Reviews written by registered user
|18 reviews in total|
Were I to try and explicate every aspect of "Sahara," based on number
11 of novelist Clive Cussler's best-selling 'Dirk Pitt Adventures,' you
would be faced with a review rivaling Dostoyevsky in length. Rather, I
offer a laundry list of the things this mastodon of a movie crams into
just over two hours: A treasure hunt, a plague, a diabolical plot,
slavery, genocide, global disaster, not one, but TWO civil wars, and
Mathew McConaughey's southern twang.
All these things come together in a climactic desert showdown between the 200-year-old cannon of a Confederate ironclad and an African dictator in a helicopter straight from the scrap-yard of 'Black Hawk Down.' And by the way, the ironclad is in the middle of the desert, and it's filled with treasure, and has landed right near some verboten solar energy plant that, much to the dismay of Greenpeace, produces some sort of toxic sludge that is leaking into an underground river, slowly poisoning the world's water supply. Oh, and the cannonballs, well, they explode.
If the audience with whom I watched 'Sahara' laughed at this, I couldn't tell over the action. That's not a negative statement, either: I LITERALLY wouldn't have been able to hear laughter over the explosions, engines, and toe tappin' soundtrack of golden oldies and cool tribal pop.
Maybe that's a good rule for Michael Bay to consider before signing off on one of his quiet, trademark love scenes: Will the audience be able to hear each other laughing? If not, put the love scene in the middle of a tornado an exploding tornado!
In terms of acting, this is McConaughey's final exam: The cowboy has been on the verge of stardom since he made Atticus Finch look like George Wallace with his soulful closing argument in the Jim Crow legal drama 'A Time to Kill,' but he's yet to gain membership to that 100 million dollar club where he'd rub elbows with Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford. Stephen Holden of the New York Times blames the Texas-boy's pseudo-stardom status on that prairie-dog accent of his. But then how do you explain Hillary Swank's winning streak? Ain't she po' white trash, too? Personally, I blame the actor's chiseled features. He is ridiculously good looking. His face is perfect and rubbery in that artificial way that has proved troublesome for Ben Affleck and will probably prevent 'Memento's' Guy Pierce, who could cut diamonds on his cheekbones, from becoming a major player any time soon. Like a picture hung to break-up a pristine, white wall, so does that scar on the chin for the otherwise flawless Harrison Ford, that nappy hair for Tom Hanks, or Clark Gable's Dumbo-like ears, give us a point of reference when gawking at these Adoni.
I must admit, however, that McConaughey proves, in 'Sahara,' that he has the star quality needed to command the respect of a major action picture, even surrounded by the intimidating likes of William H. Macy and Delroy Lindo. Penelope Cruz also does just fine as a U.N. style doctor who's investigations into an Nigerian epidemic get her tangled up with Dirk Pitt and his roughnecks, led by a trucker-chic Steve Zahn. Many people find Cruz's thick accent frustrating and difficult to decipher, but she really has a beautiful voice, one that you become hypnotized with in some of her Spanish-language films including "All About My Mother" and "Open Your Eyes," where you can experience it in it's natural habitat. In English, the accent acts as a kind of camouflage; if any of her American performances have been artificial, I wouldn't know, because EVERYTHING she says in English sounds artificialthe artificial of someone who's learning the language, however, not necessarily of a bad actress. Moreover, it gives her characters um character. And well it's kind of hot.
So far I've embraced and spoke kindly of this film's ludicrous plot. It would be disingenuous, however, to call 'Sahara' flawless--even relative to other action movies. It's quite odd really: Not once did I doubt, or was I bothered by, the absurdity of 'Sahara' until somewhere around the end of act II, when McConaughey, Zahn, and Cruz discover, quite by accident, the verboten toxic solar plant. From here on out, the film abandons the fun of Indiana Jones for the predictability of James Bond: the gang is captured, the girl held prisoner by the evil millionaire as he discusses the specifics of his master plan, and the fortress set to blow up as said millionaire scurries away cowardly. But why were these scenes so distracting? Why is a hidden solar energy plant so much less credible than a battleship buried in the desert? Maybe the real James Bond movies own the market on high-tech bunker scenes.
