Reviews written by registered user
|44 reviews in total|
I think you have to be or have been a teacher to feel as though John
Hughes' movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is like a student scraping his
nails across your blackboard for 90 minutes. When this movie was first
released, I happened to see it on a week where a student came tardy to
my class, cussed me out when I called him on it, and then had his
mother phone and tell me that I was overreacting [for doing what was
expected of me] and tell me that she was praying for me. By the time I
finished watching the movie, Principal Rooney (ployed by Jeffrey
Jones), who was intended as a figure of fun, was a very sympathetic
character to me.
Anyway, Matthew Broderick plays the title role, an insufferable youngster who appears to have an angel of God at his side. Ferris concocts elaborate schemes for playing hooky from school, yet he manages to endear himself to everyone except Mr. Rooney, who can never quite catch Ferris in the act, and his sister Jennie (Jennifer Grey of "Dirty Dancing"), who is justifiably annoyed at Ferris's liberties.
One fine spring day, Ferris again fools his parents into thinking he is on Death's doorstep. When they leave for work, Ferris browbeats his downtrodden buddy Cameron (Alan Ruck, later of TV's "Spin City") into stealing his father's prized 1961 Ferrari, hijacking Ferris's girlfriend (Mia Sara) from school and going on a joyride.
The angel-of-God analogy is particularly apt because the movie seems a latter-day version of deus-ex-machina. And never has a movie seemed so stagy. When Ferris starts talking to the camera (presaging similarly self-conscious '90s movies and TV shows), expounding his theories on life and skipping school, one half-expects to read "Based on a play by Neil Simon" in the credits.
What a great combination--the self-righteousness of John Hughes and the Broadway smarminess of Matthew Broderick. Two minds without a single thought.
And the film in constantly at odds with what it tries to tell us. At one point, Ferris tells us that you'll never get anywhere by kissing people's hindquarters. Yet he can't get anywhere without sucking up to people or manipulating them for his selfish whims.
He also complains about his parents being weird. The poor kid--all his parents have ever given him are everything he wants, and more attention than his sister can hope to receive.
And how is all of this massive manipulation possible? Because Hughes sets up cardboard characters and emotions. Mr. Rooney is essentially Wile E. Coyote, forever chasing the Road Runner in vain.
Ferris's parents are vapid dummies who don't care much about anything. And Ferris is supposedly made lovable by such acts as his hammy performance to get out of school (an old bit when it was used in "E.T.") and his lip-syncing to a rock song (which, after Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" and Rodney Dangerfield in "Easy Money," was well on its way to become a modern-day movie cliché).
All of the performances are execrable, except for Ruck as Cameron, the put-upon friend. When Cameron vows to take a stand against his dad, the scene almost works, despite its utter gravity, because Cameron has been such a likable dolt up until then. If only we could see a movie about a teenager like *him*, instead of this self-indulgent vehicle about a self-indulgent brat. When John Hughes--a Mel Brooks for high-school geeks--was asked how he prepares his scripts, he said, "I never start with the jokes. I look at an issue and try to find the story in it...To me, 'Animal House' was a character movie." That's funnier than anything in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Review of SPIDER-MAN 2
by STEVEN BAILEY
There are some "popcorn movies" that transcend their origins and
just become great movies--"North by Northwest," "Raiders of the
Add "Spider-Man 2" to the list.
There's no good reason that a film about a guy with the dubious
talent for traveling by web should be one of the most touching
movies around. But darned if I wasn't near tears by movie's end.
For that, kudos to director Sam Raimi, who found the same
"realistic" tone in the first "Spider-Man" and extends it here. The
characters seem like clichés--the clumsy kid turned super-hero,
the erstwhile girlfriend, the doting aunt. But thanks to heartfelt
encore performances from Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and
Rosemary Harris, they're more believable than those in more
"earthbound" movies I've seen this year.
Of course, some viewers don't go to "Spider-Man" movies for
character depth, and action fans won't be disappointed here either.
Alfred Molina, whom I've always found hammy, here has perfect
pitch as Dr. Octavius--at first friendly and caring to Peter Parker
(Spidey's daily alter-ego), then downright operatic in his revenge
when his planned scientific breakthrough goes wrong and turns
him into a kind of octopus-robot.
But the movie spends an unusual amount of time letting us get to
know its characters, so that viewers truly have a stake in the
high-powered action scenes. (Warning: Those scenes might be
very tough sledding for younger viewers. But if you've seen
"Spider-Man 1," you know what you're in for anyway.)
Out of a flawless cast, I end by singling out thoroughly winning
Kirsten Dunst as M.J., Peter/Spidey's love interest. Her dreamy,
sunny face grounds the story in happy normalcy. And her final
scene tops even "S1's" much-ballyhooed kiss.
