakers) is to present the most appropriate cut for THEATRICAL audiences during the film's initial exhibition in theaters. In this case, more WAS less. Much shorter movies in the past have had intermissions!
Honestly, though I certainly enjoyed "King Kong", I really have no desire to see this movie again--I just couldn't bring myself to sit through all the filler just to get to the good parts. How I wish Jackson and/or Universal would consider releasing a 2-hour DVD version. Hey, it's happened before, so what's the harm? Inside of a year there'll be 17 versions out on DVD anyway...what's one more? But having to sit through a 3-4 hour DVD version someday? I'll take a pass.
Do I recommend seeing "King Kong"? Of course. You'll probably enjoy it immensely, despite it's overlength. But if you do go, by all means lay off the Jumbo Coke until at least 90 minutes in! You'll thank me later.
UFO's Are Real (1979)
Much Better Than It Deserved To Be
Though the production budget looks extremely limited, and the narration is a bit ripe, this still manages to be an interesting and informative (and even a bit creepy) documentary on the UFO phenomenon up to the late seventies. In other words, it succeeds despite itself. It does suffer from a bit too much pomposity now and then (note the frequent questioning by the narrator: "Could this be proof of...", "Is this evidence of...", and so on). But it does have in its favor a significant amount of UFO still and movie footage, not to mention in-depth interviews with Betty Hill, Travis Walton and several people involved with the Roswell incident. Highly recommended as a primer for those just starting out in their search to find "what's out there".
NOTE: The link to Amazon is misleading. While an interesting and more up-to-date report on the UFO phenomenon (and also featuring Dr. Stanton Friedman), the "Flying Saucers Are Real" DVD/VHS contains only a few minutes of footage from "UFOs Are Real". The "UFOs Are Real" VHS is likely long out-of-print since it was first released in the 80s, but you're still better off trying to find an old copy if you can.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Solid sequel, but did it HAVE to be shot in Shakyscope?
I can unquestionably say that by its end I had thoroughly enjoyed this sequel to (the better) "The Bourne Identity". But there were two factors that almost RUINED the movie for me (and they have been justifiably discussed below): the CONSTANTLY moving camera and the too-fast editing during action scenes. What was the director/editor thinking? "Hey, if it works for Bruckheimer, it'll work for us!"? Did they ever stop to realize these are the two reasons why most of Bruckheimer's movies are AWFUL?! Even during scenes in "Supremacy" where two characters were absolutely motionless and merely having a conversation, the camera still meandered around the room, never stopping to register on a subtle expression here and there or on people's eyes. How was this ill-conceived "technique" ever born (no pun intended)? What moron ever thought for a moment that constantly moving the camera was a good idea? Were they afraid that audiences today had grown so jaded with time-tested cinematic grammar that they would flee movie theaters in droves? Hand-held camera work is fine for documentaries, out of necessity. But when it is so over-utilized in a theatrical film, it just translates to one thing and one thing only: the director has NO FAITH in the material. Did Greengrass never look at "Bourne Identity" to see how beautifully constructed it was?
The action scenes in "Supremacy" were a joke. When will filmmakers understand that when said scenes are so chaotically edited together (see "The Transporter" as an example), the viewer's brain literally "disconnects" from the action; because there is too much information in too short a time to analyze adequately, it is impossible for the average film-goer to cognate and construct a linear visual narrative in their head. Consequently, the mind simply...gives up. The fight scene in the small apartment is a perfect example: all I could see were just two black blurs being tossed around for three minutes. Was I ever in the moment? No. Was I engaged? No. Was I empathetic to the hero? Uh...which one is the hero, I can't tell? I found myself actually looking away from the screen, I was so disinterested (more involuntarily than voluntarily).
Whoever directs the next sequel, and I certainly hope it is NOT Greengrass, please do the following: learn as much as you can from Liman's success and Greengrass' blunders before you proceed. Millions of loyal Jason Bourne fans will thank you for it.
Strictly for kids--the slower ones!
You're reading this review for two reasons only: 1) you've never seen this special, and 2) you want to see this special. Regarding the latter...no, you don't; regarding the former...count yourself among the lucky masses. As Yoda might say, 'Painful to watch this was'. I wanted to fast-forward several times, but I forced myself not to--I missed this special when it originally aired during my 17th year and I've pined away all these years hoping to see it. And as it turns out, the past quarter century has been a blessing in disguise--that is, until I excitedly sat down tonight and watched a decent bootleg copy of this, er, buried treasure.
