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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
"White trash Murder on the Orient Express", 22 May 2007

Maybe Danny DeVito and Bette Midler should collaborate more often. The two times they did it was comedy gold. While this movie is not as flat out hilarious as "Ruthless People," it should still be enjoyed by the same people who love that movie. It starts with a prologue stating how Verplanck, New York was the location where they decided to launch the Yugo line of cars in America. As a result, everyone in town, including the police, drives a Yugo car, and they all have catchy license plates like UGOMONA, ELLEEE, and OH RONE.

As the title suggests, this black little whodunit concerns who opted to rid the small town of Verplanck of its nastiest inhabitant, the matriarchal hag Mona Dearly (Midler, who chews up every inch of the screen in her "Rashomon"-esque flashback scenes). Police Chief Wyatt Rash (Danny DeVito, playing against type as the straight man), is determined to find out, even if nobody else cares to help. It's come at a bad time, because he's trying to help his daughter Ellie (Neve Campbell) plan her big wedding to mild-mannered land-scaper Bobby Calzone (Casey Affleck), who has just ended up short-handed after his beer-guzzling partner Jeff Dearly (Marcus Thomas, the epitome of slackerdom) takes a leave of absence. Bobby also seems unnaturally concerned with the the death of a woman who meant only bad things for him.

The characters, while bordering on cartoons, are played tongue-in-cheek, and you know the actors had fun doing it. There's the chain-smoking waitress Rhona Mace (Jamie Lee Curtis), who's having an affair with the deceased's husband Phil (William Fichtner, who walks away with the movie as a complete scumbag), and Bobby's overbearing brother Murph (Mark Pellegrino). The cops are just as zany, with Peter Coyote as the do-gooder lieutenant, and Paul Ben-Victor and Paul Schulze (Ryan Chapelle from "24") as a couple of bumbling idiots who seem to be good for one thing, looking out for Numbers One. There's Katherine Wilhoite as Lucinda, the lesbian folk-singer mechanic, and the great Tracey Walter is on board as the local fisherman who nobody really knows much about. Add in a foul-mouthed, alcoholic priest, and a funeral director who's also an amateur pornographer (Will Ferrell before he became huge), and it's a feast for those with a twisted sense of humor.

Miami Vice (2006)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Less-than-stellar Mann, 8 August 2006

Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors because he succeeds with virtually every project he undertakes. He has a keen sense of setting, character development, and how to stage action. He has been able to go from the urban cool of "Thief" to the epic frontier of "The Last of the Mohicans" and back with "Heat." With "The Insider," he showed how he could take a simple true-life story of a whistle-blower and imbue it with a sense of danger that is completely psychological.

His biopic "Ali" was ruined not by acting or direction so much as by the constraints of the outline, telling a by-the-numbers story that encompassed the legendary boxer's career, without breathing new life into the sub-genre. But Mann quickly rebounded from that misfire by reinventing his urban thriller with "Collateral," shot almost entirely in hi-def, with Tom Cruise giving one of his best performances, and comedian Jamie Foxx managing to outshine him at that.

Many credit Mann with creating "Miami Vice." It's not true, as he only executive produced the show and directed a few episodes. But it's still safe to say he knows the world the '80s hit takes place in. The movie, like the show, follows a squad of vice cops, particularly the maverick Sonny Crockett and the cool Ricardo Tubbs, here played by Colin Farrell and Mann favorite Foxx.

The movie picks up in the middle of a sting operation to bust a Haitian pimp at a disco. The sting is interrupted when they get an urgent call from an informant they haven't heard from in six months who's worried about his girlfriend, and some FBI sting operation fouling up. Due to some outside intel a white supremacist group is aware the people they are dealing with are FBI undercover operatives. And since Crockett and Tubbs know something's up, they agree to help FBI Agent Fujima (Ciaran Hinds) find out how his guys got leaked.