This movie has it all. Go.
Review of THE TERMINAL
by STEVEN BAILEY
If Charlie Chaplin was still alive and creating, it's easy to imagine
him making a light comedy as richly satisfying as "The Terminal."
Just as Chaplin used to take a prop and wring every possible gag
out of it, Steven Spielberg's prop is a New York airport terminal
from which he extracts every story possibility. And Spielberg's
Chaplin is Tom Hanks, who takes a potentially show-offy, Meryl
Streep-type role and turns it into a movie character for the ages.= Hanks' role is Viktor Navorski, a European immigrant who
becomes a modern-day "man without a country" when his native
land gets embroiled in a revolution. Viktor can't return home
because his country is under siege, and he can't legally enter New
York until his country's new leadership is recognized by the U.S.
So Viktor has no choice but to live in the terminal--much to the
consternation of Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), whose chances of
becoming the terminal's top dog are jeopardized by Viktor's
constantly being under foot.= The movie's premise is laid out pretty flatly in the first ten minutes,
which begins to sink one's hopes. But it's as though Spielberg
wants to get the mandatory stuff out of the way quickly so he can
explore all of the possibilities in his huge playtoy. And he spins
Viktor through every facet of the terminal like a colorful top,
involving the terminal's quirky workers in his meager existence.= In that sense, "The Terminal" is a lot like "Being There" (1979),
where Peter Sellers played an illiterate simpleton on whom
politicians projected their needs and desires. But Hanks is far
from a blank slate. His body language, physical comedy, and
deceptively simple dialogue speak volumes. Chaplin regretted
having to give up silent movies because he felt that his "Little
Tramp" could not express himself uniquely with sound. I think
something like "The Terminal" would have been an effective
solution.= That's not to belittle Hanks' winning co-stars, especially Catherine
Zeta-Jones as Viktor's potential love interest and Chi McBride as
one of Viktor's many supporters. They all give Spielberg's work the
sheen of a big, beautiful dream.=
What is it about "Scooby-Doo" that raises critics' hackles? The
same reviewers who find sedimentary layers of meaning in "Lord
of the Rings" are the first to lay into a live version of a piffling kids'
cartoon. As for me, an ounce of Matthew Lillard's Shaggy is worth a
pound of Mike Myers' Cat in the Hat. **
The really odd thing is that "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" is a noticeable improvement over the first movie--relatively speaking, of course. In the first "SD," only Lillard seemed to be having a lot of fun. In "SD2," the rest of the starring quartet--Linda Cardellini (Velma), Freddie Prinze Jr. (Fred), and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Daphne)--have loosened up considerably. **
And director Raja Gosnell has earned his props. There's an infinite number of shots where wacko winged creatures fly off with flesh-and-blood humans. How Gosnell can even keep track of all this stuff is beyond me. If the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons had been done on such an elaborate scale, maybe they wouldn't have been so razzed-on to start with. **
The wispy plot is that a "Monster Machine" has brought to life all of the freakazoids that the Mystery Inc. gang had previously put to rest. Even thinner subplots involve a love interest for Velma ("Austin Powers" vet Seth Green), and Scooby and Shaggy's efforts to prove that they're "real" detectives and not just food-driven goofballs. Needless to say, monsters are sufficiently conquered, and everyone finds his inner Doo. **
If anything, "SD2" suffers from a sense of false modesty. Indeed, the most unintentionally funny part is when Velma and Daphne assure each other that they're not "hot." This, despite Gellar showing off as much leg as a PG rating will allow, and a scene with Cardellini in a red leather outfit so tight that it squeaks when she walks. **
Besides the "regulars," Green and Peter Boyle seem to be having great fun. The only sour note, naturally, comes from Alicia Silverstone as a smarmy reporter. **
At the very least, "Scooby-Doo 2" fits the logic of a movie week where Jim Carrey is trying to prove how sensitive he can be. **
"Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" is rated PG for cartoon-style violence and peril, and the inevitable passing-gas joke.
"thirteen" opens with a girl facing the camera, begging some
unseen friend to wallop her. By movie's end, you'll be more than
happy to grant her wish.
Every post-baby-boomer generation thinks they've cornered the market on teen-age angst. Much has been made of "thirteen's" screenplay having been written by a teenager (Nikki Reed, who also smugly co-stars). But before she wrote her script, Reed would have been well-advised to watch "River's Edge" (1986), which covered the same cliched territory.
Evan Rachel Wood stars as Tracy, a middle-schooler who abandons all self-worth to hang out with a cheap popular girl (Reed) and then can't figure out why she gets into so much trouble.
