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Law & Order: Liberal Lecture Hour
Although this started out as a promising show, a better title for what it quickly became would be "Law & Order: Liberal Lecture Hour". Each episode of the show is a transparent allegory or a direct presentation of some liberal crusade in which the dialogue completely focuses on the detectives, lawyers, clerks, victims, and random passers-by reciting some left-wing diatribe. At first they had the decency to at least include a cardboard cut-out of a figure to respond to these arguments. Now they don't even bother with that; it's a straight lecture, complete with occasional raps on the knuckles with a ruler for not caring as much as these fictional characters obviously do.
Many times the stories won't even involve 'special victims'. The writer might throw in some crime that at first appears to be under their jurisdiction, but this will quickly be discovered to be false. Yet the detectives just care so much (and so should you!) about the tenuously tangential political/social issue that they are compelled to make it their crusade. And laughably they are always able to secure some meaningless, fictional victory over it by the end of the show.
If that's not enough to drive you away, there's one other major problem with this series: the completely overbearing and ridiculous way the show worships Mariska Hargitay. Not only is her character completely preposterous - she has, in turn, been a cop, a detective, a computer crimes investigator/hacker, an undercover agent with the FBI (while making sure not to insult the hippies she's spying on, and making a point about police brutality), and so on - but also has an overbearing, sanctimonious back story and has to be told she's "beautiful" every third show. It becomes really preposterous when she decides to take one of her many vacations; while she's gone the show does nothing but mourn her absence, complete with shoulders-up close-up static scenes of her randomly inserted into stories so we won't go into deep withdrawal.
Chris Meloni doesn't fare very well in a role that has been almost entirely phased out. He was originally the 'muscle', but left-wingers don't like muscle, so now he's morphed into kind of a touchy-feely, whiny crybaby who pines for his cardboard cut-out of a wife and family and apparently feels bad for being the necessary tough guy. His role is unintentionally hilarious because the makers of the show have no idea what to do with him. They want a tough guy so people who like cop shows will watch (because enforcing the law requires tough guys), but if they make him too tough they'll lose the left-wing audience who likes the sermons and thinks violence is icky. So one show he'll punch a guy, and the next show he's in therapy for it. There's an episode where he takes down a combative perp using a choke hold - the only action sequence in the show - and is then castigated for the rest of the episode for 'excessive force'. On the ridiculous 'Abu Ghraib' episode they had him utter the completely laughable lie that he had "used force" to compel a confession, but "9 times out of 10 is was counterproductive". Makes one long for the halcyon days of Andy Sipowicz.
The rest of the cast are increasingly irrelevant, pencil-sketch background characters. Though there have been abortive attempts to flesh some of them out, they're almost entirely ignored except to occasionally throw in a line representing their one dimension of characterization. Is there a pimp in this story? Bring in Ice-T! Does anybody use the word 'conspiracy' in this one? Bring in Belzer! And there's usually not much courtroom drama in an episode - the cops generally browbeat the audience for at least 45 minutes, minus the occasional chase scene - so we generally only see the pretty ADA give her speech. Which always reflects the lecture we've been given all episode and comes to the obvious conclusion: everybody who doesn't agree with the left-wing point of view on the issue is evil and should be in prison. But not executed! They're against that.
So basically if you want to worship at the temple of Hargitay, believe everything sent to you in an email by MoveOn.org and love the Daily Show, and think the best entertainment is to hear your own opinion regurgitated to you based upon the latest opinion poll, this is your show. If you think Hargitay looks a little mannish, actually want to see a good cops/lawyers show, or find trite presentations of important issues tiresome, there's better to be found.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
If It Ain't Broke ...
Although the marketers insist that it isn't a straight remake of the original, it obviously is all they key elements are the same. The new twist is supposed to be a post-modern take on America, because every liberal with a camera loves to point at the United States and laugh. Yet somehow it just feels simple and lazy. All the observations are obvious; the supposedly sly political commentary is about as elevated as Al Franken pulling a funny face, or Michael Moore ingratiating himself to Canadians by assuring them how stupid Americans are.
