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funny, smart, and moving film
My review is of the Region 2 DVD released in the UK (see diatribe at end...).
What Kickoff is is a truly funny, campy story of two soccer teams, a newly formed gay team up against an infamous team of one roidhead, drug addict, on-the-lam runner from the law, David Beckham wannabe "sissy," and a regular bloke with an inconvenient paternity problem. That's just the straight team. The gay team is full of great characters and other characters enter as the story proceeds. I'm too lazy to catalog them all but each character complements the story. None are just bodies filling space (like Keanu Reeves in almost anything...). What's most impressive about Kickoff is it deftly inserts "heavy" issues such as deadbeat dads, drug addiction, homophobia, throw-away kids, and ageism, among others, without bashing viewers on the head and maintaining the humor and humanity. I could quote so many lines IMDb's 1000 word max would be exceeded quickly so I won't. Sourpusses may point out the movie ends happily for virtually everyone, unlike life, but I ask what's wrong with happy, upbeat endings? Besides, it could happen!
Another abfab aspect is the hilarious use of "masculinity" and "effeminacy" by "the gays" and the str8 lads and even poor "Ephraim"/Elton!, the beleaguered ref. Archie, the gay team's captain, asks, while "not trying to push anybody back into the cupboard..." that "no one says 'fabulous' for the next hour," among other attempts to "pass," as it were. Then there are the pink ("fuschia!") outfits Archie's sweet little "partner" selects because fuschia is the color of "rage and passion." The straight team later decides to intimidate their rivals by making it clear (with "no words, no head-butting, and no pulling out a knife...") they know. Even crazy roid-raging Fitz(gerald Pomeroy) flits about and camps it up to perfection. Kudos to the entire cast for creating an ensemble of believable humans who turn a few stereotypes on their heads and in a few other directions. Here the obligatory confession the young men on and off the teams are all "lookers" and several shirtless for short periods and the team members sans shirts much of the movie. Visually attractive but the beefcake is only one small part of many others.
Kickoff is another movie produced outside the insular USA which most in the USA will probably not see. I'd LOVE to be mistaken. I'm lucky enough to have seen it and now own the DVD from the UK (which most DVD players in the USA won't play since they play only Region 1 NTSC formats). The DVD also has Special features worth watching (unlike too many DVDs produced here). A making of segment, the "Crossbar Challenge" where everyone kicks the ball at the goal cage (or the crossbar?) and "Getting Physical," about the actors physical preparation, plus a music video and the trailer. Each segment adds "value," as we capitalists say.
Kickoff should be released in North America, in theaters and on DVD. At least NetFlix or Amazon should pick it up, dammit!
Final note: Based on trailers and clips ordered Fit from amazon.uk today. Rikki Beadle Blair wrote and directed both and several of the same actors are in both movies. Do we have a modern equivalent to a real theatrical troupe? It would help explain how easily the characters make their world so real and credible.
Martian Child (2007)
We were all Martian children once
Of all the movies I've seen about human relations and emotions Martian Child is one of the best, bar none. Although totally unlike To Kill a Mockingbird (a classic) this film also makes me feel as if I've truly observed real people. Bobby Coleman plays Dennis, an abandoned child who creates his own world to block the pain and heartbreak. John Cusack is David, an affluent widower who considered adoption with his late wife (who died 2 years prior). He's approached by the social worker with whom he and his wife dealt before to consider taking Dennis in, and his initial response is an (almost) unequivocal "no." Dennis hides in a box all day and claims he's from Mars and is, of course, the butt of jokes and ridicule from peers and everyone else it seems. Why would David want to get involved with such a problem child? He doesn't but is drawn back to Dennis anyway.
After a few attempts at getting Dennis out of his box David decides to take the challenge. He remembers his childhood and although Dennis is light years ahead in eccentricity and isolation David remembers what it is like to be an outsider. What happens between them is touching and funny and seems perfectly plausible in context. David tries his best to help Dennis but Dennis proves to be one tough nut to crack (no pun...).