Melanie, Tracy's clueless mom, is played by Holly Hunter--who exec-produced the movie, and what a vanity production! Hunter deglamorizes herself right down to her varicose veins, all the better to play the sacrificial mother. (She also has a room-trashing scene worthy of "Citizen Kane.") Melanie styles hair for a semi-living, but after a few dozen close-ups of Hunter's dirty fingernails, you forget the movie's dark subtext and instead think, "Eew! Cooties!"
We're meant to cluck at the inevitability of Tracy's downfall, but all I could think was that this family needs some sane advice. Based on the movie's evidence (and glaring plotholes), the doctor is in.
Tracy, if you abandon your old friends to join the "in" crowd, don't be surprised when the old friends forget to tell you that your science project is due. Don't get mad about your mom's here-and-gone boyfriend when your new best friend abandons you every chance she gets. And are you really going to wear that to the mall??
Melanie, earnest mothers do not begin by letting their kid's slutty new friend address them as "Mom." Get more involved in your daughter's life than just telling her that the poem she wrote is "heavy." And for heaven's sake, wash your hands after every styling!
There's a famous series of British documentaries that visits the same group of once-young kids every seven years. It'll be interesting to see Nikki Reed's screenplay for "twenty-six," the sequel in which she realizes what a pretentious teenager she was.
I'll get to the plot of "The Gang's All Here" in a minute, because the
plot isn't the most memorable part of this movie. The most
memorable part is the bananas.
About 20 minutes into the movie, a towering hat of Technicolor fruit appears on the screen, followed by its owner--'40s "Brazilian bombshell" Carmen Miranda. She proceeds to do a number called "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," accompanied by chorus girls who bear bananas. Six-foot-tall bananas that continuously droop and sprout until number's end, when the chorus girls, worn out by the burden of this mutated fruit, lay down for a long siesta on a stage dressed up like an island.
There's a reason this number occurs so early on: It takes you the rest of the movie to convince yourself you actually saw this in a 1943 movie.
But then, this is Busby Berkeley, a director who staged his musical numbers as though he was declaring war. And next to kitsch, war is pretty much the motivator here.
The wafer-thin story involves Andy (James Ellison), a soldier who woos and wins Edie (Alice Faye), a canteen dancer, the night before Andy goes off to World War Two. In what seems an instant, Andy gets decorated and returned home to a victory party thrown by the family of Andy's childhood sweetheart and fiancee--who, unfortunately for Edie, is not Edie.
Will the heartbreak be resolved? Do you really care? The plot is mostly an excuse for some snappy repartee between major '40s stars (in particular, Eugene Pallette and Edward Everett Horton are hilarious), and the kind of musical numbers that seem to drop out of thin air. (In a couple of scenes, Benny Goodman and his orchestra stroll by and do some songs just for the heck of it.)
"The Gang's All Here" is really a 1943 time capsule, but an eye-popping rouser of one. They don't make 'em like this anymore. They didn't make 'em much like this back then, either. It's not out on video or DVD, so look for its sporadic broadcasts on cable TV.
I first saw this Pixar short when it appeared in theaters in 1989 as part of a short-film project sponsored by American Express. It was like a great delight that popped up on the screen and then anonymously disappeared. I just saw the theatrical Pixar release Finding Nemo, and Pixar has had the great good sense to preface their new feature with this charming short. It's a 4-minute gem, with hilarious gags and great music by Bobby McFerrin. I hope Pixar puts this out on the Finding Nemo DVD. In the meantime, if you're seeing Finding Nemo, don't be late--Nemo is very good on its own, but this short is worth the price of admission in itself!
In the late 1980's, a documentary titled Amos 'n Andy: Anatomy of a
Controversy looked at the infamous comedy show. Despite the doc's own
testimonials by famous black performers who found the show funny, the only
way to get the show looked at or praised these days was to surround it with
politically correct analysis.
That's most likely the only way that cable TV's Cartoon Network, which owns the rights to Bob Clampett's Snow White parody Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs (1943), would ever be able to air this cartoon. Most likely, the Cartoon Networkers won't consider even that ploy, as they have seen fit to remove any possible inflammatory material from their huge backlog of cartoons. That's a great pity, because most of those who have been fortunate enough to view Coal Black regard it as one of Bob Clampett's most jaw-droppingly funny creations.
As has been well documented elsewhere, the unfortunate fact is that, at the time of Coal Black's making, African-Americans were rarely treated as equals to whites on the silver screen. (Dooley Wilson's Sam in Casablanca  is a notable exception, depicting a warm friendship with Humphrey Bogart's Rick. Yet even Sam clears out of the room as soon as Bogie and Ingrid Bergman, the movie's iconic white lovers, reunite.)