The film starts off at a break-neck pace, with so many strands it's hard to figure out what's going on. It actually feels like a TV show, because they have to squeeze so much into so little time, and we're not really sure how everything fits together.. As the film progresses, though, it becomes more focused, one big undercover sting, with Crockett getting in over his head with a Chinese/Cuban drug liaison. The supporting characters of Calabrese, Switek, and Zito, are underdeveloped. The casting of Barry Shabaka Hensley as Castillo was criticized early on by fans who wanted someone like Danny Trejo to fill the shoes left by Edward James Olmos. And while it is true that in Cuba and other countries south of Miami there are a fair amount of Negro Hispanics, Hensley doesn't fool anyone.

On the other hand, John Ortiz as bad guy Jose Yero chews up the screen nicely. Gong Li is stiff as Crockett's love interest, not to mention noticeably older (the actress is pushing forty, and Farrell is only thirty). British actress Naomie Harris does a great job of capturing the New Yawk accent of Trudy Joplin, and her chemistry with Foxx is good. Hinds, who recently garnered acclaim as Julius Caesar in the HBO series "Rome" and as the worrisome assassin in "Munich" plays a great bureaucrat, but it would've been nice to see more of him.

The hi-def photography works well for the most part, but less so in daytime, when some otherwise beautiful photography of South America is obscured by blurriness.

Mann has done a good job of reinventing the TV show for the modern era, but this is no "The Fugitive."

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Even funnier than I expected, 12 August 2005

I'd heard this was a funny movie. I expected it to be funny. But I didn't expect it to be THIS funny! Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn headline a cast in what must be one of the absolute funniest movies I've seen in years. Part of the comic team that started out with "Zoolander" and later the VERY successful "Old School," among others, this is better than both. While movies like those, "Starsky & Hutch," etc. ended up relying quite heavily on the crude and outright disgusting, this movie forgoes much of that in favor of genuine laughs.

Vince Vaughn hearkens back to the over-the-top antics he first displayed in the cult hit "Swingers," while, perhaps for the first time, Wilson manages not to irritate me (okay, I'll admit Wes Anderson knows how to use him too). Together they generate enough laughs to sustain the picture by themselves. But luckily they are given a terrific supporting cast to help them on their way.

As mediators for couples in divorce settlements, they prove their effectiveness in the first scene, where they disturb separated spouses Dwight Yoakam and Rebecca De Mornay to the point that they want to settle just so these two don't have to talk anymore.

These guys do everything together, and they have for the last seventeen years. It is the most homo-erotic relationship between two heterosexual men to be shown in quite some time. The whole movie, they are after women, but it is their bond that holds things together. It has gotten so Jeremy (Vaughn) has promised, in keeping with tradition, never to let John (Wilson) spend his birthday alone, since the only child's parents are dead. And, as the title implies, every year they head to weddings looking for women to bed. They also make quite a scene at every wedding, assisting with the cutting of the cake, and making speeches to the bride and groom.

But then comes the "Kentucky Durby of weddings," Treasury Secretary Cleary (Christopher Walken) is walking his oldest daughter down the aisle. The scene features walk-ons by Sen. John McCain and James Carville. The two buddies go in as "brothers from New Hampshire," and things spiral out of control. John sets his sights for Claire Cleary, (Rachel McAdams), the middle child who is dating a selfish environmental lobbyist (Bradley Cooper, of "Alias" fame). Jeremy, who just wants to stick to the plan of the one-night stand, becomes the object of obsessive deflowered virgin Gloria Cleary (Ilsa Fisher, giving perhaps the most energetic performance of the film), not to mention the secretary's gay son, Todd. Mrs. Cleary (Jane Seymour) attempts to seduce John in a rather humiliating scene reminiscent of "The Graduate." Another hilarious addition is the secretary's foul-mouthed mother, who describes First-Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as being a dyke. Henry Gibson, as the meek Father is also a pleasure, not so much for what he says (since he has very few lines) but what he doesn't say, including listening to Vaughn give confession, ending with a mouth-to-mouth kiss to seal the deal.

Vaughn and Fisher are a perfect romantic pair, because each one is just as crazy as the other, and as determined as she is to screw him, he's just as determined to keep away. Owen Wilson, more subdued than his co-star, actually shows a depth heretofore unseen in his character. Will Ferrell has an uncredited cameo as the entrepreneur who taught Vaughn how to crash weddings, a momma's boy who now gets his kicks crashing funerals.

