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jonathon_naylor

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219 reviews in total 
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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
So Simple, So Brilliant, 28 September 2006
9/10

So simple yet so brilliant, 12 ANGRY MEN is not to be missed. It's the tale of the meticulous Mr. Davis, a juror not quite convinced of a murder suspect's guilt despite what appears to be overwhelming evidence. His questions gradually persuade his fellow jurors that things aren't always as open-and-shut as they might seem.

One of the great all-time ensemble casts highlights 12 ANGRY MEN. Henry Fonda is superb as the hardcore skeptic... but then again, everyone is superb, from Joseph Sweeney as the eldest juror to E.G. Marshall as the no-nonsense Juror #4. Anytime a film set almost exclusively at a single cramped table in a single cramped room can spellbound the viewer, you know you've got first-rate actors. The clever, colorful dialog is a treat as well.

Yet the strongest asset of 12 ANGRY MEN is the demands it makes of the viewer to think critically. Initially we are like most of the jurors, curious as to how Fonda can be so naive to think the young suspect may be innocent. But he gradually pulls us into his line of reasoning, challenging our assumptions and finding fault with the supposed facts. By the film's end, we're left wondering how we could have been so narrow-minded just 90 minutes earlier.

As sharp as what's on screen is, 12 ANGRY MEN is equally smart for what it does not show. Many of today's filmgoers would demand flashback sequences to depict what the characters describe. They would want to get to know the accused killer so they could judge him for themselves. They would want more action, more pizazz, and changes of scenery. Yet it's precisely the film's refusal to do any of this that makes it work so well. The viewer is effectively the 13th juror with nothing but recollections of testimony to go on. Our imaginations are free to create a picture of the alleged murder, just as we would have to as part of the jury.

12 ANGRY MEN is often cited as one of the greatest films ever. It's a verdict that is well deserved.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
It's All Been Done Before, 9 September 2006
5/10

Star Jennifer Garner is likable enough, but everything in 13 GOING ON 30 has been done before -- and better. Garner plays Jenna Rink, who plays a game on her 13th birthday and wakes up the next morning as a 30-year-old ala BIG. The adult Rink is a successful magazine editor complete with a (gasp!) live-in boyfriend. To find out what the heck happened in the prior 17 years, she tracks down her guy friend (an annoying Mark Ruffalo) from adolescence to find out what happened. If you can't predict what happens between the two, you need to see more movies.

Love it or hate it, you can't say that 13 GOING ON 30 doesn't cater to its target audience. It's basically a chick flick or something you'd watch at a teenage girl slumber party. If neither scenario sounds like your cup of tea, take a rain check on this one.

16 Blocks (2006)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Not A Typical Willis Cop Movie, 25 June 2006
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not your typical Bruce Willis action movie. A flawed, heavy-drinking cop (Willis) reluctantly carts a rambling witness (Mos Def) from police custody to court. It's a mundane enough task until other cops start trying to kill the witness - and soon his badge-bearing escort - because the testimony stands to hurt the police department. From then on it's an urban adventure as the good guys try to outwit the bad guys to ensure the testimony can take place before it's too late.

It's really too bad this movie wasn't a big theatrical success. It could be that audiences just weren't excited about seeing the 51-year-old Willis as a member of law enforcement for the umpteenth time. But while he is yet again a cop, our star (who looks like hell, but on purpose) certainly pulled off something different here. It's not perfect, but it is often smart and fun with interesting character interaction. Like so many Willis films before, there are even one or two instances where you'll ask yourself, "Okay, how does he get out of this one?" and struggle to come up with an answer - until that answer unfolds before your eyes. Def, a hip-hop artist off screen, can be annoying but is enjoyable enough as he races down streets, through hallways and on a bullet-riddled bus with Willis. And David Morse is positively hateful as the cop leading the charge against the two men. Another plus is that producers didn't pad out the film, letting it properly run at a tidy 95-or-so minutes.

Both Willis and director Richard Donner (Superman, the Lethal Weapon series) have done much better, but they've also done much worse. Chalk up "16 Blocks" as a pretty good movie that deserved more attention than it ever received.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Battle Against Mediocrity, 14 October 2007
5/10

Not even the world's greatest superheroes can defeat the mediocrity of FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER.

This time around, our heroes are little bit older, a little bit wiser but still coming to grips with their incredible powers. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) is about to finally marry Sue Storm, aka the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba). But then, as it inevitably does in these kinds of movies, all heck breaks loose. It seems some mysterious force -- the Silver Surfer, we soon learn -- is gradually draining the Earth of its life.