EVERYTHING bad you've read below is TRUE. An unbelievably horrendous experience--and it's 100 minutes long! The first quarter hour is agony: a seemingly endless establishing scene of Chewbacca's home life--his wife, son and father barking and mewing at each other without subtitles (not that what they have to say is particularly potent). Save for brief appearances by Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill (sporting a horribly-lit mole looking like a monstrous sebaceous cyst above his chin), most of this special is padded out by pompous Imperial personnel, a neither-here-nor-there appearance by Art Carney, a cabaret number belted out by Beatrice Arthur in the Mos Eisley bar, and a has-nothing-to-do-with-anything-Star-Wars (but admittedly amusing) turn by Harvey Korman playing three different roles.
Yes, the animated short with Boba Fett is worth seeing at least once (it actually does a better job of establishing Boba's persona than Episode 5), though some of the characters are a bit rubbery, particularly Han Solo. But the price one pays may be too high--five minutes with Chewie's family and you'll understand why he elects to spend most of his free time at work. Coupled with a storyline that never engages and visual effects that make "Star Hustler" look like "The Lord of the Rings", this 'special' is anything but. Give up on this one, sir or madam. Ignorance is bliss!
Far from Heaven (2002)
I HATED this movie!
This movie isn't an homage to Douglas Sirk--it's a rank PARODY, plain and simple. What was Todd Haynes thinking? He could have played it straight (no pun intended) and have been far more subtle, but his over-the-top approach was unbearable most of the time. People in my audience were laughing AT this movie, not with it--I was embarrassed for the actors! It's a miracle that Moore, Quaid, Haysbert and several supporting characters were able to break through this mess to deliver such outstanding performances. Haynes' execution revealed nothing but contempt for his subject matter, perhaps even Sirk himself. There was a good story to be told here, but Haynes buried it under garish and excessive references to a deservedly appreciated filmmaker most people have never heard of. And P.S., Todd, if you really wanted to stick it to Sirk you should have shot this movie in 'scope. But I guess 99% is better than nothing, right, Todd?
They should call this "ST:BORING"!
I've been watching every incarnation of "Star Trek" since the original series and--I'm sorry to say--this is the worst one yet. Which is not to say that it's "bad", by any means; it's certainly watchable, with a couple of pretty decent episodes thus far. But on the whole, "Enterprise" is rather dull and uninspired. What could have been, should have been, the most potentially exciting "Star Trek" series ever seems as if it has been made up more or less of unused second-string "Next Generation" and "Voyager" scripts. "Enterprise" is simply all dressed-up with no place to go; the cast is interesting, the sets are great, the special effects are top-notch...but there have been NO engaging story lines! For example, in the episode where the Captain and Trip are wandering through the desert for most of the hour, at one point I actually screamed at my TV, "Oh, for God's sake...DO something!" And what was the episode's payoff? They were eventually...rescued.
Where is the discovery? Where is the adventure? Where is the danger? I think more crewmembers die in any single episode of "TOS" than in all of "Enterprise's" first season. We're supposed to be in virgin territory at this point in the "Star Trek" time line. Where is the 'unknown' element? Where are all the alien species that like to toy with humans, that treat us like guinea pigs, that need an hour to learn about our virtues as well as our foibles? So far, all the Enterprise crew has met are a handful of races that, well, are not particularly fond of humans. This is drama? This is jeopardy? This is future-history in the making? This is entertainment?
It's time for the producers to start kickin' some a** on "Enterprise". Because if they don't do it soon, theirs is going to be kicked right off of UPN's schedule.
The Canned Film Festival (1986)
Great opportunity to see the worst of the worst
This was a brief but charming syndicated series in the summer of 1986 showcasing some truly baaaaaaaad motion pictures over the years; just imagine "Mystery Science Theater 3000", only without comments from Joel, Mike and the robots in the foreground. This provided a terrific opportunity to see some truly stupendous classics of rotten cinema, among them: "Bride of the Monster", "They Saved Hitler's Brain", "Attack of the Eye Creatures", "Robot Monster", and my pick for best-worst movie of the series, "Eegah"--you HAVE to see this movie to believe it. My favorite scene: a boy and girl take a dune-buggy out into the desert to look for the girl's missing--perhaps injured and dying--father; but first...a snazzy sequence of hot-rodding shots over the dunes to some knock-off Beach Boys music! Truly stupefying! Comprising the framework of the series was the delightful Laraine Newman portraying a Chief Usherette for an old movie palace exhibiting a "film festival" of bad films. Various "friends" would drop by each week to dish on the movie in question. All in all, I remember this fondly as a great chance to catch these rarely-seen "classics" back in '86.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
If this TRIPE wins Best Picture, I'll give up movies forever!
May I first say what a fine addition this movie will make to Lifetime's library of theatrical motion pictures. Ah, how I look forward to seeing this garbage every three months for the rest of my life on 'television for women'. P-yooo, what a stinker! I knew I was in trouble when James Horner's score started a whole minute before the credits--I had to endure endless logo reels from Universal, Dreamworks (a real bladder-buster) and Imagine before the credits even began. And what's the first credit card on screen? Universal Dreamworks Imagine present! Talk about ego!