The references to bodily organs, sex, etc. are all fairly relevant in the context of the story, and not overdone. It's crude, but unlike "Old School," stuff isn't just thrown in there because the writers couldn't think of anything genuinely funny to say.

19 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Twisted and gritty, 11 August 2005

This was one of my favorite "Mystery!" series. This was something of a precursor to shows like "CSI" and "Without a Trace," and ten times better. Robson Greene is DI Dave Creegan, a workaholic who works in a fictional British unit called Organized Serial Crime (OSC). Creegan received a bullet in the head some time back, and was brought back to life through the miracle of medicine, now walking a tightrope on the edge of sanity as the semi-suicidal detective hunts down serial killers and other perps through his gift for thinking like they do. Creegan's partner, DI Susan Taylor, is a no-nonsense type whose method for solving cases is quite the opposite of Creegans. DC Mark Rivers, also a key player, is as far removed from Creegan as possible, a by-the-book detective who is just as content to wait for back-up as jump into the fire. There were some excellent shows, but the first season is by far the best, starting off with a perverted and villainous suspect portrayed by Ian McDiarmid, of "Star Wars" fame.

Perhaps this show lacks some of the class that made earlier shows such as "Prime Suspect" such a treat, but the only thing on "Mystery!" to match it as of yet is probably the most recent American-produced Tony Hillerman adaptations.

The Island (2005)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Stylized fun/frightening morality play, 25 July 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What would you do to survive? How much would you be willing to pay for a longer life? These are the issues at hand in Michael Bay's latest film, easily one of his better efforts (and helped by the absence of blockbuster king Jerry Bruckheimer, if only a little). The world Bay has created looks real. The action doesn't always. But he's brought an excellent cast on board to help the movie on its way.

Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) has lived underground for three years. He's something of a rebel in a nearly perfect society, one of two remaining sanctuaries from the contamination that has killed almost everything outside. That other sanctuary is the Island, a "Garden of Eden" that everyone hopes to go to, by winning the lottery. Lincoln's best friend is Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johanssen), who is a more obedient member of their society, who likes to show Lincoln up in a virtual fighting game powered by XBOX (the advertising is everywhere). Only Lincoln asks questions, like where does the food go that he and his friend Jones Three-Echo make every day? The only clues he can find come from a white-trash maintenance guy, McCord (Steve Buscemi), who works in the outer, more contaminated area of the society. Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) worries about Lincoln's queries.

When Jordan wins the lottery to go to the Island, Lincoln has another of his bad dreams, only slightly different from before. He gets up in the middle of the night and slips into a restricted area, disguised as a doctor, where he makes a very disturbing discovery. Two of the citizens at Merrick were sent to the island. One, a lottery winner named Starkweather (Michael Clarke Duncan, a happy version of John Coffey), and Lima, a pregnant woman whose water just broke. Lima has been euthanized while her baby was delivered to another woman who looks just like her, and Starkweather is seen running down the hall with a surgical cut down the center of his chest.

Of course, as anyone who knows anything about this movie would know, Lincoln tells Jordan and they make an escape, pursued by a French mercenary (Djimon Hounsou, delectably amoral) and his cold-blooded cohorts. Merrick explains to Hounsou's Albert Laurent the importance of getting Jordan, since model Sarah Jordan is comatose in a New York hospital. The two find Lincoln's old buddy McCord at a biker bar, where they learn they've got a lot to learn about the outside world. Says Lincoln: "I've gotta go get McCord. He's in a can taking a dump," having absolutely no idea what that actually means. McCord sets them straight on who they really are, that they are actually clones of millionaires, and tries to get them on a train to L.A., where Lincoln's "sponsor" lives.

