Reviews written by
Mark Nielsen (mnielsen@pris.bc.ca)

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Jerry Bruckheimer is a goof, 15 June 2002

It's such a relief to see that so many contributors come away from this movie with the same low regard that I do. Quite frankly, I am absolutely sick of Jerry Bruckheimer and his self-centred approach to movie-making.

Put another way, Bad Company is just another bullet-ridden ode to Jerry's ever-expanding ego. I've never met the guy, but I keep imagining one of those cigar-chomping blowhards who knows showbiz, dammit, and, with his eye ever on the bottom line, will do anything to avoid any sort of creative risk.

Action-comedy? More like My Fair Lady with a few fanatical gun-wielding terrorists thrown into the mix.

It's at the point where you can spot a "Bruckheimer." Hire two big-name stars, scour the music video scene for a lapdog/director and throw a screenplay at 'em. Where did Michael Browning learn to write? The School of Contrived Plots?

Rock, whose trademark is creativity, is reduced to barking out lame lines about whitey not liking rap. Usually actors demanding creative control means disaster, but in Rock's case, it should have been forced upon him, like a sled dog is forced to mush.

The game of chess plays a significant role in Bad Company, but for all the wrong reasons. Bruckheimer would have you believe that it symbolizes strategy and the ongoing struggle between good and evil. But for me, it represented Hollywood's never-ending penchant to exploit the apparent rift between black people and white people, and the fact that Rock and Hopkins remain nothing more than pawns.

This movie truly sucks. Jerry Bruckheimer is a goof and a loser.

Spider-Man (2002)
Great acting raises Spider-Man to the next level, 25 May 2002

In the fine tradition of mild manner reporter Clark Kent, I hope to one day also possess superhuman powers with which to fight evil and to make the world a better place.

Until that day, however, I can only dream and ready myself for such an eventuality by seeing such movies as Spider-Man.

By seeing this movie I have learned that with great power comes great responsibility. I have also learned that possessing the powers of a spider can be pretty handy. Indeed, once you have seen this movie, you might even prefer such powers over such other possibilities as lightning speed, the ability fly or the know-how to make friends and influence enemies. Who'da thunk that the lowly spider would be inspiration for a superhero? Creator Stan Lee is a comicbook genius.

Most of all, you'll come away knowing that you've seen a pretty good flick. In fact, out of all the movies about superheroes ever made, Spider-Man is probably the best. What raises this particular movie to the next level is the acting.

I've never realized just how complex comic book characters can be. But in the hands of Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco, what have been little more than brightly coloured drawings really do come to life.

Maguire is perfect as the nerdy teen turned crimefighter, but I liked Dafoe the most. Possibly the best scene in the movie comes when, with the help of a mirror, genius-industrialist Norman Osborn, comes face-to-face with his alter ego, The Green Goblin, Dafoe alternately a frail human being and a vicious psychopath.

Neither Dunst nor Franco are shrinking violets in their supporting roles, and J.K. Simmons is memorable and amusing as the hardboiled newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson -- although I have to say that once again, Hollywood fails to put together a decent looking newspaper. Everytime I saw the Daily Bugle I cringed at the grey layout.

Of course, no-one goes to a movie about a superhero to appreciate the subtleties of the acting; on the matter of special effects and stunts, Spider-Man delivers. `It's been done before' never applies to any scene, and there is not one but two money shots as Spidey takes on the Gobblin in the skies above both Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Most important, for all the seriousness and the stoicism that is part and parcel of being a superhero, Spider-Man never looses its sense of fun.

If there is a complaint, it's about the music. Other than a tune from a subway busker, little if any allusion is made to the catchy tune that started off the Saturday morning cartoon. Instead, we're stuck with a symphony orchestra cranking out a rather unimaginative score.

On the whole, however, a certain group of people seem to possess the superhuman power to make a good movie. And to get all the impact, now is the time to see Spider-Man.

A refreshing ultimate crime movie, 6 January 2002

Finally, a movie in which no guts splatter, no bullets hail, and no effects are special.