It isn't surprising that 'Sahara,' goes all Bond in the end, though. After all, there are 17 other Dirk Pitt novels, and director Breck Eisner and Paramount aren't shy about wanting a 007-length franchise (From the poster: "Adventure has a new name. Dirk Pitt," from the movie: "Maybe you could help us (the CIA) out from time to time"). But while the 700 page 'Sahara' is a relatively long Dirk Pitt adventure, few of them fall below the thickness of the Oxford English Dictionary; if every one of these movies will be as chock-full as 'Sahara,' I may need to start bringing MetRx bars with me to the theater.
Early in "The Mummy Returns," sequel to Universal's 1999 blockbuster
remake "The Mummy," charming American swashbuckler Rick O'Connell
(Brendan Fraser) fights a cadre of decomposed Egyptian corpses on the
back of a London double-decker. Also on the bus is Rick's wife/scholar
Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), to whom he laments, "This is bad!" "We've had
bad before," Evelyn replies. Rick: "This is worse!" Indeed! As is the
whole of "The Mummy Returns," a film so ludicrously over the top and
blindly made that even after Warner Brothers' dismal "Wild Wild West"
featuring jets retrofitted to a flying bicycle, this film put the jets
on a flying boat.
Explaining the plot of "The Mummy Returns" in detail is about as necessary as cooking directions on Pop-Tarts: Ten-or-so years after the events in "The Mummy," Rick and Evelyn must search the globe for their son Alex (Freddie Boath) who, after trying on a bracelet that was actually an ancient artifact belonging to a Babylonian-era warlord named The Scorpion King (The Rock), becomes a human map to a mythical oasis where The King awaits an opponent who, if victorious, will take control of his armies and have the power to rule the world. The kidnapper was none other than Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the eponymous ghoul and former high priest thwarted by O'Connell in the first film, now resurrected by the voluptuous Meela Nais (Patricia Valasquez), reincarnation of Anck Su Namun, the ancient beauty whom Imhotep shared a fatal affair with thousands of years ago. The evil pair plan to find the oasis and defeat The Scorpion King, and thus, like a biblical Bonnie and Clyde, set the whole gory story into motion.
And those are just the broad strokes! Along the way we encounter the usual hoards of faceless, black-cloaked baddies with guns, the not-so-usual undead soldiers, and the flat-out weird and nasty little pygmy-mummies--everything coated with the oh-so-easy-to-swallow zombie in-jokes of ghouls bobbling their own decapitated heads.
All that said, "The Mummy Returns" maintains all the fun of its predecessor (if only at the expense of any dignity the franchise had left.) This is a movie that knows it's bad (and boy is it bad!), that knows it's the ultimate product of the Hollywood machine--and is damn proud of it! It's undeniably great to see O'Connell leap and tumble his way out of ridiculously overwhelming odds--literally one wrong step from being horribly gored in front of his child. At the film's climax, O'Connell is engaged in a battle against the new and CGI improved Scorpion King (complete with giant scorpion legs and torso). As I watched Brendan Fraser (and/or his stuntman) dodge the unstoppable claws of the rendered-Rock's intimidating mandible, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen such wickedly intense choreography of actor and CGI since Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore tangoed beautifully with a pair of hungry velociraptors in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (another enjoyable franchise-destroyer). For "The Mummy Returns," VFX supervisor John Andrew Burton Jr. and a very extended team brought this sequence to life.
Fraser has always plunged headfirst into roles that even the most work-starved actor might shy away from ("Encino Man," "Looney Toons: Back In Action," "Monkeybone"), and does so with such enthusiasm that we never feel embarrassed for him. Here he embraces Rick O'Connell in all his two-dimensionality where others might abandon the role, and the character survives because of him.
Joining Rick and Evelyn are Evelyn's unscrupulous-yet-lovable bro Jonathan (John Hannah) and the melodramatic guru-warrior Ardeth Bey (that dude with all the Arabic writing on his cheeks, played by Oded Fehr), who also serves as the film's interim historian, giving us any and all back story needed without all the bother of exposition or creative storytelling. An enjoyable chemistry and timing has developed between these actors in just two films. There truly is a sense of camaraderie; We find it quite easy, for example, to accept Jonathan's momentary turn of seriousness toward the end of the film after two acts of comedy because the other actors know just how to respond to him (Hannah is possibly the best Scottish actor alive, see "Sliding Doors").