L.A., 2019 looks remarkably realistic. It's a believable future because the cars look almost the same, yet elevated trains keep going up and up and up, mercenaries fly around on hoverbikes, and cars have a finger-print identification system. Laurent and his cronies are following the "stolen" credit card McCord, now dead, gave to Lincoln. A series of shoot-outs occur between Laurent's guys and police, Laurent's guys and civilians, and especially, Laurent's guys and the two clones. The best scene during this is when our two heroes are riding on the back of a tractor trailer hauling train wheels, and untie them, sending them rolling along and into their pursuers' vehicles. Another scene, that was too hard to believe, was when the clones are hanging on the insignia of an office building, and fall ninety stories to still survive. "Jesus must REALLY love you," says a construction worker and witness to them, upon their miraculous survival.

More fun and excitement follows with the face-to-face confrontation of Lincoln Six-Echo with Tom Lincoln, a Scottish boat designer who is much more fun to watch, even if he's not the good guy the clone is.

McGregor, as both insurance and sponsor, is quite good. His American accent is actually better than the trailer would have me believe, and his sense of wonder is quite believable, as long as Bay remembers it, so too does his egocentric persona as the Scottish bad boy. (Since Lincoln's false memories are actually the memories of his sponsor, he is all the more believable) Johanssen, as the educated-to-fifteen-years Jordan expresses a sense of curiosity at the verge of maturity maintains a borderline childlike point of view at all times (except in bed, something "Newsweek" critic David Anson brought up with Bay in an interview). Sean Bean is marvelous as yet another of his many villains, this one being a scientist with a God-complex who never quite grasps the absolute amorality of his work. Hounsou is brutal and intimidating, and a last-minute change of heart is exactly the kind of thing that, for some reason, never seems to work in movies - he's too bad to be good. Buscemi once again helps to round out the movie as a human foil, full of humor and a cynical look at things. Linclon: "What's God?" McCord: "Well, you know when you wish for something? God's the one that ignores you."

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A very Clintonian spy thriller, 11 July 2005

For people who enjoy action at the expense of logic, you can't do much better than this ridiculous flick about an amnesiac teacher in a small Pannsylvania town who discovers she's a CIA assassin.

Geena Davis plays two very different characters. Samantha Caine is the sweet, confused, amnesiac mother of an eight-year-old girl named Caitlin. She lives with her boyfriend (Tom Amandes) and is a member of the local PTA. Charlie Baltimore is a self-loathing killer who cusses like a sailer and even uses sex as a weapon. Sam makes an uneasy transformation into Charlie as she begins to attract the attention of some corrupt government agents.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Mitch Hennessey, a sleazy, wisecracking private dick who is hired by Samantha, nicknamed "Amnesia Chick", to help her find her past. Jackson is a great source of comic relief. This is not his best role, but I think it's probably his funniest.

Craig Bierko is the main bad guy, Timothy, a former target of Charlie's who has been recruited by the very agency she used to work for, due to budget cuts in intelligence.

This is where the plot shows its age. In a scene at the White House, the President tells the CIA director and Charlie's boss, Leland Perkins, among others, that their money is in health care. And this is the whole basis of the bad guys' plan. Perkins and Timothy are going to kill 4000 people in Buffalo, NY, and blame a frozen Arab man for it, to get funding for more intelligence. Charlie was a relic of the Cold War, and they have no use for her now. The Bush Administration now is so different that such a plan wouldn't be relevant. Healthcare is already a secondary prospect to intelligence and war.

The cast includes Brian Cox as Charlie's mentor. He would later go on to star in a similarly themed, but much more serious movie, "The Bourne Identity," although Ward Abbott was a politician, not a man of action. David Morse is also featured as one of Charlie's targets Samantha mistakes for her fiancé. Neither of these actors last very long in the movie, it moves too briskly for that. The two-hour running time blows by thanks to the break-neck pacing.

Renny Harlin is often cited as one of the worst directors of big-budget action-fests working today. That may be true, so maybe it's Shane Black's script that saves things. Black is perhaps the best writer of action films. "Lethal Weapon" turned into the most successful cop-buddy franchise, I think, in history, with four movies to its credit. Black knows how to give the audience non-stop action and also a few chuckles. Here is probably his most fun, least serious effort, and Harlin complements that by never taking things seriously.