The plot is suitably comic-book-like, but RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER becomes increasingly mired in a string of CGI-reliant action scenes that are as dizzying as they are fake-looking. Whereas most films have the viewer anxiously waiting for the next injection of action, this one has us wishing director Tim Story would instead flesh out the less-flashy, human angles. In any event, some of the story doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. While many superhero films can get away with that, it hurts this effort more than it would most simply because the film hasn't much else going for it.

Perhaps the film's biggest asset -- literally and figuratively -- is Michael Chiklis as The Thing, a lovable lug made of craggy, orange rock. As he was in the 2005 original, he is a sheer delight, particularly when forced to endure the mischief of Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch (Chris Evans). Chiklis flawlessly captures a comic book character in a way few other actors ever have.

As a long-time fan of these four fantastically odd heroes, I wanted to like RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER as much as anyone. I gave it many chances to redeem itself. It did not. It's quite a disappointment.

43 out of 60 people found the following review useful:
What Starts Out With Immense Potential..., 21 November 2006
7/10

What starts out with immense potential gradually evaporates into preposterousness in ABSOLUTE POWER. That doesn't make it an entirely bad picture, but it certainly puts a damper on what could have been. Clint Eastwood is an aging thief (he's been an aging something or other for his last 20 movies) who secretly witnesses President Gene Hackman get rough with his mistress. The encounter ends with her being shot by the Secret Service as she tries to defend herself, and the incident is promptly disguised to look like run-of-the-mill foul play. He may be on the outside of the law looking in, but Clint ain't about to let the powers that be get away with this one.

The opening 20 minutes of ABSOLUTE POWER are quite suspenseful, bordering on mesmerizing. There we are, trapped in a walk-in, two-way mirrored vault along with our pilfering hero, helpless to stop the horror unfolding just meters away. Eastwood may start out as the bad guy, but his status is quickly upgraded as he flees the scene holding what may be the only piece of evidence that can prove his astonishing observation. From then on we find ourselves rooting him on, even if he is in reality nothing more than the lesser of two evils.

What unravels ABSOLUTE POWER is its laziness and improbability. In an attempt to set up one stirring scene after another, the characters begin doing and saying things one would expect of a low-rate Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. A one-dimensionally evil Secret Service man surreptitiously hunkers down in a tall building trying to snipe Eastwood ala Lee Harvey Oswald. A police detective has no problem with Eastwood sneaking around his home at all hours of the night. A three-minute argument by Eastwood's thief is enough to convince the mistress's widower of the involvement of the most powerful man on earth. And to call the ending outlandish and unsatisfying would be a pair of understatements.

As well, though it's usually the other way around, ABSOLUTE POWER would have benefited from a longer running time. One comes away with the sense that Eastwood, who also directed, tried to cram too much into too little. The film certainly had the material to go longer, and its compactness gives the whole endeavor a choppy feel at times.

ABSOLUTE POWER is a film you really want to like. There is considerable talent involved here, and the movie's heart seems to be in the right place. But like that one photo we all have in our album, this one didn't turn out as good as we would have hoped.

10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Sometimes Unsettling, Rarely Boring, 16 August 2006
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sometimes unsettling but rarely boring documentary answers an interesting, unexplored question: What happens to people who die with no next of kin? Producers followed the men and women in Los Angeles who are handed the task of trying to track down somebody -- anybody -- with relation to the deceased. Hundreds of unrelatable corpses slowly move through a process of storage, cremation and ultimately mass burial.

Obviously such a topic deserves to be handled with sensitivity, and "A Certain Kind of Death" does just that. While the film never holds back -- we see our share of slowly-decaying bodies and red-hot roasting skulls -- but none if it ever comes off as exploitive. This is a mature film made by serious people. If you think the premise appeals to you, so will the film.

A Hot Dog Program (1999) (TV)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Simple Masterpiece, 16 July 2006
10/10

It's been said that in the world of entertainment, sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. That's never been truer than in Rick Seback's "A Hot Dog Program." This masterful, fun documentary takes viewers on a cross-America tour of popular (and unusual) hot dog outlets. Along the way, he delves into the national obsession with the wiener-in-a-bun, including an interesting history into how our favorite bad-for-us treat came to be and, yes, how they are made. This PBS effort is a true slice of Americana, even for those who prefer hamburgers or burritos, and is highly recommended. Seback made an equally excellent documentary on ice cream.