And unsubtle stereotypes abound. Just to hit the highlights, "Prince Chawmin'" is a jive-spouting hero with dice for teeth (and he literally turns yellow when So White calls for him to rescue her). "De Sebben Dwarfs" are little more than thick-lipped comic relief.
And the movie begins with the tale being told by a loving "mammy" to her child.
Yet the underlying irony is that the racial aspect is merely a smokescreen for what this cartoon is really about: sex. This film's Wicked Queen doesn't even consider whether she's the fairest one of all; her first words in the story are "Magic mirror on the wall, send me a prince about six feet tall." So White, far from Disney's virginal image of Snow White, wears a low-cut blouse and thigh-high shorts, and she sends blazes of erotic ecstasy through every male she meets. If it weren't for the movie's parody approach, it's difficult to believe that the same censors who got all worked up about Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood series would have let Clampett get away with such brazenness.
The irony is that Bob Clampett intended his cartoon as a tribute to black culture. The movie's hot jazz score (by Eddie Beals) surpasses even Carl Stalling's usual high standards, with some incredible scat singing and white-hot trumpet playing. And So White is voiced by Vivian Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge's sister, and the Evil Queen is voiced by their mother Ruby, which is enough to at least give the movie a legitimate pedigree. Beyond that, this cartoon is to Clampett's oeuvre what What's Opera, Doc? is to Chuck Jones's canon--a look at a Warner Bros. cartoon director at the height of his control. Like Jones's opera parody/tribute, Coal Black goes beyond funny to just plain astounding. Even in fifth-generation bootlegs, the cartoon is rich in the sort of frame-exploding work that has made Clampett's reputation. Even though many of the wartime references (to shortages and the military) date this cartoon far worse that most WB efforts, the jokes still come across quite clearly. (When Mammy tells us how rich the Evil Queen is, the camera pans across her riches: piles of stockpiled sugar and rubber tires.)
There is plenty to be offended about in Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs, if offense is all that you seek. But the most memorable cartoons are usually the ones that get somebody's dander up. In an era where Keenan Ivory Wayans makes the most profitable Afro-American movie ever (Scary Movie) by taking R-rated swipes at penises and mental retardation, surely there's room in our culture for a comparatively benign (and far funnier) six-minute cartoon.
Watch this one only its first five minutes, a fast-paced and genuinely funny montage of clips from Lewis's earlier comedies. Then, if you dare, settle back and get ready for a jaw-dropping compendium of unfunny gags, rip-offs from earlier movies (an entire set-up is lifted from Lewis's The Bellboy), and product placement ads galore.
I have what I call "The Adrienne Barbeau Theorem," which is as
follows: Big breasts, in and of themselves, are not enough reason to
watch a terrible movie. Ironically, there are two movies that strongly
test my theorem, and one of them is Adrienne Barbeau's Swamp Thing (see
my Epinions review). The other is an abysmal '80s slasher flick titled
They're Playing with Fire.
Sybil Danning plays an English professor (so much for realism) who
seduces one of her young students (Eric Brown) in order to make him a
patsy in a murder plot in which she's involved. Despite its familiar
ring, this plotline is several generations (not to mention quality
points) removed from Double Indemnity and its ilk. In fact, the movie's
slasher motif is so sordid, even for this genre, that it's painful to
watch. The movie would be deservedly forgotten, were it not for
Danning's astounding sex scenes.
These scenes, particularly the first one, are as jaw-dropping as
anything you're likely to see in a mainstream, R-rated movie. While not
as anatomically graphic as your average porn video, Danning in the
altogether amply displays enough, er, enthusiasm to get her point
across. In fact, she's so enthusiastic, you lose any sympathy for the
kid she's seducing. Here's this gorgeous, buxom blonde twisting the
night away on top of him, and he can't think of anything better to do
than *make conversation* with her! Obviously, the kid needs an education
in more than English.
Other than the all-too-brief scenes in which Danning demonstrates why a
date with her would fetch a small fortune on an auction block, the
movie's only element of interest is in seeing Alvy Moore, who played
Hooterville county agent Hank Kimball on TV's "Green Acres,"
hitting a career low as a gas-station manager who's dumb enough to hire
and re-hire the kid as an attendant even after he's dumped the job on
the promise of some loot from Danning's English professor. The only
thing that could have made this movie more bad-memorable would be to
pair Danning with fluttery Hank Kimball: "Welcome to Hootersville,
I mean Hooterville! Sorry, I was blinded by your headlights, I mean my
car headlights. The car is strangely stacked, I mean built, I
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