Interested in action and style with fun, believable characters in outrageous situations? This is for you. It ain't "Casablanca," but it sure ain't as shallow as James Bond (no offense to the 007 franchise).

Birth (2004)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Dull and unpleasant, but not outright bad, 5 July 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I believe Jonathan Glazer is perhaps the worst director I know of Grade-A material. "Sexy Beast" may not have had the most brilliant script to work with, but Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone did excellently, and when Kingsley was killed off, so too did the movie lose its energy.

With this film it is a much different case. The cast full of first-rate actors, but they have absolutely nothing interesting to say. The only actors that stood out at all in the film were Danny Huston, Anne Heche, and Peter Stormare (even if his role is small).

Anna (Nicole Kidman), widow of ten years, has finally decided to remarry with a wealthy executive named Joseph (Huston, looking a lot like Richard Nixon). Plans are interrupted by the boy who lives downstairs (Cameron Bright), who just happens to have the same name as Kidman's late husband, Sean. Not only that, but he says he is her husband, and backs it up with a wealth of information. Not only does this disturb Anna, Joseph, and Anna's mother, Eleanor (Lauren Bacall, completely wasted here), but it also bothers the boy's parents, since he claims he is no longer their son.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding this film at its release. One source only cited a kiss. Another talked about a bath that Kidman has with Bright. Accusations flooded the boards accusing the film of child pornography, etc. Although it is hardly that bad, I was a little surprised at what there is. The bath scene does happen, but it's not romantic.

The mystery finally reaches a "satisfying" conclusion. I put that in quotes, because by the time it comes, too much damage has been done for me to really care for anybody but the now-shunned Joseph.

The two best scenes - or the only scenes that gave me any pleasure - were one when Joseph goes off on the kid and starts paddling him, and another, the moment of truth, when Clara (Heche) explains to Sean that he is not who he claims to be, because of the other Sean's love affair with her.

There is an obnoxious continuity break during the film, and too many of those symbolic shots people love to stick in indie dramas. The talent here isn't bad at all, but with actors including Arliss Howard, Alison Elliot, and Tony Levine, one would think they could come up with a slightly better film than this.

Where is Don Logan when you need him?

Collateral (2004)
Intense, 12 August 2004

This was the movie I had been anticipating all summer. Tom Cruise as an assassin, and I love good against-type casting. This movie is an intense roller-coaster ride with excellent atmosphere supplied by Mann, and two great performances from Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, and sprinkled with character performances from Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, Bruce McGill, Peter Berg, and Irma P. Hall.

Foxx, without any underlying comic edge to his performance, is perfect as the mild-mannered cab driver named Max, a man who has memorized the fastest routes to any destination in LA and dreams of opening a fancy limousine service. After dropping off a young assistant district attorney (Jada Pinkett Smith), he picks up Vincent (Cruise), and so begins their night of killing.

With some serious 5 o'clock shadow, silvery-gray hair and matching chrome suit, Tom Cruise is playing a much older person than before. He is totally devoid of sympathy for the dead, and is convinced that what he is doing is right, or at least acceptable. In some odd way, the very things that make him such a heartless person, almost redeem him, as we know that this sociopath isn't just a cartoon of someone, but morally bankrupt about what he does. He's been contacted by a drug trafficker named Felix (Bardem) to kill five people.

They travel throughout Los Angeles making Vincent's rounds. The digital photography helps to give the movie a documentary feel. The film is gritty and realistic feeling. The last few minutes betray this, to some effect, when Vincent becomes almost super-human, but he goes out nicely, in a way that is somewhat improbable, but nonetheless appropriate.