Airport (1970)
16 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Where's This Going? Oh., 27 August 2006
7/10

You'll spend the first quarter of this film wondering where it's going. Once you find out, "Airport" is an entertaining effort. An ensemble cast including Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster and George Kennedy lead the way on a snowy winter night at a midwestern airport. Not only is one of their planes stuck in deep snow, blocking a valuable runway, but a separate flight has been forced to turn around and make an emergency landing after a botched bombing.

Two things hurt "Airport" the most. The first is its drawn out "get to know the characters" opening. It starts out like a family drama, and it's more than 35 minutes -- far too long -- before we learn what it truly wants to be. Secondly, the film sporadically attempts humor. With the rest of the running time so serious -- dealing with terror, suspense, adultery and the like -- such lightheartedness comes off as plain awkward. Besides that, the acting is a little stiff, but its overall harm to the picture is minimal.

See "Airport" on a rainy day. Just be prepared to invest a lot of time before things really pick up. It's rated G, so don't worry about the kiddies walking in.

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Fun, Not Flawless, 18 October 2007
6/10

It's no longer as impressive as it was upon its release nearly 70 years ago, but ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT holds up fairly well as a curious blend of mystery, action, comedy and flag-waving.

Humphrey Bogart leads a rag-tag bunch of Manhattan gamblers who take on as their patriotic duty a battle against Nazis who hope to paint the city red with their despicable brand of hate. Amid inexplicable murders and wild chases, including a climactic showdown on an explosives-packed boat, Bogey and his boys aren't about to let the enemy take hold of the mother land.

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT is not widely considered a classic, and with reason. Though it boasts an impressive cast (Bogey, Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt are at the top of their game), lively dialog and good action sequences, the film suffers from some faults. For one, it doesn't always allow you to take a breath or two to absorb everything you've just taken in. It's one big block of non-stop, which might not be so bad were the plot less intricate. The film is also a touch overlong, running out of material before the end credits, and at times suffers from a lack of clear direction.

But for those faults, there's no denying this movie's appeal. It's like an early '40s action blockbuster, the heroic wise cracks notwithstanding. The passage of time has rendered the anti-Nazi theme, complete with an ax cutting through a Hitler portrait, amusing yet still strangely patriotism-inducing. Reviewers have noted how much fun ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT is, and it's hard to argue that point. Still, with a few tweaks this is one would-be classic that would have more firmly stood the test of time.

13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Furie Strikes Again, 11 August 2007
3/10

Sidney J. Furie ("Superman IV", "Iron Eagle") hasn't made a good movie in his nearly five decades in the director's chair, and he wasn't about to start with "American Soldiers."

It's not that this film had zero potential. The short-lived TV series "Over There" proved that a dramatized look at the ongoing Iraq conflict could be entertaining and real without crossing an uncomfortable line with men and women still dying on the frontlines. But stunningly clichéd dialog dogs "American Soldiers" from the opening sequence. There's the prisoner meet who is only too happy to share his evil plans for the future with his American enemies, reminiscent of something out of an old superhero cartoon. There's the forced "why are we here?" discussion. And who could forget the soldiers who offer some timely advice before dying, a crucial component of unimaginative movies.

The acting is no better. I can usually handle a sub-par performance here and there, but these guys are so bad it detracts from whatever enjoyment may have been possible. Instead of being sucked into the story, you find yourself wondering if this was the best Central Casting could do. The actors aren't helped by the aforementioned dialog; in fact, you really get the sense that they know how terrible their lines are as they reluctantly recite them.

The Furie staple of senseless violence (remember "Iron Eagle"?) is omnipresent here as well. The pattern is detectable within 10 minutes: clichéd dialog, horrible acting, big, fiery explosions, repeat. Of course things blowing up is a part of war, but Furie uses it as a misguided means to liven things up rather than portray the brutality of conflict and its impact on GIs. There are moments where you'll swear this film's target audience is violence-obsessed adolescent boys (again, remember "Iron Eagle"?).

But enough about the negative. No one expects a direct-to-DVD film from Sid Furie to be a masterpiece. The truth is, "American Soldiers" does not deserve to be in the IMDb's bottom 100, where sits as of this writing. Trust me, there have been much, much worse. "American Soldiers" even has a few decent moments once you're willing to forgive its shortcomings. But depending on your viewing habits, that's a big if.


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