Denzel Washington is the epitome of cool. I don't think he can give a bad performance. He gives this movie all his effort, and I would say that his performance and the brief one by Jeffrey Wright as Al Melvin are the best parts of the film. But even Washington can't overcome a scenery-chewing, cringe-inducing overacting seminar given by Meryl Streep, the exercise in blandness that is Liev Schreiber, and a generally inconsistent, heavy-handed, and patently ridiculous storyline.
The movie starts off on the wrong foot with a jarring and poorly-constructed opening. We are subjected to about five minutes of soldiers playing cards in the back of an armored vehicle, while different loud rock tracks cut in every few seconds. This is the credit sequence, and it is not crucial to the movie. But it completely fails to draw the viewer into the atmosphere the filmmakers are trying to set (Wyclef Jean destroying John Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" doesn't help).
Then we have brief action in Kuwait and a sudden jump cut to the present day. Raymond Shaw is running for the Vice President position, and everyone believes he heroically rescued his entire squad in Kuwait. Marco is on the lecture circuit, speaking to Boy Scout troops about his time in action. He is confronted by former squad mate Melvin, who tells him that he is having bad dreams and who shows Marco a journal of drawings and notes. Marco reacts strangely to this rather than admitting that he has these bad dreams himself, he holds Melvin at arms' length. We all know at this point that Melvin will turn up dead later in the movie, so it's best to say your goodbyes now.
This is where the first plot hole of the movie shows up. Suddenly Marco is completely involved in this conspiracy theory, merely by seeing Melvin's journal and having some more bad dreams. Are we expected to believe that in the years following the incident in Kuwait, the men of the unit never got together to discuss what happened? That none of their superiors found it odd that they gave the same word-for-word description of what supposedly happened, or had the same nightmares? Marco tries to speak with Shaw, who is busy with his campaign and incredibly controlled and domineered by his mother. On the way to speak to Shaw, Marco is approached by a woman named Rosie (the required love interest) who mysteriously invites him to her New York apartment. Here we have another plot hole, as Marco discovers an implant in his shoulder while showering (so he never touched his shoulder for over ten years before this?) but loses it down the sink. Marco then arranges a meeting with Shaw and in a curiously homo-erotic scene bends him over a table and bites his back. This allows him to steal Shaw's implant, which he then gives to crazy scientist friend Delp (another plot line that goes nowhere) who for some reason gives Marco a massive electric shock to the head. I'm sure he explained why he did this, but his accent was so damn thick I couldn't understand a word, and in the end it makes no difference whatsoever.
More of the conspiracy is revealed as the presidential election draws near. Marco continues investigating, clicking a Google link as dramatic music plays. Turns out that Rosie may be a federal agent. Shaw himself waffles (he's a flip-flopper!) between robotic guilt and robotic ambition. Meryl Streep eats a couch. Shaw wades into a river in a full suit and kills a man with a kayak, then drowns his one true love. Nobody finds this suspicious. Then suddenly the federal agents who didn't believe a word of Shaw's story completely trust him and escort him to a private room with the man, on the eve of the election; both men are triggered and start the assassination plot which has a bizarre twist at the end.
There is one aspect of the storyline a dropped plot line that particularly frustrated me. In the original movie, it was killing his childhood sweetheart that caused Shaw to rebel. In this version we are subjected to a few torturous scenes of Shaw insisting that Jocelyne was his one true love, despite the fact that the two actors have absolutely zero chemistry (to be fair, what woman could love a robot). Then Shaw offs her in a river with her dad and the entire plot line is dropped. This just makes no sense. In fact, the entire scene where Shaw kills the Jordan family is ridiculous killing a man in the open in his kayak? This screams screenwriter phobia.
Why go to all this trouble just to get a guy elected president? It doesn't appear to be very hard to do, particularly if you have the right last name. But at this point in time the demonizing of Americans has become a cottage industry, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. It doesn't seem to matter to the people who buy this stuff whether or not the story is believable, coherent, or even entertaining. As long as it's critical of the United States it's in. If that's your mindset, I suggest you cozy up with this tepid remake and lather up your back for a good patting. Otherwise it's just more grist for the cable TV mill.