About the kind of crime in which guile, not guns, are the prime weapon, Ocean's Eleven is a very refreshing movie.

George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, a career criminal who, no sooner than getting out of jail, begins working on the next big heist. With the help of cardsharking buddy Dusty Ryan, played by Brad Pitt, they assemble a crew of assorted specialists, otherwise known as Ocean's Eleven.

Their goal is to break into the vault that holds the cash for three Las Vegas casinos. On a fight night, we are informed, at least $160 million is in that vault.

Of course, pulling off the crime won't be easy. There's also a certain fear factor, in that the casinos are owned by Terrence Benedict, played by Andy Garcia. Cold and calculating, Benedict is also very ruthless -- the kind of guy who would make jail time the least of the worries.

Nonetheless, he's made enemies who would love to exact revenge. One of them is rival casino owner Reuben Tishkoff, played by Elliott Gould, who agrees to finance the scheme after Benedict forced him out of the business., Another is Ocean himself. The payoff is great, but most of all, Ocean wants to get back at Benedict for stealing his lovely wife away, played by Julia Roberts.

Ocean's Eleven is a remake of a 1960s movie of the same name that starred Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. I never saw the original, but one movie Ocean's Eleven reminds me of is The Sting.

The Sting remains the more clever of the two, and features catchier music, but all the elements are there. Set Ocean's Eleven in the depression era, and Clooney and Pitt could easily be mistaken for Redford and Newman, and Garcia for Robert Mitchum.

Unfortunately, vagaries of the script severely limit Roberts' screen time. And a sequence in which a scientific gizmo is stolen and used to force an electrical blackout was a little contrived.

But on the plus side, the dreaded pitfall of reducing the supporting characters into a pack of stock whacko goofballs is avoided. The crew members can be a little odd at times, but in an endearing rather than an annoying way.

Clooney and Pitt, meanwhile, pull out all the rakish stops -- these two would be selling sand to Saharans if they weren't making so much money in movies.

Most of all, however, the story is just plain entertaining. Just when you think you know how they get the money out, a new level of illusion unfolds before your very eyes. Maybe the appeal has something to do with the criminal in me, but I also think that our even friends in the red serge would appreciate this movie for what it is.

K-PAX (2001)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Well-developed story saves K-PAX from pretension, 1 December 2001

Name: Kevin Spacey.

Occupation: Actor.

Diagnosis: Early stages of `Robin Williams Disease.' (Also known as `Robert Redford Disease.')

Symptoms: Will agree to play roles only of characters who are too good for this world. They lack any discernible faults, unless carrying the woes and sorrows of the humanity upon one's shoulders is considered to be a character flaw.

Notes: Kevin Spacey is a great actor and was well deserving of the 1999 Oscar for best actor for his role in American Beauty. But it may have gone to his head.

What made American Beauty so great was that Spacey's character was decidedly flawed -- a middle class family man going through one Mother of a middle age crisis.

His most notable role since then was in the incredibly contrived Pay It Forward. In this movie, he's a teacher with a burn scar that covers half his face, the wound inflicted by a father who set him on fire. Oh, please...

(Spacey did play a compelling character, a temperamental salesman, in The Big Kahuna, but beyond a lot of theatrics, absolutely nothing happened in this movie. Paint drying is not an art form).

In K-PAX, his latest project to hit the screen, Spacey plays Prot, a man who claims to be an alien from the distant planet K-PAX, thus landing him in a psychiatric ward. His psychiatrist, played by Jeff Bridges, has diagnosed him as delusional, but is also secretly convinced that Prot may really be a being from another planet.

Once again, Spacey walks very close to the edge of pretension. More than just a few moments of K-PAX consist of our alien visitor lecturing the good doctor about the shortcomings of us earthlings while not curing all in the ward of their various psychological ailments.

It's almost as if Spacey was not satisfied with playing a supporting role to the Christ figure in Pay It Forward and more or less decided to play Christ himself.

Fortunately, as close as K-PAX comes to falling down the slippery slope into the pit of suckiness, it never quite teeters over the edge. Based on the book by Gene Brewer of the same name, K-PAX turns out to be a very well developed story augmented by a taught musical score, strong directing -- and some exemplary acting by Spacey.