Of course, the bulk of the film is lighthearted, and any melodrama is taken with a grain of salt--not least of all by screenwriter/director Sthephen Sommers, who plays up the group-fun-breeziness that worked so well with the first mummy movie; Upon seeing the forbidden bracelet on Alex's arm, Ardeth decrees grimly, "By putting on the bracelet, you have started a chain reaction that could bring about the next apocalypse." Fraser looks at Ardeth, "Hey, you, lighten up." I suppose that's Sommers' best and only defense against critics like Peter Travers of Rolling Stone who (justifiably) called his film "A p!ss poor mummy movie indeed that doesn't deliver a damn thing worth preserving."
"Hey, Peter, lighten up."
"The Flying Car" is a lukewarm redux of the infamous "Uncle Walter" scene from Smith's debut film "Clerks" (1994)--the one that takes place as Dante and Randall, a pair of 20-something convenience store employees, drive to the wake of Julie Dwyer, one of Dante's old flames, and get into some...unique...conversation en route. When introducing the short on The Tonight Show in 2002, Smith, in jest of using existing characters, told host Jay Leno he was "going back to the well." How right he was! Not only the characters, but the entire dynamic of the short and its dialog are derivative of the "Clerks" scene. Both involve the two in a car where Randall, the more wickedly sardonic of the pair, engages nebbish Dante in an absurd argument (his ability to suck his own penis in "Clerks," and weather or not he would allow a mad scientist to remove his foot in exchange for a levitating automobile in "The Flying Car.") Both pieces are anecdotes--a setup by Randall against Dante. And, in both cases, Dante falls for it hook, line and sinker.
Much had been said about "Ray," the story of legendary musician Ray
Charles, before I finally saw it. In a year of Hollywood swill helped
only by the occasional indie pique, "Ray" seemed to be the first major
release with a real positive buzz. After watching it however, I felt as
if I had seen nothing more than a formulated product of the "biopic"
Nevertheless, "Ray" succeeds as a whole. But why? True, the eponymous performance of Jamie Foxx is even better than all the hype promotes. The long-time comic actor, with a spot on replication of Charles' handicapped mannerisms, mixed with an original approximation of what he must have been like as a young man before limelight, has secured himself an Oscar nomination--if not a win. Foxx's Ray beats lively as the heart of the film.
As much as Foxx deserves all his praise, little has been said about the supporting cast, which triumphs with originality. Nancy Klopper, the film's casting director, has looked outside the box and found actors that we never would have never imagined in their roles, but now find it hard to imagine anyone else. The best of these choices is unarguably Curtis Armstrong ("Booger" from the "Revenge of the Nerds" series) as Atlantic record chief Ahmet Ertegun. Also with Atlantic are Rick Gomez ("Band of Brothers") as a recording tech, and Richard Schicff ("The West Wing") as Ray's first record producer, Jerry Wexler. These actors, along with co-screenwriter/director Taylor Hackford and co-screenwriter James L. White, break the stereotype of record producers as bloodsuckers. I challenge you to watch the scene where Ahmet gives Ray an impromptu rendition of "The Mess Around," and not fall in love with him.
The acting soars with creativity, but it's in the directing that "Ray" sinks back to business as usual. Although cinematographer Pawell Edelman marinates Ray's life with three distinct-yet-similar bleached out twangs for each segment--earth tones in his central Florida childhood, smoky jazz-club shadows for his struggling start, and twinkling, vivid colors for his Hollywood days in the lap of luxury (all with a high contrast to represent the daemons of his life)--the subjects he paints are all too familiar "high price of fame" plot points: Drug addiction, infidelity, and inflated egos parade around as if they are breaking new ground, but are merely walking a pre-blazed path with a somewhat original stride. Another cliché, the "rise to power/on the road" montage, various newspaper headlines superimposed atop a highway map of the USA, is done rather poorly with some cheesy special effects, and gives me speculation that this part of the film may have been rushed.