That '70s Show (1998)
That 70's Feminist Show
For quite a while I was convinced that this was a good show, largely from the strength of the first season. The first season was very honest and open, and all of the characters were quite well developed. The driving story was obviously that of Eric and Donna - a well-written teenage romance surrounded by interesting characters and funny jokes.
However during the second season things began to change. Suddenly everything seemed to be about feminism. Midge, the nextdoor neighbor, began talking about her "needs" and how Bob was an ass for not respecting them. Several shows revolved around comedically showing Midge trying to reach her goals, and Bob not understanding. Little heed was paid to the fact that Midge was a spoiled housewife who did nothing to aid the family, and that putting her own dreams in front of her family was selfish. Bob was just an ass for not understanding. I mean, how offensive is it to be asked to cook a meal for a person who works all day putting a roof over your head? The nerve of some people!
Then the worst thing possible happened: Donna became virtually the same character as Midge. In every episode dealing with their relationship, Eric would do something goofy or stupid (or which would be characterized as goofy or stupid), and he would end up apologizing to Donna. Again and again and again. Finally, when Eric asks Donna for a commitment we are expected to accept that this is wrong (because Donna is selfish and wants to put her individual dreams ahead of her relationship). So they break up, and then most of the fourth season deals with why Eric is such a dumbass for losing her, why he is wrong, why Donna is right and such a great catch, and so forth. Not once does the story revolve around why Donna was wrong for her attitude, or how she made mistakes. Because she's female, and thus perfect.
The attitude is visible in every aspect of the show. All the men beg for sex, and women grant them the favor ... if they're lucky. The men buy the women gifts and fret about how they may not be doing enough for their relationship. The women just complain about how stupid the guys are. Examine this show a little more closely. Kitty is the perfect mom, Red is the brutish and ignorant dad. Donna is the perfect woman, Eric is the goon boyfriend. Midge is the enlightened woman, Bob is an idiot. When Midge abandons her family it is ok because she was "unhappy", but Hyde's dad is a loser for leaving his family. Ah, the justice of the double standard.
"That 70's Show" became just another victim of the female market, like so many other shows during the early 2000's. In the spirit of revamped new-age feminism, women were consistently portrayed as the sage, wise members of a relationship, and men as the childish goons who always mess everything up. For years this paradigm has been visible, from prime-time dramas to comedy to commercials. Strange that nobody sees this as offensive. Obviously the common sense position is that men and women are of equal potential intelligence and both need to give up some things to have a relationship. But common sense doesn't sell, does it?
Most recently the show has become annoying because the stories aren't developed anymore, it's all about the joke. Like all Fox sitcoms which last more than three years, the show has become jarringly self-referential and complacent. Which is a sad ending to a show that had so much promise.
Poolhall Junkies (2002)
I rented this movie on the recommendation of an enthusiastic pharmacist who, while filling my prescription, went into great detail about how amazing the trick shots were. He was right. The trick shots were pretty cool. It's the movie that sucks.
What we have here is perhaps the least original movie ever committed to celluloid. I am amazed that so many names were willing to stoop to the level of appearing in the film. Perhaps they were all starving for the chance to spew some tough-guy dialogue, and lord knows there hasn't been any talented people writing tough-guy dialogue for a long time. Unfortunately this movie doesn't offer any respite.
Mars Callahan (who? exactly!) wrote and directed this movie. Methinks he spread the peanut butter a little thin. One would hope that, since he apparently doesn't have a shred of originality in his body, Callahan would have focused on more expertly crafting his film. But no. This sketch is strictly paint-by-numbers. Most of the plot is ripped wholesale from The Hustler. There are some scattered elements stolen from other movies, and they are stitched together with all the beauty and finesse of a Frankenstein monster. The seams are numerous and visible.
This is our story: Apparently our hero, whose name I do not remember, is a pool prodigy. At a young age he decides he wants to become a pro. But not a hustler - hustlers are criminals and petty thugs. This kid is so good that a special spot is created - a fifty-first spot out of fifty - so that he can partake in a tournament. Then we're supposed to believe that the tournament team would only send a single letter inviting him to the tournament. That in fifteen years he would never run into anyone who would say, `Hey, why didn't you show up for the tournament?' That in fifteen years nobody would come looking for this amazingly talented kid. Yes, it's patently ridiculous, but the title card says `fifteen years later' so I guess we have to believe it.