In other words, K-PAX provides good reason to make yet another movie about some guy who may or may not be a creature from outer space and Spacey was a good choice for the main role.

Yes, it did occur to me that the way I've approached this review may have been a little pretentious in itself. But we're not talking about me, we're talking about someone else right now, and that someone would be well-advised to keep his ego in check. Best actor is a big award, but when all is said and done, the Oscar is just a trophy (of some guy without any clothes on at that).

Soon to make it into the cinemas will be The Shipping News. For this one, Spacey packed on 25 pounds to play a portly `third rate reporter' who returns to his roots in Newfoundland to reclaim his life.

After reading the novel of the same name by E. Annie Proulx, which was hilarious, I'll make a point of seeing this movie. And while I'm there, I'll be looking for signs that Spacey has finally come back down to earth.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A refreshing commitment to cornball humour, 13 May 2001

After two forays into New York, it has taken awhile for North America's favourite Australian, Crocodile Dundee, to take the next logical step, but 13 years later there you have it: Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

The setting is different, but the same gentle tenor that resonated through the first two movies is still there. There are sequences involving Jaws-like crocodiles sending Great White Hunters scrambling for overhanging tree branches, naive Outback folk causing a traffic jam on the Los Angeles expressway to rescue a four-legged mate, and Crocodile himself relying on cat-like reflexes and a huge hunting knife to wage battle with a mechanical snake during a studio tour.

Personally, I like a little more edge and development to my humour -- you could see the cliche-driven jokes coming from, well, a mile away -- but you have to give Hogan credit for daring to more or less stick with what has worked for him in the past.

There aren't many comedians these days who dare to extract a few yucks simply by trying to master the remote control. Hogan doesn't stop there. Crocodile and his beau, big city reporter Sue Charlton, played by Hogan's wife, Linda Kozlowski, now have a son, Mikey, played by Serge Cockburn. Gasp! A family movie? Well, not quite. There is enough swearing and coarse language for a PG rating. That said, even the bad guys are fairly tame in the sense that, for once, they don't kill anyone, although they certainly like to wave the hand guns.

A wise move was also made by bringing Crocodile's biggest rival but best mate, Jacko, played by Alec Wilson, along for the trip. They work well off each other as they explore such features of modern life as drive-throughs and crosswalks.

It also would have been nice if a few more of Crocodile's mates had come along for the ride, but it appears that there were some budget constraints to consider. Not only were the number of characters with speaking parts kept fairly low, but it also looks like they went a little cheap on the filming -- this movie has a very washed-out look.

Nonetheless, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles is a pleasant change from the parade of such gag-inducing flicks as See Spot Run, Saving Silverman, and Tomcats. (And talk about washed-out looks).

Could it be that Hogan made this movie not so much to launch a comeback as to make a statement? One thing is for sure: Hogan remains true to his beliefs -- a genuine guy, as they say in the Great White North.

An enjoyable action flick, 18 November 2000

Following on the abysmal End of Days, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger played an alcoholic cop who took on an incredibly wimpy Satan, the Austrian Oak has definitely bounced back with his latest cinematic effort, The 6th Day.

Set in the near future, Ahhnold plays Adam Gibson, a humble helicopter pilot and family man, who finds himself pitted against the evil forces that lurk behind Reproductive Technologies, a firm that has gone outside the bounds of the law by secretly cloning human beings.

To make a long story short, a case of mistaken identity causes Reproductive Technologies to accidently clone Gibson, leading to a scene where he peers through the front window of his house to witness his exact duplicate celebrating his birthday with friends and family. Making matters worse, a crew of cloned thugs are out to kill him before he goes to the law with his damning evidence.

Anyone looking for a philosophical treatise on the ethics of human cloning will be sorely disappointed. About the closest we get is a bit of mind-gaming regarding whether or not he's the real thing or the clone.

But if you like action flicks, The 6th Day is one of the best to hit the screen in recent times. For once, I got to witness a well-choreographed and imaginative car chase, to go along with a pile of stunts involving high-performance helicopters, laser guns, and bursting cloning tanks.

