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vmcdavidson

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8 reviews in total 
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Well-intentioned, but unsatisfying, 19 May 2001
8/10

Competent performances by Halle Berry and Jessica Lange, and as is expected, Samuel L. Jackson is engaging. The young title character (Marc John Jeffries) is believable and winsome. The film's topic, interracial adoption, is emotional and contemporary. It has all the signs of a sure winner.

But somehow, it misses the mark. We are never truly drawn into these people's lives; we never truly care. Oh, yes, we want to care - very much. But much of the film is two-dimensional, flat. It has a languid "movie-of-the-week" aura about it. The script is too light on pertinent dialogue, not enough guts. Even the awaited court hearing, where the two "mothers" battle for custody of Isaiah, lacks enough emotional tension.

This is not a bad movie, but it's not as good as it could have been. And it's not all that apparent why.

Spy Kids (2001)
Rodriquez: Kid-Flick Genius?, 15 April 2001
9/10

Robert Rodriquez, keep it up.

Parents are so tired of wincing at the double entendres, scatology, lame and retreaded plots, and sassy child actors with smug Eddie Murphy-style comebacks in the current kiddie film wasteland. Not only are parents tired of it, but many had given up on attending films in the theater all together. Better to rent an old, safe Disney flick or tape something from PBS.

A realization, though, is now hot on the lips of Hollywood execs - a realization spearheaded by Rodriquez - that if a quality family film is created for children that is not a vulgar embarrassment or a chance for a quick nap for bored parents with their offspring in tow, paying audiences will attend. Gee whiz. Imagine that...

Rodriquez is a man of vision, a man of family values, and a man of hands-on follow-through. According to the "LA Times," he not only wrote, directed, and co-produced "Spy Kids," he was also the editor and camera operator, and shared credit as music composer, visual-effects supervisor, and rerecording mixer. He reportedly flew to Chile to personally shoot background film footage. He concocted several of the astonishing spy gizmos used in the film. Did I mention that he is a working maniac?

Latinos not only dominate the main cast of this film, but most are the good guys. This is an understated but positive sign that negative stereotypes in film may be crumbling.

Imaginative, spirited, fast-paced, family-oriented, and highly amusing (a lot of it is just delightfully weird), "Spy Kids" is a must-see for elementary school-aged audiences (OK, many older kids will love it, but they won't let on). The kids in the film act refreshingly like normal kids, the parents like loving parents - it's all tied together with a delectable espionage angle. Most films released to theaters for children are "quick-to-video" - this one won't be.

Robert Rodriquez - keep it up, and the families will come.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Memorable performance by Susan Oliver, 22 August 2000
7/10

Provocative-for-the-time B-film, with a memorable performance by winsome Susan Oliver as a tough young woman in a woman's prison. This film is more watchable than most B/W B-films of the 1950s, and concludes with a gripping, shocking climax. Watch this on video as a fun escape/indulgence on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a steaming cup of Suisse Mocha...

The Kid (2000)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
For Kids or Adults? Movie Unsure of What to Be, 13 August 2000
7/10

When Bruce Willis (as Russ) is stifled from unleashing his trademark string of jubilant profanities or donning his irreverent, naughty-boy sneer against European bad guys, his characterization takes on the single note of... snooze. His character has been inexplicably selected by the fates to be visited by HIMSELF, although an almost-8-year-old self (known as Rusty). Over the years, Russ's "inner child" has been squashed, and he's grown up to be a surly, humorless, and friendless image consultant (irony likely intended); his pudgy child-self reminds him of his past humiliations and geekiness, and much of the film is spent with him barking nastily at the boy for being... a kid. The movie is a tepid quest to find out why the Russ-boy is there.

From a child filmgoer's perspective, this muddles through with a few amusing gags, but not enough of them to sustain my 7-year-old's attention for 1 hour and 40-plus minutes. The "loss of the inner child" theme is too esoteric to click with kids. From an adult's perspective, I was more preoccupied with who kept Bruce/Russ's glass mansion so clean. From the get-go, it's so yawningly obvious how the film will end, you're sure that there will be a bread-crumb trail of heartwarming revelations or clever, sweet comedy as the movie progresses; however, there is none.

Russ is a bore. Without Bruce's "yippy-yi-kayay" bravado from his previous action films or his snappy, cynical dialogue from the olden days of "Moonlighting," his Russ character is not compelling for viewers of any age. He's a middle-aged sourpuss who makes gobs of money and has a twitching eye, but is a loser to little Rusty (and filmgoers) because he doesn't have a wife, or a dog, or any dimension. Only Lily Tomlin's underrated performance as Russ's put-upon secretary makes this half-way watchable. But tell that to a 7-year-old squirming restlessly in his theater seat.