So fifteen years later our hero is, naturally, a pool shark. Is this a shocking plot twist? Not really. This is the type of movie where you know the minute someone says something like `We're not going to have a party at my parents' house! No way! Not gonna happen!' that there will then be a lightning-fast, comedic cut to a raging party at that person's house, complete with the kid screaming about the damage everyone is doing to his carpet. Can we really expect a movie that stoops this low to have anything new or interesting up its sleeve?
Within seconds of the fifteen-year mark our hero finds out that his bookie screwed him, so he screws his bookie. The writer/director manages to make this scene completely powerless and ineffective. He seems to think that peppering his speech with contrived and forced-sounding `fucks' and `niggers' will make it sound authentic. But it just sounds contrived and forced. Like someone who owns every Quentin Tarantino DVD and watched them, over and over, trying to figure out the pattern to the dialogue (Three words then a `fuck'! That will make it sound cool!). Callahan is so creatively bankrupt that he even includes one particular tough-guy brag TWICE (albeit with a slight alteration). I'm guessing he thought this would be funny. Instead it sounds forced and stupid.
So our hero then tries to go straight, selling his pool cue (right) and taking a construction job (right). But, although he is supposedly surgically gifted with his hands, he cannot even drive a nail into wood without bending it. Then, in a shocking and heartbreaking scene, we learn that the construction business is corrupt. Our hero will have none of that. So he ends up hustling again. Somewhere along the way he meets Ricky Schroeder, but I forget why.
The already sinking movie is dragged completely down with the introduction of our hero's stereotypical, ridiculous society girlfriend whom I can only call Annoying Bitch. Annoying Bitch spits out the standard `no man of mine will make a living hustling!' speeches with zero conviction, and after our hero hustles her boss in an attempt to win her a job at a tony law firm, she dumps him in the standard hack screenwriter style. You know, one of those loud party scenes where everything would be fine if the screaming shrew would only shut up for five seconds and let the guy finish a thought. But of course this doesn't happen, and of course she leaves him, and the movie drags on.
I wish I could tell you what happens after this, but this is the point at which I shut the movie off. I just couldn't take it anymore. As usual, the only bright spot in this film is watching Christopher Walken sink his teeth into a role that is not worthy of his time. By refusing to spit out the word `fuck' every two seconds he elevates his scenes a great deal - and even gets a good joke in about our hero's hair. I should also tell you that this joke is the only funny joke in the movie. The rest is leaden one-liners; tired sitcom relationship humor; and crappy, ancient bar cons that the writer apparently got out of a library book, and which would only get the bettor beaten like a rented mule in a real bar.
There is nothing redemptive about this movie. Nothing at all. It is a complete waste of time.
After watching Spiderman, I guess I can see why a lot of people liked it. It has most of the ingredients: an intriguing fiction, likeable characters, and over-the-top villains. But the problem is that all of this stuff comes right from the comic book, and the movie doesn't add anything to the mix.
I guess in the end I just can't believe Tobey Maguire can do a backflip.
Even before I knew the guy had back trouble - a fact revealed during headline negotiations for the sequel - I just didn't think him athletic. I felt kind of bad for Tobey when he took off his shirt to show his new, spider-enhanced physique. Still so very, very puny. If you were in grave danger would you want this morose, wiry individual showing up to rescue you?
I imagine this is how I would have felt had another casting atrocity, the purported selection of Nicolas Cage to star as Superman in an attempted revival of that serial, had somehow burrowed its way into the light of day. I was already sufficiently outraged by musing my way through Michael Keaton as Batman. Michael Keaton? Nicolas Cage? Tobey Maguire? Why must superheroes now be short, bent men with jowls and hangover beards?