To paraphrase a character in the movie, both Ron Howard's treacly direction and Akiva Goldsman's simplistic script are both WITLESS and OBVIOUS. This is nothing you haven't seen a thousand times before on a Sunday night on CBS. Whatever quality this movie may possess rests solely on the shoulders of Russell Crowe. His dedicated performance is the glue that holds this gooey mish-mash together from start to finish. (Though, I must confess, I won't lose any sleep if Denzel Washington wins the Oscar this year.) Crowe rises above the mostly temporarily-tepid talents of everyone around him to make every scene he's in at least appear to be trenchant. I can only guess that it is Crowe's unflinching energy throughout that is giving life to the ridiculous critical attention this movie as a whole has attained in recent months. Yet when Crowe is off the screen, we remember just how stuck we are in yet another TV disease-movie-of-the-week. Regarding Jennifer Connelly's performance, oft-lauded of late, let me say this: I'll be the first to admit that both she and her role fit like a hand-in-glove; which is to say, how fortunate it was of Ron Howard to find a two-dimensional actress to portray a two-dimensional character.
Anachronisms abound in this movie, particularly in the dialogue. And where did that huge budget go? A couple of Packards and an old Olivetti? And for some reason, the makeup has been nominated for an Oscar. What braniac on the makeup staff forget to fill in Adam Goldberg's huge earring holes? (I guess his character likes to play pirates on the weekend.) But the most egregious faults of this film lay in Goldsman's cheesy love-conquers-all approach and outrageous alteration of the facts. A disclaimer at the end of the movie states that "...a number of incidents have been fictionalized...". A number?! Not "some". Not "a few". But "a number"? Okay, how about...uh...82? That's a number. That the producers would purport for a moment that this movie bears anything close to the truth is a crime in itself. And the attitude that hand-holding, bear-hugs and doe-eyes is a valid treatment for a severe mental illness is an insult to one's intelligence. They would have you believe that WUV cures EVERYTHING: schizophrenia, typhoid, lupus, psoriasis, herpes, dandruff, you name it.
That this movie would even for a moment be considered a potential member of a pantheon of pictures which includes "On The Waterfront", "The Godfather" or "Lawrence of Arabia" is terrifying to imagine. Any one of the other four Best Picture Oscar-nominees this year is superior in every respect to this emperor-with-no-clothes. I'm not kidding--if this dreck wins, I'm off movies for the rest of my life.
Deadly Medicine (1991)
Another solid Hamel performance
Hamel is earnest and convincing as a pediatrician recently relocated to a small Texas town. Just as everything starts to fall into place--a growing practice and a new country home being built by her supportive husband--tragedy strikes when a young patient dies in her care and foul play is suspected. Could the big-city doctor have created the emergency situation in order to play "savior" at the last second, or is her dedicated former pediatric-ICU nurse to blame? Pic follows Hamel as virtually everything she's worked so hard for gradually falls apart. Richard Colla's straightforward, unpretentious direction is a tremendous asset and helps offset the occasionally predictable plotting, unremarkable electronic score and a very, very pat (though satisfying) ending. Hamel is terrific, as usual; Ruttan impresses as the obviously disturbed nurse (her arrest scene is quite, well, "arresting"). Altogether, a satiating drama.
Been there, done that...
It was no doubt daunting to the makers of "X-Men" that there were hundreds of thousands of X-MEN fanatics who were as likely to vilify it's latest incarnation as embrace it. Fans of the comic book need not have worried; this flick will not disappoint. But those countless millions who don't know an X-man from a Y-chromosome may feel otherwise. For all its earnestness and technical competence, "X-Men" is a classic case of cinematic 'deja vu'. Whatever vivacity Tim Burton was able to inject into 1989's wildly popular "Batman" has long since dissipated--witness the disappointing reception to its last sequel and the recently cancelled resurrection of the "Superman" franchise. "X-Men" does little, if anything, to raise the bar for the genre--it's little more than a 'good mutants versus bad mutants' tale with a little quasi-racism thrown in for flavor. Plus, too little is made of the oppression suffered by mutants in a mortal's world, just as too little is made of the too-few characters in this plotline. Yet even after apparently distilling the "X-Men" pantheon of mutants into a handful of characters for the movie version, scant use is made of the many serviceable actors hired. It's seems ironic to see so much one-dimensionality in a movie based on a minimally two-dimensional source. But the in-bred success of "X-Men" will no doubt beg a sequel, not to mention inspiring even more comic-borne adaptations. Come to think of it, "Spider-Man" starts production this Fall.