Dennis is in David's temporary custody so the child welfare personnel keep track of his success at becoming more "normal (odious word)." It seems they may take Dennis away because David hasn't done enough to bring Dennis down to earth (pun intended...). If anything the officials fear David may be encouraging Dennis to be the way he is, which is one crux of the story -- as David says in the interview before he takes Dennis in "If this little guy wants to believe he's from another planet who am I to argue?" David is torn between the knowledge Dennis must become better socialized but he doesn't want to make him "like everyone else." The end is, of course, a happy one and a bit rushed but it's a movie. Bobby Coleman and John Cusack make this movie work. Coleman is either a very eccentric little boy or a gifted actor (or both). Dennis never strikes a false note as the strange, troubled little boy who has shut everyone out and is too terrified to risk loving David.
One other pleasing element is subtle touches one might miss because they're not intentionally emphasized as would occur in many other movies (e.g., big close-up of a teardrop falling). One example is David and Dennis leaving David's sister's house after David and sis (played by Joan Cusack, of all people!) have argued. Dennis wanders over to a Xmas display on the neighbor's lawn and David walks toward him. David turns his back to Dennis to head to the car and his right hand is at his side. Dennis begins to take David's hand but David, without seeing this, puts his hands in his coat pockets. Dennis pauses and puts his hands in his pants pockets.
I've seen this film described as science fiction and that's nonsense. What does happen a couple of times is strange coincidences which add a touch of ambiguity but Dennis is a little person from earth, not Mars. He cannot make baseball teams win games nor can he taste colors but under the right circumstances these seem almost plausible. In one early scene Dennis wakes David up late at night and in the dark he actually does look a bit alien, with his small chalk-white face and squinting red eyes, but my cousin Doug looked like that as a child 40+ years ago.
Anjelica Huston has a wonderful cameo as the bitchy British publisher of David's books (he's a science fiction author, another "link" to Dennis). David was supposed to be writing a sequel to his last, best-selling book but writes the story of the movie itself. At a flashy gala he's supposed to give her the first draft but instead hands her "Martian Child" and she is not happy. She wants "Harry bloody Potter in space!" "Why can't you just be what we want you to be?" (the most obvious reference to conformity in the film) Her final scene is on a plane back to Europe, openly sobbing as she finishes "Martian Child," then smiling and clutching it to her chest. I feel the same way.
The Invasion (2007)
Just when I was tiring of Nicole...
Maybe it's good I read so many negative reviews before seeing The Invasion. It doesn't hurt two of my favorite actors, Jeremy Northam and Nicole Kidman, are in the film (Northam should have been the male lead), but since The Hours I haven't been that wild about any of her performances. Northam could read a phone book and keep one enthralled. Kidman gives a fresh and credible performance as the mother desperately trying to save her son from aliens who claim they have the answer to humanity's problems but want to kill the boy because he's genetically unable to become one of them. Anyone get the not-so-subtle irony?
I'm a big fan of the original '56 version and '78 re-make but not one made in the 90s (with one of the Tilly sisters and... someone else). I wouldn't expect anyone to try to match either for the incredible tension and real scares each still creates in its own way (the '78 version was as close as one might get to the original and a 3rd close remake would have been too close). This version's special effects are, to me, the best since the pods in '56 just look silly and even in the '78 version the transformation still looked pretty fake. The transformation scenes are creepy, especially at the beginning when Northam appears cocooned in his sleep. The movie jumps about in time right from the start so one is unsure if, for instance, Northam's nocturnal metamorphosis is real or imaginary until a few scenes later, in which he's clearly one of the pod people.
There are direct references to both previous films, such as retention of the lead character's name ('56 and '78) and occupation as a doctor ('56), and both love interests in the '56 and 2007 version are named Driscoll, and the Bel(l)icecs play much the same roles in all three versions. Best of all Veronica Cartwright (Nancy Bellicec in the '78 film) plays a patient of Kidman's who is also immune to the alien super-virus and apparently survives in both versions (well, in '78's finale it's unclear if she escapes Donald Sutherland's horrific pod person squeal to identify an extant human and in 2007 the viral pod peeps may off her as they want to kill the immune kid too...). There are two scenes in which terrified humans are trying to get cars driving by to stop but are ignored, also homages to both previous films. Too bad they couldn't get 90+ year old Kevin McCarthy to reprise his car-stopping cameo from the '78 version.