The superhero genre has been crying for a new star since Christopher Reeve had that horrible accident. Yep, Superman IV. The whole paralyzation thing didn't help matters either. Since then it's nothing but self-proclaimed auteurs slumming. The meek demeanor, the muttered punchline, the complete lack of any form of physical authority - that may work just fine when you're looking for some character-acting Oscar in some costume drama about dancing orphans. But it doesn't make a good superhero. Who wants to root for such dorks?
Everyone says to me that this is something we should applaud, that Peter Parker was a dork in the comic series and thus should be in the movie. But in the comics, which I read quite frequently for free in the Long Beach K&B, did not play up Parker's geekiness. It wasn't a badge he wore. The reason he seemed so uncool was because we knew what he was capable of. And the important point was that if you looked closely enough at this guy you would see that he was a hero.
I think that's where Christopher Reeve really nailed his role. When I was a kid and I saw SuperMan, I thought he was a cool guy. He's 6'4', he's strong, and the chicks loved him. Who doesn't want to be like that? In contrast, what fun is it to watch some dork like Maguire whine about his posture?
The rest of the cast isn't much better. I am no big fan of Kirsten Dunst. I have never understood the attraction. She's just a plump, plain-looking blonde with bad teeth. I don't think those are horrible qualities, but is it really worth applauding? She sleepwalks through her scenes with incredibly fake looking red hair, a dim smile on her face as if she didn't keep her eye on her drink at a frat party.
Willem Defoe, an actor whom I used to like, just creeps me out as the Goblin. There's something lizardlike about him. I think he'd make the perfect Gollum. We are forced to endure another shirtless wimp scene from Defoe. He does this in a lot of movies. It always looks like he's flexing really, really hard; like he's trying to _act_ muscle onto his chest. Poor guy. He's just so stringy, like a free-range chicken. And he has gotten really campy in his old age. I remember how much he stunk up `Boondock Saints', and from sheer good will I was willing to blame it on the director. Guess I was wrong.
Despite bad casting, there are other factors to keep the movie from being a success. All of the scenes seem to share the exact same lighting. This is particularly apparent on SpiderMan who is the bumpiest, shiniest 3D model I have ever seen. The whole thing looks very stagey - there is no feel of grit or reality to it. It's like watching a bunch of comic geeks re-enact some fan fiction they wrote and taped with their mom's camera. The direction just isn't exciting, and I don't feel like I'm watching a story as much as I am watching a re-enactment of a story. I am a big fan of Sam Raimi, but somehow he doesn't get it right this time.
The effects are uniformly horrible. When the CGI takes over it is blatant. Even the concepts for the effects are lame. When Peter caught all of Mary Jane's food on her plate a part of me died. It's so mundane and cutesy and looked so fake. All of the Green Goblin scenes felt like watching an episode of the Power Rangers. It's just cheap to have _two_ stars who fight only when they have completely obscured their faces. I guess I can just sense an outsourced fight. I picture Defoe eating a hot dog and Maguire getting a chiropractic house call in his trailer while these two stuntmen duke it out in Taiwan. So who should we root for: Quong, the sweaty stuntman in the Power Ranger suit, or Yubang in the Spiderman pajamas?
But the formula is well in stride so now we will have to endure a sequel to this travesty written by none other than `I'm gay, so give me an award' Michael Chabon. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.
Bad Boys II (2003)
The one word that best sums up this movie is boring. Certainly other words describe it: tasteless, self-satisfied, egotistical, childish, idiotic. But in the end the quality that sinks the movie is the fact that it is just too long and too little happens.
As many others have noted, the charm of "Bad Boys" was really that it was not planned to be a powerhouse hit. Sure there was some slow-motion and a few explosions, but the movie really worked because Lawrence and Smith had great on-screen chemistry. They played off of each other very well. The presence of Tea Leone - whose comic timing I did not appreciate until this awful sequel - only helped matters.
Now we have the requisite sequel, and it appears the gloves are off. Everything that worked in the first movie just bombs here because everyone seems so sure that it will work again. The chemistry between Lawrence and Smith seems forced as they go through the tired "Lethal Weapon" conversations; you know them by heart, "You're a loose cannon!" "I have three days to retirement!" "I'm putting in for a transfer!"