There is also some fun that revolves around the baddies. Our hero discovers that even when he does get the better of one of them, it's only a matter of a couple of hours before said victim is brought back to life. This leads to a series of trademark groaners that have become synonomous with Schwarzenegger characters. `Try to stay dead this time,' he tells a clone just after breaking his neck.

There's also a good running joke with one of the clones who keeps feeling the injuries suffered during previous incarnations. When he's not chasing down Gibson, he's complaining about his tight chest caused by being run over by a car not once but twice.

A `Vancouver Special,' The 6th Day provides a glimpse into what the Terminal City could look like in the near future. If this movie is right, (which, of course, it won't be) GM Place will become a giant police station and the Vancouver Public Library will become the home of Reproductive Technologies.

Also, we'll be driving around in vehicles we won't have to steer, we'll be buying an incredibly annoying talking doll for our daughters, and we'll be cloning recently-deceased pets before the kids find out allowing parents to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable issue.

The 6th Day is more in the tradition of Total Recall than the Terminator series, although not so grandiose as that movie about Schwarzenegger's trip to Mars. In other words, he's back on his home turf, making the kinds of movies that make in entertainment what they lack in acting.

Don't believe the big-name critics, Pay It Forward is worth seeing, 11 November 2000

Visualize the idea behind the bumper sticker `Commit Random Acts of Kindness' and you pretty much have the idea behind the movie `Pay It Forward.'

Haley Joel Osment (the kid from Sixth Sense) plays Trevor McKinney, an 11-year-old literalist who takes to heart an assignment from his social studies teacher: `Think of an idea to change our world -- and put it into ACTION!'

Trevor devises a kind of reverse multi-level marketing scheme (also known as a legalized pyramid scam) in which he does three profound favours for three people, and, in the spirit of a certain shampoo commercial, they each do likewise for three more people, and so on and so on and so on.

Trevor starts with trying to help a down-and-out drug addict and then moves on to trying to set up his social studies teacher, Eugene Simonet, played by Kevin Spacey (the dad from American Beauty) with his mother, Arlene, played by Helen Hunt (the wife from Mad About You).

What unfolds is a sort of modern-day fairy tale. Instead of a knight in shining armour, Spacey plays a bookish, distant, and highly-ordered middle-aged man who bears severe burn scars to his face and body. Instead of the beautiful princess, Hunt plays a single-mom struggling to kick the bottle while holding down two jobs -- in a casino and a strip joint.

Things don't go necessarily to plan in Trevor's eyes. But unbeknownst to him, he sets off a domino effect that stretches from Las Vegas to Los Angeles where reporter Chris Chandler, played by Jay Mohr (the ruthless player's agent in Jerry MacGuire) benefits in the form of a new Jaguar and decides to work his way back up the chain to the source.

There are some flaws. At the risk of sounding like your typical English teacher, the characters are less than well-rounded, which gives this movie a somewhat distant feel. And just like Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Hunt is simply too soft and, well...wimpy, to be convincing in her role as a woman who's entire life has been spent struggling on the wrong side of the Las Vegas tracks.

Finally, the ending is just plain stupid. It's almost as if, after the success of Sixth Sense, Osment's agent demanded a trick ending and this was the best they could come up with, ruining a somewhat convincing argument for altruism in the process.

Still, Pay It Forward is worth seeing, despite what many of the big named critics will attest. Yes, it can be overly-sentimental and manipulative, but there are plenty of memorable moments to make up for the downside.

True to Hollywood formula, this movie will make you laugh, make you cry, and, to an extent, it will become a part of you. Hey Roger Ebert! Hey, National Post! What's wrong with that?

A funny look at one of life's rites of passage, 5 November 2000

As far as life's stressful moments go, meeting the immediate family of a significant other for the first time can be like going for a bungy-jump or a skydive -- in all likelihood you'll escape unscathed, but there still is a chance that something could go horribly awry.