It Still Rocks, 12 August 2000
7/10

Compelling and bizarre, this sexual rock musical still rocks. More than 25 years old, its original cult followers are now grandparents, but that doesn't diminish the film's distinctive style and music. Stretching credibility at times, the plot of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" shows little age or dust, and was produced when no one had heard of young talents Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, or Tim Curry. Better seen on the big screen than at home, where movie theaters still have audiences showing up decked out in the weird costumes of the film's stars.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Grown-ups are a dull letdown, 12 August 2000
7/10

In this coming-of-age story set in both the 1970s and 1990s, the younger cast is brilliant and natural, particularly Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffmann. The script soars with female teenage humor, friendship, and pre-puberty naivete -- a sprightly soundtrack of 70s tunes takes older viewers down memory lane. But then, just when the story about four best friends during summer vacation in a new housing development is clipping along at a compelling pace, SLAM! The film jumps forward 20 years and the girls are grown-ups. And at these points, the movie groans along like a garbage disposal with too many potato peels crammed in it.

Remarkably, the dismal acting of these veteran actresses isn't as bad as the lack-luster script during these "flash-fronts". Were there separate writers for this film? I usually adore Rosie O'Donnell, but casting her as the grown Roberta was a horrible choice. Demi Moore's character is now self-absorbed and self-pitying, and Melanie Griffin (super-famous actress) and Rita Wilson (pregnant homemaker) are insipid caricatures. None of these women are one-quarter as interesting or delightful as they were when they were adolescents, particularly Roberta (Ricci/O'Donnell). The film's flipping back and forth between the decades becomes quickly annoying.

Suggestion: Rent the video, and fast-forward through the adult stuff. Fast-forwarding the tape won't rob anyone of the film's message (something like "friendship is forever," or "don't go into cemeteries at night"), and it'll save you about 30 minutes of fidgeting, waiting for the film to turn back to the four girls. At least they have fun. And the treehouse they save up to buy is every girl's idea of truly cool!

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Marvel in Dance, Music, and Emotions, 15 April 2000
10/10

This Oscar-winning film bubbles over with the best of Leonard Bernstein's high-energy music and Jerome Robbins' innovative jazz-ballet choreography. It stirs the winsome performance of Natalie Wood as the Puerto Rican ingenue Maria (no matter that Wood doesn't provide her own singing and is not much of a dancer -- she is breathtakingly perfect in the role) in a doomed romance on the desperate blue-collar streets of New York -- the result is cinema magic. And heartbreak.

Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" served as the framework for the original stage script. Filmed on location, "West Side Story" is a brilliant musical and contains powerful performances from Rita Moreno and George Chakiris (both won Oscars). Its songs, particularly "Somewhere," "Tonight," and "America," are haunting classics.

"West Side Story" was very cutting-edge with its superb dance numbers and its unflinching treatments of prejudice, murder, and love lost -- it still is relevant, maybe even more so, in today's world. Entertaining and tragic, it's a strong film that is suitable for most ages.

Fail Safe (2000) (TV)
14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Golden Era of Television Returning?, 15 April 2000

Haunting in stark black-and-white, "Fail Safe" may not match blow-for-blow the devastating impact the 1964 version made on me, but it came very close.

My respect for George Clooney continues to grow. The former "E.R." hunk pushed for this project to be performed live, and he is proving to be a trailblazer in contemporary television. His family's deep roots in entertainment have given him the insight and passion to champion television of yesteryear. Several seasons back, it was Clooney's lobbying efforts that brought a live performance of "E.R." to the air waves.

This production of "Fail-Safe" was truly exquisite. What a thrill it would be for classic TV/film buffs to have similar live productions air -- scripts used on the 1950s "Playhouse 90" or those penned by Rod Serling, such as "Patterns," would be a good beginning. With the amount of insipid viewing options available today, shaking a little dust off other older quality shows would expose a new generation to the zenith of 1950s and 1960s television. "Fail Safe" was nearly perfect; the Cold War storyline still holds up as riveting drama in the year 2000. And it was all the more effective performed live and in the oft-ignored B/W.

The one disappointing flaw was Richard Dreyfuss in the role of the president. As fine an actor as Dreyfuss is, he was sadly miscast. He lacked the strength and leadership expected of a major world leader. In the original production, Henry Fonda was far more convincing and commanding. Better choices would have been Tommy Lee Jones or Billy Bob Thornton or Edward James Olmos. As the production progressed, I found myself visibly wincing at Dreyfuss's wimpy performance, particularly at the film's final emotional crescendo. He seemed too casual, more whiney, than someone trying to avert worldwide nuclear disaster would be. He came across often as annoyed, rather than alarmed.

However, the other supporting cast members -- George Clooney, Brian Dennehy, Harvey Keitel, Hank Azaria, Noah Wyle, James Cromwell, and Sam Elliott -- were superb in their roles. Wyle was astonishingly effective as the youthful translator -- his performance matched in strength that of a youthful Larry Hagman in the original film.

If you missed seeing "Fail Safe" (2000), buy or rent a video tape of it -- while it won't hold the same magic as seeing it live, seeing it at all is an imperative for those who savor fine television, or just want good, gripping story-telling.