And perhaps the biggest killer of the movie is Smith's ego. There is not a single scene of Smith that doesn't involve slow-motion or some bimbo fawning over him. Smith slow-mo's into his bling-bling jacket and silk shirt. He slow-mo's into his car. He slow-mo bites into a sandwich. Everyone is so convinced that he's charismatic that they don't expect the guy to actually show any charisma.
Lawrence doesn't fare much better. He presents us with some tired family comedy (how in the heck does he afford that mansion on a cop's salary anyway?) and recycles his "I'm so mortified and grossed-out" jokes from the first movie. Other than that he seems remarkably tame, as if someone told him not to be funny.
Speaking of gross-out, there's an awful lot of that in this movie. Bay thinks it is high comedy to have heads fall of of decomposed bodies, and there is an intolerable scene in which the heroes chase a truck that hurls coffins and dead bodies at them - we then are treated to more detailed shots of said bodies exploding on the highway.
The movie is just childish and boring. I can't even remember the name of the villain, or what he was doing (something about Ecstasy, which wouldn't even be dangerous if dumbass cops like the ones played Lawrence and Smith didn't force it to be made by criminals with their self-obsessed drug war posturing). The car chases are moderately exciting, if ridiculous (after seeing two cop cars flip 20 times and blow up we hear the captain say "Thank God no cops were killed" - what, did they have ejector seats?). But by the time the gang invade Cuba you will probably be long tired of this crap.
28 Days Later... (2002)
Yeah, I Don't Know
Spoilers Man was this a disappointment. I remember when this movie came to theaters I was interested in seeing it, but it was taken out very quickly. So I waited for it to come to DVD, then had to wait for my stuff to arrive from a move so I could watch it in full widescreen glory. After months of hearing people say how great it was, I can't help but feel cheated.
It is strange that nowadays I hear people say "That movie was awesome!", then I'll watch it and disagree, and nine times out of ten their response is "Yeah, well, my expectations were so low ...". So if you lower your expectations enough, modern movies are palatable. How lame.
I think this movie is only "awesome" to someone who has had their standards for zombie movies lowered by such crap as "Resident Evil". As it is, the top zombie movie of all time is still "Dawn of the Dead". Everything since then, including the sequel "Day of the Dead", has been a shoddy rip-off. Some people will split hairs and say "these aren't zombies!" but they really are. They're just zombies that move fast, which was a good idea. In theory it would ratchet up the action. Funny that there is still so little of it in the movie.
The movie starts out okay, if a little predictably. Some guy wakes up in a hospital to find that the world has been taken over by flesh-eating "infected" people. Within the first few minutes the movie makes its first mistake: the man immediately falls in with other survivors, not spending any serious time on his own coping with the problem. His rather fey appearance and wimpish reaction to the situation makes him hard to accept as an action hero later in the movie.
Things quickly start to become a by-the-numbers affair. He meets a coed survivor group, with bulky masculine guy and suspiciously sexy, hardened, "I don't need anybody" female. Since the second guy is a problem he is immediately dispatched in a pretty cool scene (but it makes one wonder how the guy survived for so long, if he's so careless). Then the hero and heroine are free to ... ahem ... explore each other.
Here another mistake is made, as they again manage to find two other survivors immediately - a man and his daughter - and team up with them. I am a big fan of Brendan Gleeson and it's fun watching him work. But again the story begins to suffer from this development. Everyone suddenly decides to go try to find an Army station nearby that they pick up on the radio. On the way the crew stumble across a supermarket, with unlocked doors, whose wares are suspiciously clean and well-organized (you mean to tell me during the panic, chaos, riots, and confusion nobody thought to ransack the store?). They foolishly venture into a dark underground passage where they are bum-rushed by a bunch of infected guys, and manage to escape in a highly implausible manner (Gleeson would have to be pretty strong to lift a car with two people in it, and laden with groceries).
When they reach the Army station, everything falls apart. Gleeson dies in a ridiculous manner. The remaining guy and girls are taken to the army base, where the guy is told that the women will be raped and there is nothing he can do about it. He is taken out to be executed and escapes, then spontaneously turns into Rambo, surviving in the wilderness with no weapons or vehicle, then returning to off an entire squad of elite military personnel. Then he is gutshot, but due to the miracles of a quick fade and snappy editing, he is much better "28 days later ..." and is able to partake in a cheesy happy ending.
