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An excellent conspiracy-drama.
A quick-moving serial drama, "Traveler" is one of ABC's new summer-season shows... and from the preview premiere that aired May 10th, it looks extremely promising.
Jay, Tyler, and Will are grad students on the cusp of embarking on a two-month long summer roadtrip, stopping off in New York for one last night of the high life before they begin driving. Events unfold, however, that place the trio smack dab in the middle of a terrorist attack, and subsequently they're considered the prime suspects and pursued by the authorities.
But things are a bit more complex than they seem, and the problems continue to become more and more labyrinthine as the premiere goes on. A mix of modern political thriller, post-9/11 conspiratorial mystery, and well-constructed eye candy, "Traveler" promises to be a solid entry into ABC's roster of productions. I know I'll be watching once the show premieres in late May.
Angstily directed, but...
Unfortunately, a very predictable film. Though Ms. Holmes does a fine job -- as, arguably, does pretty much everyone involved in this film -- the script is astonishingly predictable to anyone who's familiar with the formulae of movie-writing. If you've seen either "Fight Club" or "A Beautiful Mind", you'll guess the "surprise twist" a mile away.
Anyways. Nice sets, good overall sense of tension, solid cinematography... but the script was sadly lacking and derivative, and the pace of the film seemed slow. 5/10.
Nice stunts, but overall weak.
Although Vin Diesel has a great deal of star power, he needs to choose his new roles better, in my opinion. "XXX" was hackneyed, poorly scripted tripe which had the slight benefit of decent special effects and lots of explosions. The production design was lame, the costuming decent, and the character interaction laughably bad.
For a good spy thriller, catch "Alias" and skip "XXX".
George Lucas, it should be noted, has gotten some things right in "Attack of the Clones". He minimized the screen time of most of the more offensive and irritating characters from Episode I -- namely (Rastafarian refugee) Jar Jar Binks and the (Nipponese Empire) Trade Federation executives. He also managed to jettison cutesy Jake Lloyd.
Unfortunately, he also dumped most of the good lightsaber fights, and kept his wooden directorial style. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor -can- do fantastic acting work, as evidenced in movies like "Trainspotting" and "The Professional" and "Beautiful Girls". But with a cliche-ridden, shallow script and a decrepit fool in the director's chair, even the best of actors and actresses are dragged down into the mud.
Co-written by Lucas and Jonathan ("The Scorpion King") Hales, the script has all the energy of three-day-old roadkill. It's rife with cheesy slapstick bits, recycled dialogue, and predictable plotting. The special effects are serviceable, but fairly obvious to anyone with an experienced eye. The lightsaber duels are pedestrian compared to the dynamic, quick-moving duels of "The Phantom Menace" (or even of "The Empire Strikes Back"), with the slight acrobatic exception of Yoda, master of Jedi-Fu.
Lucas needs to be chained up well away from the typewriter and director's chair. Give someone else the basics to write from, and let someone else helm the next episode. Perhaps those others can move the series away from the less-than-impressive spectacles that Lucas's meddling has brought to pass. After all, it worked for "The Empire Strikes Back".
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
One of the five finest films of 2001.
Exciting, humorous, longing, tension-filled, cute... Pixar's new "Monsters Inc." covers an enormous range of emotions in the course of its hour-and-a-half running time. Frankly, it feels quite a bit longer than that -- the movie absolutely draws you in.
John Sullivan ("Sully" - voiced by John Goodman) and Mike Koslowski (voiced by, of all people, Billy Crystal!) are the top "scaring" team at Monsters Inc. -- a major company in another dimension, where the society is powered by the energy contained in kids' screams. To ensure that there is power to run Monstropolis' everyday society, the Monsters need to keep scaring kids and getting those screams -- "We scare because we care" is the corporate slogan, showing that M.I. is the driving force behind that dimension's economy and society.
Close behind Sully and Mike, though, is the treacherous Randall (voiced by Steve Buscemi), a multi-limbed chameleon-like monster with a scheme to top Sully and Mike and keep the company in the black. Naturally, things start to go wrong when a human child from the other side manages to get into the Monster's dimensions... particularly since common knowledge holds that kids are actually toxic and poisonous to monsters!
You'll gasp in awe, you'll be convulsed with laughter, and you'll smile sadly at the amazing visions, witty humor, and brilliant storyline. I cannot recommend this film enough; I'd go see it multiple times at full price in the theaters.
(This is, of course, helped by the "introductory" animation -- a hilarious piece called "For the Birds". *grin*)
P.S. - my guess is that Pixar put together their standard run of "bloopers" for the film, to be run during the credits, but are holding the new credits back a month or so to get people to come and see the film again during the Christmas season. I'm pretty certain I will!
Wong Fei Hung (1991)
Pretty good, but not great.
Although the fu is powerful in this Jet Li vehicle, the plotline is slow as molasses and easier to read than your average elevated-train map. "Oh, I cannot break the law, I must remain in my cell and be judged. Wait, you say my cousin is in danger? Wong Fei-hung to the rescue!" Predictable and unimpressive. Additionally, the acting was shallow even for a kung fu movie. I've seen porn films that emoted more effectively than the actors found here.
Anyone who claims "this is the best kung fu movie ever!" is culturally deprived, and needs to be exposed to better works like Enter the Dragon, Fist of Legend (the 1995 version with Jet Li), and The Legend of Drunken Master. All three are vastly superior to this, even though the kung fu was quite solid. Only 6/10, for having decent fight scenes but not straying an iota from the age-old wuxia cliches.