In the tradition of horribly awry, Meet the Parents takes that rite of passage and turns everything up a few notches. On one side we have Ben Stiller playing a male nurse with the unfortunate name of Greg Focker who wants to marry Pam Byrnes, played by Teri Polo. And on the other, we have Robert DeNiro as Jack Byrnes, Pam's father, a straight-laced ex-CIA operative who is more than just naturally protective.

It's tough enough as it is to come to terms with a man who spent 19 months in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, makes everyone synchronize their watches, and uses hidden cameras to keep virtually every the entire house under surveillance.

But the father of Greg's sweetheart is not the only hurdle to overcome.

There's an ex-boyfriend of Pam's, played by Owen Wilson (who starred opposite Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon) who is everything that Greg is not, namely rich and one of her father's buddies.

There's the soon-to-be husband of Pam's sister, played by Nicole DeHuff, and the family she's marrying into. Collectively, James Redborn, Thomas McCarthy, and Phyllis George play the Banks family, in which the men have become successful doctors and mercilessly remind Greg of this fact at every opportunity.

There's also Atlantic American Airlines, which lost the luggage that not only contains the engagement ring that Greg intends to present to Pam but all of his clothes. Thusly, Greg is forced to borrow some duds from Pam's dope-smoking teenage brother, played by Jon Abrahams, which leads to an unpleasant situation.

Finally, there's Greg himself. His judgment impaired by vows to do without cigarettes and sex for 72 hours, he resorts to deception and deceit to find a place within Jack's `ring of trust' only to see his spur-of-the-moment plans turn against him.

Throw in some bad plumbing, the power of electricity, and Jinx, Jack's prized pet cat and what follows is a near-natural procession of laughs.

Some drawn to the show by the trailers may be in for a bit of a disappointment as the effect of the gags is more that of a pleasant chuckle than the side-splittingly outrageous, in sharp contrast to Something About Marry, which also starred Stiller.

But for others, the mild brand of humour may be refreshing, and there was an underlying dramatic to keep movie-goes in their seats. Will Greg Focker win the hand of Pam? Or more to the point, exactly how is he going to pull himself out of a very deep hole?

Meet the Parents is no comedic landmark, but it's a fun, well-casted movie about an experience that we must all endure to some degree at some time or other.

Not much to Disney's Remember the Titans beyond a feel-good afterglow, 28 October 2000

Snore! Count me among the few who see Remember the Titans as too bland to bother with.

About a high school football team going through the conflicts and controversies brought on by integration, we learn that (gasp!) racism is bad, and that by setting aside petty differences and working together, state championships can be won. Boy, those folks at Disney certainly go out on limbs.

Yes, these are lessons that are worth repeating and repeating often, and what better way to do so than through the medium of film? But please, let's account for at least a degree of intelligence amongst the movie-going public.

Particularly contrived was a scene in which the entire team is forced to go out on a 3 a.m. run which just so happens to include a stop at Gettysburg, allowing Denzel Washington to show the irony of their quarreling ways. It was enough to make Lincoln groan.

Washington, by the way, plays coach Herman Boone, a black man who has moved to Alexandria, Virginia to take over the T.C. Williams Titans. Integration applied to more than just the students it seems, for Boone is part of an unfriendly takeover of the Titans from beloved and winning white coach Bill Yoast, played by Will Patton.

Yoast swallows his pride and agrees to stay on as a defensive coordinator. Boone, meanwhile, learns that if he loses so much as just one game, he'll be fired, putting an unfair burden onto the already difficult job of holding together a team wracked with dissension.

Will Yoast do the right thing, or will he undermine Boone to get his job back? And what about the white captain of the team, played by Ryan Hurst? Forced by his girlfriend and his mother to make a choice between supporting coach Boone and remaining a bigot, which way will he turn?

What follows is procession of testosterone-driven male bonding and expressions of racism-in-the-deep-South that have been done a thousand times before in a thousand previous movies. There's the mama jokes in the locker room, there's the brick thrown through Boone's window, there's the psycho-linemen bashing helmets, there's the black guys who walk into the unfriendly bar, there's the endless rounds of Knute Rockne speeches, there's the berserk, sign-wielding white parents protesting bussing. And this being a Disney movie, there's the Mouse Factory's patented precocious, youngster, courtesy of Hayden Panettiere, who plays Yoast's daughter, a smarter-than-the-adults football-know-it-all before her time.