Also rushed feels the ending, where the filmmakers attempted to sum up the last third of Charles' life with a few juvenile sentences like "Ray continued to promote civil rights." This written epilogue does the film more harm than good. It seems as if Hackford (who gave us such a wonderfully ambiguous ending in "The Devils Advocate") and editor Paul Hirsch did not trust the audience enough to accept a film that didn't wrap itself up into a neat little package. As the final scene of the film concludes a thread regarding Charles' banishment from Georgia, a thread long since abandoned by the filmmakers and the audience, we feel Hackford's unwanted pat on the back telling us everything will be fine, and expect the film to end with "...and he lived happily ever after."
So, I ask again, "What makes Ray so good?" The answer is simple: the music. Foxx takes care of the visual mannerisms of Ray's singing, while the man himself supplies the vocals--care of some skilled mixing on the part of an extended team of sound technicians (too many to credit individually.) Admittedly, I had never had much exposure to Charles' music, yet five minutes could not pass in "Ray" before I found myself tapping my toes to "Mess Around," "Georgia," or "Hit the Road, Jack."
To say the best part of a film is its songs might give one the impression that it's a waste of time. This is not the case with "Ray." The music alone is worth the price of admission, and more than makes up for any flaws in the film proper. If Charles himself is the heart of "Ray," the music is the soul.
'Encino Man,' under the disguise of a teen comedy, is really a satire
of popularity in high school culture. The idea that a Cro-Magnon could
become the coolest kid in school is hilarious, probably because it's
Future hobbit Sean Astin plays Dave Morgan, a high school senior. Dave is the most unpopular kid in school and is inevitably in love with the most popular, Robyn Sweeney (Megan Ward), who, once upon a time, was childhood playmate to Dave (Dave even has a baby picture of the two naked in a bathtub), but now, while still good hearted, has fallen in with the 'popular' crowd and is inevitably dating the biggest a**hole at school, Matt Wilson (Michael DeLuise), a bully who puts down Dave's shy advances toward Robyn with a headlock and a sardonic 'Shoosh!'
When he's not pining for Robyn, Dave hangs out with his one and only friend and fellow loser Stoney, played with his usual flamboyance by Pauly Shore. Stoney, while as unpopular as Dave, seems content with his status at the school. He dresses in ostracizing hippie-rags, sure to turn a few of the girls away at school, but is mellow, and speaks in the Pauleneese tongue created by himself and screenwriter Shawn Scheppes. Dave however, is far from happy, and is determined to score coolness immortality (not to mention the heart of Robyn) before graduation. As the movie begins, Dave is digging a giant dirt hole for an in-ground swimming pool, which will be the centerpiece for the legendary party he will throw on prom night, thus lifting him to the top of the social ladder. One hot California day, while digging, Dave hits something hard and cold with his shovel. Enter the Encino Man.
Brendan Frazier never ceases to amaze me, obviously a gifted actor (see 'Gods and Monsters'), he nevertheless chooses zany comedic roles, be it 'Blast From the Past,' 'Bedazzled,' or this, the all share a quirky, oddball role for Frazier to try, in this case with positive results.
Dave plans to exploit 'Link,' not for money, but for popularity. He tells Robyn his discovery, but, of course, she doesn't believe him. Soon Link is enrolled in school under the rouse that he is an exchange student from Estonia. He cannot read, write, or speak other than grunts and the occasional Pauleneese term (which themselves are not paragons of the English language). He swings on lamps and jumps on desks. He eats flies and will stare unashamedly at a pair of female 'gozangas' with the primal urges he cannot suppress like the rest of us. He is an animal--naturally, he becomes the most coolest kid in school.
I won't give away the rest of the plot, suffice to say: a) Yes, the bully will fall head first into a giant cake, and, b) Yes, there is an inexplicably choreographed dance number at the end.
For all its silliness, this is one great film. The actors go balls out into their characters, as if unafraid of any damage they could do to their careers. They seem to be having so much fun as the caveman/the normal guy/the bully/Pauly Shore, that we don't have the heart to not have fun with them.