So many mistakes are made in this film. Why is our hero not given a chance to develop on his own before meeting others? Why are the others he meets so darn stupid? The film is strangely patterned after perhaps the worst zombie movie of all time, "Day of the Dead", in that it sets aside a perfectly good horror basis - zombies - and instead decides to go the well-trodden route of "man is the ultimate evil". The introduction of the squad of soldiers is the death's knell of the movie. From that point it's as if all logic and reason are discarded and a straightforward action movie ending is all the writer and director can imagine, complete with thudding techno music and neck-snapping rapid editing.
The ending is such an insult. We see our supposed hero gutshot, at close range, by a very powerful handgun. But he supposedly recovers without any experienced medical attention. It is true that alternate endings are included, in both of which the main character dies or is dead. But these are no consolation. The alternate ending thing is a cop-out. The movie should be the artist's statement, not a choose your own adventure book. They are telling the story, so they should decide what they want the story to be. Since they went with the idiotic happy ending, I can only assume that this is the story they decided was the best, which just puts the final crap touch on a crap movie.
While writing this review I happened to look up "Dawn of the Dead" and noticed that there is a remake in the works. So now the best zombie movie will be ruined too. But I'm sure everyone's expectations will be so low that they won't even notice it.
Good Before the Tinkering
One must really wonder why Hollywood execs are so damn stupid. Okay, Dragnet wasn't a powerhouse, runaway hit. But it was a solid show. So which is better: a show that develops a loyal following who watch it regularly, or a show that is tinkered with to get people interested, but so similar to everything else on the market that it dies a quick death?
Apparently ABC thinks the latter. Which is why we now have numerous tight-shirt-clad model-quality women wandering around the station house, pretending to be cops. Including the always annoying Rosalyn Sanchez, who is neither as attractive nor as good of an actress as she or her handlers seem to think. There's nothing wrong with having female cops on a show, but why are they always so stereotypically "attractive", and always wearing tight rayon shirts to show off their bulging silicone? Sure, breasts are fun. But is it necessary to dump sugar on our every meal? Do these catalog women really belong on a purportedly serious cop show with rumpled old Ed O'Neill?
Dragnet is an ancient franchise, one that was supposedly built on the strength of the stories. Ed O'Neill is a very good actor (and I wish the posters would stop with the lame "Married With Children" jokes, they're not funny). It is possible to have a good show that doesn't rely upon the tired formula of scantily-clad women pretending to be professionals in a professional environment. Look at the X-Files, which although flawed towards its end, started out as the tale of a rather mousy-looking guy and a kind of dumpy girl solving weirdo crimes. It gained acclaim from its stories. Even "ER" started with a lot of less-than-Fabios on its staff. Same goes for "NYPD Blue", which used to have "real" New Yorkers on its stage. Notice a pattern? After each of these shows started to add more and more models to the set, the show quality disintegrated. Sure, one of them is still a powerhouse, and one lasted for a while. But that's because they were spending good will they had built up with the audience. Dragnet wasn't left on its own long enough to build up good will; so now we have a cookie-cutter show that is trying to earn a place. And now it is sure to fail.
Please, for the love of god, stop tinkering with these shows to meet the teenage demographic! There are enough damn shows out there for small-minded, short-attention-span teenage boys. Give us some stories and something to figure out - you know, the things television crime shows used to be about.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Such an Awful Movie
I would not go so far as to say it is impossible to make an enjoyable movie from a video game. But I will say that it has yet to be accomplished. "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" is just another miserable failure in a series of such events.
The movie completely fails to connect from its opening "action" scene - a concept itself ripped wholesale from Indiana Jones. Lara is raiding a tomb - or is she - and wrestles a 50,000 ton robot. Yes, wrestles a robot. In one particularly ridiculous scene the robot decks her with a metal hand. Lara grimaces, then wrestles it some more. When I was in Little League I was once hit in the head with an aluminum bat, and I was unconscious for almost fifteen minutes. If a robot decks you full strength and you aren't fazed, why pay any attention to it at all? Particularly, why continue to empty clip after clip of ammo into the thing when bullets just ricochet off of its exterior?