Finally, for a movie that is supposed to encourage us to look beyond stereotypes, there sure are a lot of them. There is not a black guy who can't sing, and not a white guy who can dance, except for the quarterback, and only because he hails from California.

About the only thing close to interesting is the star black running back, played by Donald Adeosun Faison, and the treatment he receives from the two coaches. Fast and full of moves, but not one to take criticism well, he becomes a source of conflict between Yoast, a popular players coach, and Boone, a short-tempered disciplinarian.

Of course, this being a Disney flick, the laughs will outnumber the heartaches, the depth of thought will remain steadfastly in the shallow-end, and the two hours of predictability will be rewarded by that cherished feel-good afterglow. Such is the Mouse's guarantee.

Get Carter (2000)
Fails on many levels, 21 October 2000

Don't let all that macho guts and gore fool you. There is a degree of symbolism hidden within the movie Get Carter that is there to see for all those who have consumed enough popcorn and soft drink to induce the kind of deep and perceptive thought that only a junk food rush can bring.

Starring Sylvester Stallone as a Las Vegas mob enforcer, it opens with our hero chasing down and then pounding into a pulp a deadbeat debtor, while uttering such tough-guy witticisms as `Shut up, or I'm gonna take this to the next level.'

`What's that? Some kind of catch-phrase?' observes the alert but lippy victim, displaying his aptitude for remembering slogans from commercials for video game makers. Never one to waste words, Stallone replies by transforming his client so much hamburger.

Think of the deadbeat debtor as the personifying strong dialogue and you pretty much have captured the tenor of this movie. Barely five minutes into this flick and Sly has once again established that he won't be appealing to the art-house crowd.

Of course, Stallone has always been about action, but even on that count he falls woefully short of potential. Indeed, this remake of the 1970 British movie of the same name fails on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to start. So let's begin with location.

In the original, which starred Michael Caine, London-based tough guy Jack Carter returns home to the rough-and-tumble of Newcastle for his brother's funeral where he discovers that the death was something other than accidental. Nasty with a capital N, Carter uses his fists and firearms to exact revenge on the killers once he's gathered enough facts to know what really happened.

The remake follows pretty much the same line except that, of all places, it's set in Seattle. Even at the best of times, it would be a challenge to bring out the seamy side of a city known more for computer geeks, slackers, and coffeehouses. And nothing in this movie does anything to alter that image as, the wrong side of the Emerald City's tracks consists of but a single bar owned by a nervous British ex-pat, Cliff Bumby, played with listlessness by a much older and softer Caine.

To set the mood, we get Seattle's rain instead of Newcastle's industrial grittiness. And once again, it backfires. Rather than creating a sense of threat and foreboding, the weather does more to reinforce the greyness and dullness of the storyline. A game of Clue has more twists and turns.

Matters aren't helped by a half-hearted attempt to add some complexity to the main character. Multiple-images, white flashes, fast-forwards, and Stallone rubbing his temples pass for psychological angst caused by the guilt surrounding his brother's death and an extraneous love-affair he's having with the mob-boss's woman.

Likewise, the scenes in which he bonds with his niece, played by Rachel Leigh Cook, are also pointless. Meant to show that the tough guy has a soft-side, they're just plain boring.

In fact, about the only time that Stallone comes to life is when he has a crusade. Upon learning that the same people who killed his brother are also responsible for his niece's rape, he finally has clarity of purpose. With guns blazing and arms swinging, he becomes a one-man army taking on the Internet pornography industry, which amounts to four people in the crime-ridden Northwest.

Get Carter is just further proof that Stallone, despite his best efforts, is forever stuck in an endless cycle of simple redemption flicks. I suspect that the better option would be to tape the original if and when it's on late-night television, or rent the similarly-titled and themed, but much more entertaining Get Shorty.


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