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Never before had I seen such astonishing computer animation, such intriguing concepts, such intrigue and mystery, and such solid humor worked into a concept which could've gone down in flames. I had a wonderful time stretching my imagination! ... and then the previews for "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" and "Shrek" ended, and the horrid spectacle that was "Dungeons & Dragons" began. It had so, sooooooo many shortcomings, I can hardly begin to list them, but I'll try.
A composer who thinks that rousing emotions in the audience through music should be done, not gently, but with a sledgehammer. The music was virtually always inappropriate and blatantly manipulative.
Someone needs to inform Jeremy Irons that he is not Jerry Lewis or Robin Williams' impression of Jerry Lewis. Someone needs to inform Bruce Payne that he is not, nor will he ever be, Ray Park. Someone needs to inform Zoe McClellan that she ain't Madonna, and should leave the anatomically correct breastplates somewhere else. Someone needs to inform Tom Baker (the King of the Elves), Topper Lilien, and Carroll Cartwright (the scriptwriters) that they owe Yoda and George Lucas usage fees for the blatantly stolen message. Someone needs to inform the costuming department that they could go to a Renaissance Faire or SCA event and get better costumes. Someone needs to point Danny Braet (head of visual effects) and the rest of the special effects department towards little-known films like "Dragonheart" and "Jurassic Park" to see how reptiles are well-represented by special effects. Someone -really- needs to get a clue as to script consistency (as in, differing effects from the same causing spell... why does the spell-passage stay open on the receiving end in one case, yet close in between arrivals in another?) and relative plausibility (if the bloody antagonist can control beholders, what the hell is he doing bothering with dragons?!?). Finally, someone needs to track down the director, shoot him dead, dismember him, and bury the parts in widely scattered unmarked graves.
On the other hand, Lee Arenberg did a solid job with the material he was given. And it's great to MST3K pretty much the entire film. : ) At one point, the guy I went to the movie with leaned over after one of my comments and said "Stop that!"
I wittily replied, "Stop what?"
"Stop being funnier than the movie!"
I'd rate it 2 out of 10, and that only because you can MST3K away to your heart's delight.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
What complete drek...
You want the truth about this film?
It's a two-and-a-half-hour nature documentary, with occasional references to WWII thrown in. Too many characters, brief plotlines that the audience is never taken back to, no real characterization (hell, we never get to meet the soldiers long enough; they all blend together), and a ton of pretentious sitting on hills pondering navels and the nature of the universe.
Quite possibly one of the worst novel-to-movie adaptations I've ever read, even though the book was nothing to brag about. Try renting "L.A. Confidential" instead... it's far better than this ridiculous trash.
I saw it at matinee and still thought I paid too much. Don't waste your time or your money.
The Replacements (2000)
A refreshing change from most "comedies"...
Judging by some of the other comments I've read, I must be one of the few who prefers actual humor and irony in my movies as opposed to the recent spate of over-raunchy jokes on bodily functions and obesity. I actually found "The Replacements" to be a solid, enjoyable comedy.
Sure, it's a bit formulaic. But it's less obtrusively offensive than most of the "innovative new comedies" which have been released recently. The sports scenes are solidly done, injecting the suspense which is often felt when watching actual games. Of course, given the status of the movie as a Hollywood flick it was bound to come out with the underdogs on top. Watching the team get there is half the fun.
Solid camraderie, fairly good characterization, actual humor (as opposed to "Ewwwwwww! *nervous laughter*"), and an excellent soundtrack all work together to make this a great, enjoyable film. Catch it at the theaters... at matinee, if possible, but it's still worth it for full price anywhere but California. One word, in closing:
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Pretty good, but...
... it could have been a bit more believable. In the first film, adrenaline and action was sacrificed upon the altar of (dubious and semi-comprehensible) plot and (Brian DePalma's lackluster definition of) "style". Unlike many others whose posts I've read, I didn't care for M:I-1. It was slow and unstylish, despite the director's desires... and whoever did the research for the Internet sequences fubar'd them with cheesy, low-tech AOL-looking images.
M:I-2 had the style that the first film was missing. Settings and technology in this film actually appeared to be slick-tech, and portions of THIS film where certain characters were breaking into high-security areas weren't handled in as poor a fashion as the first. (Poisoned coffee? Sensors which don't register the sound of keyboard typing, which is certainly louder than a whisper? And above all, being able to hack into CIA's security systems? Has no one heard of a firewall?) Where M:I-2 lost my suspension of disbelief was the numerous car explosions (those not caused by plastique, anyways), proof that all film terrorists must be buying their automobiles from Yugo. =)
For the most part, M:I-2 was more coherent in style and comprehensibility, even if (or perhaps because?) it was possessed of a simpler and more linear plot than the first. The action sequences were better conceived and filmed (it amazes me that people can be impressed by the poor-effects, yawnable "hook the helicopter to the train" schtick). Overall, Woo is a far more capable director than DePalma seems to have become (with his last three directorial efforts, M:I-1, Snake Eyes, and Mission to Mars being particularly unentertaining).
As for performances -- Tom Cruise turns in a decent performance, for an action movie. =) Dougray Scott is fairly solid as the villain. Thandie Newton is, well, passable as a "master thief", although I wish she'd had more opportunity to show off her skills instead of simply being a face on screen. That complaint also applies to most of the remaining support cast, but then, they ARE supporting cast. M:I-2 is definitely a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, but in my opinion it's a fairly fun one.
My rating: 8/10. But be sure to see it in a theater with good sound; it'll lose something on video or in a venue where the speakers aren't high-quality.