The 2007 movie is more subtly menacing and tension builds more slowly. While it's true there are no major scary scenes there are a few good jolts, such as when the chrysalis-pod person, in deep sleep, is jolted awake by a camera flash and dies due to the interruption. I also liked the ant-like sacrifice made by two people who jump from a building to their deaths, eliciting screams from some who are quickly descended upon (but just realized the jumping couple kiss before jumping, so they aren't pods... just inadvertent helpers). The drone-like actions of the 2007 pod people, who are often standing in seemingly idle but somewhat well-formed groups, are subtle and not as overtly menacing as the groups in the '78 film. As she's escaping from pod people she gets on a sparsely filled subway train, where the essential secret for human survival in all 3 films, "Don't show any emotion" is revealed to Kidman by another passenger.
The idea of sleep as catalyst of change involves only the REM stage, which explains why Kidman can fall asleep for a few minutes without being consumed. It's also an interesting twist because our bodies do undergo biochemical changes during sleep. The idea of REM sleep as trigger for the transformation is as credible as HIV attacking the very immune cells meant to destroy it, another elaborate cellular joke at the expense of human lives. The resolution also seems logical if a bit far-fetched, allowing those infected and changed to revert to their former genetic make-up and become human again.
The ending of the movie is actually closest to the end of the novel by Jack Finney upon which all three are based, but it's a little provocative and ambiguous as well. The world is cured and "back to normal," with 86 killed in Iraq on that particular day. The words of a Russian diplomat (whose transformation is the most graphic and startling) echo in Nicole's head at the end, posing the question the aliens may have been right in one sense. In their inhuman world there are no wars, no murders, no hatred, just a large colony of creatures who coexist, a utopian ideal if they could retain that which makes them human.
This wasn't a really great movie but it was good (and if Jeremy Northam had the larger male role it would probably have been much better...). It stands on its own as one of the better movies in the genre and more than enough is adopted/adapted from the earlier two films to satisfy its definition as a remake.
My biggest complaint is Kidman says "KLO ZE PAM" two or three times when the drug she's referring to is "KLO NAZ E PAM (i.e., clonazepam)" but the director or script-reader should have caught that.
Better than bad... much better
This may be the only Adam Sandler movie I've ever seen but I'm familiar enough with him. I'd never seen Kevin James in anything. I wasn't expecting much and this movie was a pleasant surprise on 2 fronts. 1) Sandler and James charade exposes them to the ridiculous homophobia still so prevalent in U.S. society. 2) the great take on the sissy boy -- James's father is supportive, if not always understanding, of his son and daughter as they are, even if the boy is a flaming stereotype homo kid. More than the lesson about tolerance of adult sexual orientation, the sissy son shows kids are different and should not be shoved into strict gender-defining terms, especially in regard to sexuality at an early age. The world would be a lot better for many children if they weren't forced into extremes at either end of masculine/feminine, male/female norms (or light skin/dark skin, upper class/lower class, rich/poor, theist/atheist, or other dichotomies).
As Ving Rhames's character says, once he comes out, "To thine own self be true."
It's a Boy Girl Thing (2006)
compared to what passes as comedy in the USA....
It's a Boy Girl Thing is a blooming masterpiece! Even without comparing it to US movies it's still a funny, intelligent, and even moving film.
I've read several negative remarks about how many references are made to male/female anatomy but they weren't gratuitous or as overdone as some have said. If you woke up in the body of the opposite gender wouldn't you be a tad surprised and dwell on the differences? Woody can't believe he has tits and Nell is terrified by the strange object sticking up in the middle of her bed. Even the last reference to anatomy is amusing since Woody's biological functions take hold while he's physically close to Nell and he, as Nell, is disgusted by the fact of adolescent erections. Come on, guys, we all know what it was like as a teenager when an embarrassing thing just popped up, so to speak, at the wrong time.
Sure body swap movies have been done but so have a zillion other genres. It's a Boy Girl Thing can hold its own with similar fare. Samaire Armstrong is especially good as "Woody," walking and moving and acting "like a guy" and Kevin Zegers is good also but his characterization is more understated. His walk, facial expressions, mannerisms, etc. change noticeably as Nell but it's more subtle.
It was pretty decently written and what it may have lacked in the script was compensated for by the main characters and the director. Some of the secondary characters were not as good as the rest but the parents, Nell and Woody, even brainless Breanna were believable.
One of the main aspects I like is the understanding Woody and Nell achieve when they literally walk in each other's shoes (yeah, OK, that's a plot device in many body swap movies but "what the heck?") . Nell realizes her animosity toward Woody is mostly snobbery and Woody sees his loutish behavior for what it is. They both realize they are better people than that. The scene with Woody/Nell asking Nell/Woody "How does it feel to be a cheap slut?" makes Woody really understand how Nell feels for the first time. Nell sees Woody's parents are decent humans who are not, as her mother thinks, objects of scorn because they are not well educated. Everything piles up on Woody when Nell's mother declares Woody is "stupid and a loser" and adds "You told me so" to Nell/Woody, causing Woody to see how his treatment of Nell has made her despise him. Also, unlike Nell, Woody sees he's always gone along with the crowd without much introspection.
Since the movie apparently spans only one week it's a bit of a stretch to expect characters to evolve so quickly but that's a minor quibble (they're both intelligent kids, anyway...). IABGT made me laugh and smile more than most new movies I've seen in ages. I'd watch it just for the bathroom scene when Woody/Nell remarks "Nice pen*s" to the guy standing next to him at the urinals. That has got to be one of the funniest scenes ever and a spot-on observation about (primarily) heterosexual male mores in our culture.
Of course it ends as it does -- what would one expect, a startling plot twist? Like they never return to their own bodies and Nell/Woody becomes a lesbian and Woody/Nell becomes a Catholic priest? Besides, the end is realistically and romantically different in that Nell decides to take a year sabbatical before starting Yale (much to her mother's dismay) so she and Woody have time to develop their relationship. Although it's not explicit it would seem Woody has made the same decision unless the "sh*tkicker" college he'll attend is local or very close to home. The end makes no sense if Nell is taking a year off and Woody is moving away to attend college.
But no one says "Fuck" even once!!
This is an intelligent, well-done thriller/horror story with emphasis on the thriller aspect. It doesn't contain any graphic violence, which is fine by me, yet it suggests gore and mayhem with a few cartoon-colored scenes that do the trick. The movie holds your interest as it tells the story of a prep school clique that plays a morbid practical joke on their fellow students. They spread an email message which claims the recent murder of a nearby town resident is just the first step of a serial killer called the Wolf, whose next victims will be among the students. It soon appears the joke is really happening after one of the group disappears and someone tries to attack Owen, the main character.
The plot builds steadily as you witness the Wolf apparently claiming victims and the joke-players slowly realize all is not well. Up until the final minutes you still think you know what's going on, 180 degrees twists and all. In the last five minutes you realize what actually occurred is completely different from what you thought, that something sinister happened and no one can do anything about it.
The actors are all good and the plot is much better than similar fare. This isn't the most frightening movie I've ever viewed but it is one of the best thrillers I've seen in a long time.
After reading a few reviews complaining Cry Wolf had a PG-13 rating instead of R I realized not one character said "Fuck" once, which is pretty rare for your standard R slasher/gorefest. I'm not a prude and god knows I say "Fuck" enough but it was pleasant not having it used in place of dialog in a "teen" movie for a change.
Incident at Loch Ness (2004)
as good as mockumentary gets
A friend told me to rent this DVD without telling me much more about it, and I think that's the best way to be introduced to the film.
First off, I'm one of those philistines who has never seen a Herzog film (I hate subtitles) but have some knowledge of his work and his standing as a director. One doesn't need to be a Herzog fan to enjoy this film but I am going to rent a few of his movies now because "Incident" piqued my interest.
The movie starts off very believably with Herzog preparing to go to Scotland to do a movie about Nessie, while at the same time another film-maker is doing a documentary on Herzog (and will follow him to Scotland to continue). This concept allows the audience to see everything going on during this time, giving us glimpses into Herzog's "life" otherwise unavailable.
Zak Penn, a screenwriter whose other work I'm not familiar with either, is producing the Loch Ness film with Herzog and has his own agenda(s) throughout, placing Herzog and Penn in direct conflict on numerous occasions. He plays a sleazy, lying, egocentric bastard wonderfully and almost too realistically (I really began hating him during the movie until I remembered he is an actor as well). One of the first disagreements is over cheesy jumpsuits Penn has had made for the crew (on which the word "Expedition" is misspelled) and Herzog refuses to wear his.
The doomed "film" unceasingly descends as participants begin to question Zak's motives and integrity and he pulls one trick after another in his attempt to make the Nessie documentary more sensation and marketable. One hysterical scene has Penn throwing a really, really crappy faux Nessie (which looks like papier mache covered with electrician's tape or something) into the loch and commanding an intractable Herzog to film it, going so far as to threaten Herzog with an empty flare gun.
One of my favorite lines is barely audible but I've replayed it repeatedly and chortle each time. About 2/3 through the movie the cameraman for the "Nessie documentary" quits and Penn asks Herzog to pick up the camera and Herzog refuses, saying he's never worked with such chaos. As Herzog walks off the boat onto the dock Zak mutters "At least we're not dragging the boat over a hill," which even I know is a "slap" at Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo.
I'm a big fan of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries but "Incident" is unlike those in that all of the characters are played seriously and at times it's hard to remember it's one elaborate hoax.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
special effects 10, plot 0
Although the special effects were truly amazing and believable, they were the only points of interest in this otherwise dull movie. Even the great actor Ian Holm had to phone in his part (literally). The rest of the characters were as flat as the billboard that (SPOLIER AHEAD!) splatters a Fox news reporter in one LA tornado scene.
Another gripe: the entire movie is about only the USA and what happens in L.A. and New York City. What about the rest of the world? Sure, there are a few references but some of those special effects could have shown the Eiffel Tower blowing over or Big Ben freezing or something. Judging from the cataclysmic events it seems all of Canada would be decimated but we never hear or see anything about that.
One amusing yet disturbing aspect is ALL television news stations depicted are Fox. The Weather Channel is thrown in once or twice, most amusingly at the end (SPOILER!) when the new U.S. President addresses us from TV, for some reason it's the Weather Channel broadcasting his speech to the "new world."
Finally, if anyone could bear it, the sequel "The Day After the Day After Tomorrow" could show how millions of people fleeing the northern hemisphere fare after making it to safety. Small matters such as housing and food and forging a new existence when you have nothing might be short on special effects but big on human interest.
The Bad Seed (1956)
a classic 50s Greek tragedy
What would you do if you discovered your pre-adolescent daughter had murdered at least three people? How would you feel if your fear of being adopted was true, and your real mother was a serial murderer, as is her grand-daughter?
This classic began as a novel and play in the 1950s and was fairly faithfully adapted to the screen (except for the ridiculous "moral" ending, tacked on by censors). The premise homicidal instincts might be inherited was shocking and controversial then, before Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacey made Rhoda's acts seem like child's play...
The production is rather stagy but that doesn't bother me. Nancy Kelly gets her money's worth of hand-wringing and hysterics, but put yourself in her shoes. Your daughter is a ruthless murderer and she inherited this trait from you. Even after you confront her with your growing knowledge she murders her third victim and he burns to death in front of your eyes. What's a mother to do?
Patty McCormack steals the show as calm, calculating, manipulative Rhoda, the charming, well-behaved little girl who acts the perfect child with most, unless you have something she _really_ wants. Relish her baleful stares, disturbingly candid remarks ("Why should I feel sorry? It was Claude Daig le got drowned, not me!"), and total indifference to the enormity of her actions, pounding "Au Claire de la Luna" on the piano to an almost unbearable volume and tempo to drown out her mother's screams.
All of the supporting cast is excellent, with Henry Jones and Eileen Heckart shining in their roles. Even dough-faced William Hopper (of TV's Perry Mason fame) manages to pull off his (luckily) small role as Rhoda's loving and completely duped father.
This movie can be viewed as a camp classic and you can laugh at Rhoda's hijinks and requisite reactions from Mom, or accept it as the melodrama it is and feel the increasing tension between Rhoda and her mother as the story unfolds to its inevitable conclusion (except for the tacked-on "end"). I do both depending on my mood.
The Elephant Man (1980)
a film everyone should see
The Elephant Man is one of those rare movies which gives one insight into the human condition, at its ugliest and most beautiful. In a way it reminds me of The Miracle Worker in that these true stories (albeit fictionally embellished, both are accurate) demonstrate the incredible tenacity of the human spirit: both John (Joseph) Merrick and Helen Keller overcame insurmountable obstacles to be recognized as "normal" humans despite profound disabilities.
From Wendy Hiller and Anne Bancroft in smaller roles to Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt in the major ones, everyone is perfect in this incredible movie. Although I'm not not a big fan of David Lynch this is one of his best, if not his best, movies. John Hurt is amazing; one cannot help being repelled by his appearance, but before long you see beyond the physical into the beautiful, refined human inside.
Anyone who can watch this film and not be moved to tears at least once may be in need of emotional counseling. It touches on so many levels it's hard not to be affected at some point. Unless you're a Pod Person...