This film will likely (or hopefully) garner nominations for the two leads and the director. It's a stylish piece of work that works more like a horror movie than a thriller. In the theater I found it difficult to breathe as the intense action and suspense kept elevating. There was always a part of me--don't as me why--that was rooting for the bad guy, but he still scared me. Maybe it's when you take that Tom Cruise charm and twist it around into a bad thing.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Intolerably cruel to watch, 9 August 2004

Very little of this movieis worth anything. It is basically an excercise in cruelty, with one character stabbing the other in the back the whole way through. There are moments when characters look like they're making a turn for the better, but then they go back to being just plain bad, and drawing the movie out much longer than it needs to be. And the very worst of these characters is Catherine Zeta-Jones' heartless you-know-what, who ends up falling for the divorce attorney (Clooney) who kept her from getting anything off her rich, philandering husband (go figure). Or at least it would appear. For Clooney's part, he's a scumbag who's found a conscience when he becomes smitten with the gold-digging beauty. She doesn't return the favor, though, in any way that can make the viewer want to see her come out on top.

On the plus side, for a story that was not originated by the Coens, there are still some interesting minor details that seem to be inspired moments in the brothers' imagination. Herb, the senior partner of Clooney's law firm, lives in the basement of the building, hooked up to eerie-looking tubes, with such literature as "Living Without Intestines" on his coffee table. Also, is the character of Wheezy Pete, an asthmatic hit man whose demise comes when he mistakens his pistol for his inhaler. Also, a Scottish preacher in Las Vegas, who marries Clooney and Zeta-Jones, is a hilarious character.

The supporting characters of Geoffrey Rush's psycho producer Donovan Donaly and Cedric the Entertainer's a$$-nailing private detective are too-little seen. Especially after Rush's outlandish performance in the opening scene, shooting at his cheating wife and snapping Polaroids of his rump, where she stabbed him with a trophy before taking off.

In all, this was a movie that COULD have been entertaining. But movies with no redeemable characters make for terrible romantic comedies.

Surprisingly good, 14 July 2004

"Pitch Black" cannot lay too much claim to being original, since "Alien," "Predator," and a whole array of other sci-fi and non-sci-fi films have dealt with the issues in this movie before. But that's what Hollywood is all about. The film opens as the captain of a civilian cruiser, while in a cryogenic sleep, dies. Two other crew members, Owens and Fry, struggle in vane to land the ship, dumping cargo in an attempt to raise the nose, and land on a nearby planet. After crashing and wrecking the ship, Owens is mortally wounded and the one hostile passenger, Richard B. Riddick, escapes.

The planet has three suns, so there is no nighttime. Great rib-cages of monstrous animals lie in canyons on this seemingly waterless planet. Among the survivors is an Arab holy man and his three sons, a prospector, an antiques dealer, a mischievous "boy," and an Aussie, whose job now is to dig graves for the dead. Also, there is a man named Johns, who is hell-bent on tracking down the escaped killer, Riddick. But his motives are more ambiguous than people think.

The only water on the planet comes from a well where people had previously settled here. But nobody is around. But thankfully they left some kind of lifeboat shuttle, that the crew can use to leave the planet.

Zeke, the gravedigger, mistakenly shoots another surviving passenger, mistaking him for Riddick, and discovers a hole in the burial site wall. When he looks in there, something kills him and sucks him through, and Riddick's standing right there.

Initially blamed for Zeke's death, the escaped convict, a man who has had an operation on his eyes to see in the dark, warns of something inside that hole. When indeed they do find creatures, and a model of the planet suggests that the last civilization was wiped out during a rare total eclipse, one which coincidentally is about to happen again, Johns makes a deal with Riddick to help them if he promises to play nice.

The movie features a cast of, at that time, fairly little-known actors, save for Keith David (best described as a character actor). Vin Diesel had been in "Saving Private Ryan" as a soldier who got shot by a sniper, and in "Boiler Room," but this was his first starring role. The character arcs help give this movie credibility: Caroline Fry (Radha Mitchell) was willing to dump the whole passenger load to save her own life, and now is hailed as captain for saving everyone's life; Johns (Cole Hauser) is a morphine-addicted bounty hunter; Riddick would just as soon leave everyone behind, as is his animal nature.

On one last note, Vin Diesel is not Marlon Brando, but he's not a "bad actor." Certainly not too bad here, as a relative bad guy. But now he's too big. He oughta do more movies like "Boiler Room," playing a supporting role to someone with more clout than Paul Walker.

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