Now one can certainly say that the movie isn't based in reality, and one shouldn't nitpick it, blah blah. The story is obviously targeted at teens: from Lara's ridiculous, cone-shaped breasts to her short-shorts to her collagen-injected lips. But to those of us who have actually had sex in our lifetimes, it really is boring. Angelina Jolie just isn't that hot. I'm sorry. She is a blow-up doll with bulbous lips. The bad English accent is just insult added to injury. She apparently thinks this is real acting.
This movie, like so many other recent movies that have taken an existing action formula and tried to deliver a polished carbon copy, is a miserable experience. Nothing feels compelling. Everything is an injection-molded plastic replica of some idea that used to be fun. It makes me wonder what Indiana Jones would be like were the movies made today. Anyone remember how Indy fought? He was a brawler, and he got messy. He never did showy crap with his guns, he just used them. Here, whenever Lara has to use her guns, she is doing all kinds of twirls and flips with them (always in extreme close up to conceal the hand double). Her fights are that rapid-edit MTV chop-socky crap that pervades all modern cinema. If you want to impress me with a fight, pull the camera back and let me watch it.
There is no reason for this movie to exist except to ogle Angelina Jolie in tight clothing. Are we so afraid of being called gay that we can't reject such a ridiculous notion? I live in Southern California and I see women as attractive as Jolie on a daily basis. Big deal. I wouldn't watch any of them in a movie, so why Jolie? Why do we continue to lie to ourselves that she is a talented actress?
The biggest insult of this movie is watching Arnold Rimmer himself, Chris Barrie, slum it in true "I need a paycheck" style. I seriously hope the Red Dwarf movie makes it to the states so people can see him in a role that utilizes his comic talent, rather than wasting it like this cinematic insult does.
The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)
Perhaps the task of bringing a Thomas Hardy novel to the screen is far too daunting for there to ever be great success. While "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is much less faulty than the popularized, stinkbomb screen version of "Jude", it still isn't a very good film.
I say this as a tremendous fan of the book. "Jude the Obscure" has many elements that make it more attractive to the adolescent reader: namely angst, angst, and more angst. But "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is simply a great novel. The characters are well-realized, the story involved, and there is even a moral to be learned. However, in converting the story to a screenplay, most of the power of the novel is lost.
The most obvious problem is the look of the movie. It is entirely off. Everyone is wearing shiny new clothes, the tents at the fair are brilliant white. People were just really dirty back then. None of this is conveyed in the film - everything looks like a set. I understand they were working with a small budget, but dirt is free.
If one looks at the production as a filmed play, the lack of credible atmosphere can be forgiven. But then there are the chainsaw-quality cuts to the story. Why does Henchard like Farfrae? We see a small scene where it is hinted that Farfrae saves his wheat. But this is no reason for them to become fast friends. Why does Henchard become embittered by Farfrae? In the book there are several instances where Farfrae seems to upstage Henchard. The movie shows only one, and a rather weak one at that. Suddenly Henchard wants to destroy Farfrae, and the character change doesn't seem reasonable.
Many of the scenes are drained of their power by the lackluster and low-quality direction and editing. The camera is mostly static, giving the story little power. I don't need MTV cuts but there is something to be said for moving the camera occasionally. There is no concept of time passing. Even a simple trick like showing a title card that says "one year later" could have helped this. Instead it's all piled together, with all the actors obviously the same age, and great leaps made in the story and relationships.
But most crippling is the way the editor does not allow many powerful scenes to play out. For example, when Henchard has died and his will is being read (in a classy voiceover), after the final word the scene just cuts to black. No slow fade, no pan to the sky, no swell of music. It's just over.
Perhaps this is the result of a longer movie being cut down to fit into a TV timeslot. But I doubt that, because the movie was originally made for television.
While it is certainly not the worst way to spend one's time, much greater satisfaction can be had by reading the book. It is a much better story through that medium.