Best of all, this film sidesteps exhausted plot points that could have easily sneaked banality into it. There is no team of scientists trying to capture and experiment on Link, and he is not conveniently disposed of for a return to normalcy. Instead, we are treated to a rather original mixing of absurdity humor, almost in the vein of Samuel Beckett or Robert Shaw, where not only could a caveman blend in with society, he can become cool.
There is a strong moral in the film of individuality and what really is 'cool.' Robyn takes a strong liking to Link because he's the only guy at school who's not inhibited. She takes this as a sign of self confidence, when it really is ignorance, Link simply hasn't developed the ego and superego the rest of us have--and we truly envy him for this, for his blissful unawareness of peer pressure. Although Dave tried to teach Link how to behave in society, it was Link, in the end, who taught Dave just that.
Straight from the mid-80's comes the mild-mannered 'Nightmares,' a
horror anthology of four seemingly unrelated tales of terror that
hardly deserve the R-rating they so unjustly received (the film was
released one year before 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,' which
resulted in the PG-13 rating, a rating this film deserves, if not a
Segment one, 'Terror in Topanga,' re-tells the old urban legend of a woman, an escaped psychopath, and a suspicious gas station attendant. In this case the woman is Lisa (Christina Raines), a cigarette smoker who needs a nic-fix so bad; she's willing to risk being horribly stabbed for some Marlboro 100's. I suspect the filmmakers were trying to comment on the health hazards of tobacco--something new in 1983. This is the third best, or second worst-depending on your point of view, segment of the film.
Segment two, 'The Bishop of Battle,' on the other hand, is undeniably the best! It stars none other than a very young Emilio Estevez ('the 'Mighty Ducks man himself!') as J.J. Cooney, a kid so good at arcade games, all the other kids stop playing to watch him. One game Cooney can't seem to beat is 'The Bishop of Battle,' which supposedly has 13 levels, although it is believed level 13 is a myth as nobody has gotten past level 12 (Cooney claims he heard about 'a kid in New Jersey' who did so twice). Cooney becomes obsessed with surpassing level 12 and defeating 'The Bishop,' the digital master/boss of 'The Bishop of Battle,' he looks like an electronic-neon version of Magic Mirror from 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' So obsessed does Cooney become, that he alienates his parents, sneaks out of his bedroom in the middle of the night, and breaks back into the arcade to take on 'The Bishop' one more time. I won't spoil the funky ending; suffice to say it evokes 'Tron,' sort of a 'Tron-in reverse.' The most enjoyable aspect of Segment two is the lacquer of 1980's youth culture it evokes. Estevez sports a neon, sleeveless shirt and a Walkman the size of a toaster that blasts punk-rock as Cooney hustles amateurs in the tough arcades of Oakland. Back at the mall, one anonymously delivered line of dialog from an unseen member of Cooney's spectators is, I kid you not, 'Totally awesome!' At one point, a flirtatious female friend asks him if he wants to 'Get a pizza!' This isn't really the 1980's I remember, it's how I'd like to remember them.
Horror legend Lance Hendriksen gives arguably the best performance of all segments in #3, 'The Benediction,' as a priest in the American-Mexican wasteland who, after witnessing the pointless death of a child, loses his faith and begins the long trip home across the desert. On the way he encounters a demonic monster truck apparently intent on killing him 'Duel' style. The truck is loud and deep black, with an upside down cross hanging in its rear-view mirror. At the stories climax, we see the truck literally burst out from the desert earth as if it were a surfacing submarine. It's a surprisingly effective, and very cool, moment in the film.
Despite a well tuned cast, 'Night of the Rat,' the fourth segment, is terrible, the worst in the film, and a poor finale. It centers on the Houston family's encounter with, as the title so eloquently eludes, a giant rat. As if that weren't enough, the rat has psychic powers as well! Wife Claire is the protagonist, played by polished actor Veronica Cartwright, who tries to convince her arrogant husband Steven (mustached character actor Richard Massur, whose demeanor mirrors his dry-toast last name) to call an exterminator. But alas, Steve refuses, and it's not until the devil-rat almost kills their young daughter (future overdosee Bridgette Andersen in a phenomenal child performance) that he whips out the conveniently closet-stored shotgun and goes-a-rat huntin'. The finale of 'Night of the Rat,' is too awfully hilarious for words to define.
Overall, 'Nightmares,' is too gentle to be scary. It reminded me of Nickelodeon's soft-core, 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' which also had happy endings and corny fables (although I remain a fan of that series). I would recommend this film only for the nostalgic 'The Bishop of Battle,' Hendrickson's performance in 'The Benediction,' and as an overall night of laughs for 80's horror connoisseurs. 'Creepshow,' and 'Creepshow 2' are far superior horror anthologies than this film.
However I must admit I enjoyed it, in some ways, more than 'The Twilight Zone, The Movie.'
Like the notorious inflation adjustment that gives Gone With the Wind
(1939) the unbreakable box-office high, a slight technological
adjustment given the time (109 years ago!) gives Arrival of a Train at
La Ciotat (1895) the best special effects ever (relatively speaking, of
course). Forget King Kong (1933), throw out Star Wars (1977), Arrival
of a Train' blew audiences away with a little thing called moving
pictures. There's a classic rumor of audiences running away from the
movie screen, expecting the train to crash right through! As scary as
Kong was, nobody expected him to reach into the audience and pick out a
Also, it may not have been all that intentional, but the composition of this static, one-minute shot is excellent, and still unrivaled. The perspective of the train zooming past the lens like a wild stampede, the quick stop, then, the explosion of activity: people coming, going, on the train, off the train. What crisp energy! What a film! Viva la Lumiere!
Forget the "twists" you've seen in films like Psycho (1960), The Sixth
Sense(1999), and the Crying Game(1992), LEAVING THE LUMIERE FACTORY
(1895) blows those plot points out of the water and takes it rightful
place as the biggest shock in movie history.
December 28, 1895, The Grand Cafe' in Paris, France. Only 33 out of 100 tickets are sold to the first ever demonstration of the Lumiere Cinematograph. A jaded, French crowd sits in the theater waiting to see this mystery invention they know nothing about. The lights go down. A static, barren shot of the front door of a factory is projected onto the screen. Several seconds go by before a man stands up and shouts in disappointment, "It's just the old Magic Lantern!" (the magic lantern was a primitive slide projector for still photographs) Suddenly, the doors of the factory on screen miraculously swing open, a crowd of women pour out into the frame and a seizure of--believe it or not!--motion happens within the picture. Needless to say, the audience was caught completely off guard, and were absolutely dumbstruck.
Can you imagine it?! The audience had co clue that the picture would move! They must have went bonkers! It would be like you watching Jerry Maguire, and then Tom Cruise walks right out of the screen and sits down next to you!
When those French ladies opened the doors to the Lumiere Factory, they were also opening the doors to a whole new world of art and entertainment!
Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to find any information on
A TRIP TO SALT LAKE CITY whatsoever, although I have seen this early,
silent, play on Mormon polygamy.
The film is set aboard the sleeping car of a train bound for Salt Lake City. As it opens, several women and their children enter with a conductor and are shown to their sleeping bunks (behind curtains). Moments later, a Mormon man enters, and is bombarded by all his wives and children. The man gets on his hands and knees and gives the children a horsey ride. We see from his face that he is not happy about it. Everyone goes back to their bunks and the man leaves the car only to return with a large can of milk with several rubber tubes sticking out of it. He hands the hoses to everyone in the various bunks and feeds his rather large family.
I can only assume, since this was an American film made in 1905, that it was an Edison and Co. production, although not their best. I would only recommend it as a look as the first film about religion.
Talented B-Movie director Roy Rowland got his start in pictures directing shorts for MGM back when movie theaters showed short films instead of soda commercials before the feature. His most famous shorts are the comical "How To..." series. These 11 minute spoofs were "mockumentary" educational films on how to do seemingly simple tasks. In this, the first of the series, narrator Robert Benchley instructs an average joe on the "proper" way to wake up, get ready and "start the day." Of course, it wouldn't be a "How To..." film unless every possible thing went wrong along the way. From a toothpaste shortage to a faulty shower, the film is one disaster after another until its modest punchline. Those looking for unappreciated talent should consider Roy Rowland.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |