Reviews written by registered user
jonathon_naylor

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219 reviews in total 
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Apt Pupil (1998)
17 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Original, Intriguing, 19 November 2006
7/10

A teenage boy befriends an elderly man. During countless discussions over many a night, they form a special friendship that manages to bridge their considerable age gap. It would sound like a sweet character study if the old man wasn't a Nazi war criminal and the teen wasn't a Holocaust-obsessed recluse blackmailing his new pal for all the gory details.

APT PUPIL scores the highest marks for originality. Nothing ever quite like this has been done before, and it's all quite intriguing. In the beginning, we come close to feeling sorry for the old man despite his past misdeeds. Here is he living out his golden years in peace and seclusion when all of a sudden a pushy teenager threatens to blow his cover. As the tale progresses, we see that the elder is just as conniving as the boy, threatening simply to expose their friendship, forever linking the young man with unimaginable notoriety. What starts out as a bizarre acquaintance escalates into a duel of manipulation.

It's not surprising that APT PUPIL is based on a novella by Stephen King. The film bears many of the hallmarks of King's works. And while it's never actually scary, it is thrilling at a psychological level that King reaches best. It's not perfect, but with the skilled direction of Bryan Singer and solid performances by leads Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen, it generally accomplishes what it sets out to do.

You don't have to be a horror person or a teenager at a late night party to enjoy APT PUPIL. The film has a unique appeal beyond what its target audience may have been. If you missed it when it was released in 1998 (as many did, based on its limited commercial success), it's certainly worth a look.

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Has Its Moments, But..., 18 November 2006
5/10

THE BIG RED ONE has its moments. Too bad there weren't more of them in director Samuel Fuller's interpretation of service and survival during the Second World War.

Despite the potential to be something memorable, this tale of American soldiers led by an aging (though still gritty) Lee Marvin suffers from weak characterization, unconvincing battle scenes, clunky editing and a lack of material to adequately fill its nearly two-hour running time. The film has the feel of a 1940s war picture, making little use of advances in direction, technology and filming options that developed in the interim. THE BIG RED ONE has certainly not aged well.

On the plus side, there are some good battle scenes. At one point the men are forced to take cover in hastily-dug holes while a massive battle tank rolls over their heads. A later scene supplies suspense as the greatly-outnumbered boys hide out in a cave, hoping beyond hope the enemy won't turn them into cannon fodder. And our star delivers a quintessential Lee Marvin performance, displaying a "I've seen it all before" level of perseverance.

THE BIG RED ONE doesn't hold a candle to great war pictures of the past and present. But if war films are your passion, it's worth a look.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Decent Popcorn Fun, 15 November 2006
7/10

It's not really anything we haven't seen before, but THE PEACEMAKER makes for a fun popcorn movie. George Clooney stars as a US army colonel who, along with Nicole Kidman, must track down stolen weapons of mass destruction before it's too late. It all makes for a fairly engaging effort that, say what you will about it, is never boring.

What's most refreshing about THE PEACEMAKER is its avoidance of the obligatory sleep-together scene usually involving the male hero and his female aide. Without the distraction of romance, they (and we) are able to focus solely on the task at hand, a task given added weight by real-life events that followed this film's release. Good action scenes, particularly where Clooney drops into a suspect truck, add to our enjoyment.

The Paper (1994)
26 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
The Paper Delivers!, 15 November 2006
10/10

A funny, fast-paced and fascinating film, THE PAPER delivers. Michael Keaton is remarkable as Henry Hackett, a newspaper editor torn between the two loves of his life: his exhausting job and his long-suffering (and pregnant) wife. This juggling act plays itself out during one particularly frenzied day in which Hackett must weigh a better job offer while trying to outscoop his deep-pocketed competitors on a murder story.

It's a cliché to say so, but there's never a dull moment in THE PAPER. The multi-faceted storyline sucks the viewer in and doesn't let go until after the exciting, root-on-the-good-guys finale. An interesting film could have been made about any one of the angles explored here, be it the incredibly hectic behind-the-scenes workings of a major daily, the personal toll such an operation takes on its employees, or the media's tendency to oversimplify. To combine these into one film results in an infinitely mesmerizing piece of work. And let's not forget Ron Howard's direction, which is smooth and virtually flawless. The writing is equally brilliant. Whatever reaction the film tries to inflict -- laughter, excitement, surprise -- it inevitably succeeds.

The performances in THE PAPER deserve special mention. Everyone is so well cast that it's impossible to picture anyone else in these roles. Keaton has never been better in a starring role that is tailor-made to his comedic and dramatic abilities. Robert Duvall is on top of his game as the publisher whose job has cost him so much in other areas of his life. Marisa Tomei, as Mrs. Hackett, proves MY COUSIN VINNY was no fluke. (The scene where she glares at her husband in disbelief as he tells her he has to miss an important dinner with her parents is absolutely priceless). Randy Quaid is as quirky as can be as the paper's resident columnist. And although his appearances are brief, the late Spalding Gray is unforgettable as the head of a rival paper. This group of actors may very well comprise one of the most talented ensembles of the 1990s.

It's a shame THE PAPER has never received the attention it deserved. Had it been released 50 years ago, in a less cluttered era, it would most certainly be widely hailed as a classic today.

11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Dual Personality, 12 November 2006
6/10

This semi-docudrama is really two films in one. The first concerns the infamous 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and the valiant efforts to save his life. The second relays the power struggle among White House staff while the most powerful man in the world lay under anesthesia.

Despite the fascinating subject matter, THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT often falls flat, playing like a cobbled together movie of the week. Writer-director Cyrus Nowrasteh spends far too much time on the ego trips of Secretary of State Alexander Haig (a semi-annoying Richard Dreyfuss), failing to fully explore the more human angles as a nation sat with bated breath. What should have been a subplot with Haig dominates the movie. It would have been nice to see more of the doctors handed this enormous task; more of Nancy Reagan, the beloved First Lady; and more of the behind-the-scenes details, such as the ailing president signing a dairy bill to prove he was still in charge. The dialog is unimaginative and some of the performances resemble those of actors fresh from acting school.

There is a great movie to be made about the chaos within government when its leader is sidelined. But with its dual personality, THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT isn't it.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Dramedy Gem, 12 November 2006
8/10

Director Billy Wilder scored a gem with this smooth, highly entertaining dramedy. Jack Lemmon is a mild-mannered company man trying to get ahead by lending his apartment to executives bitten by the extramarital love bug. Things take an unexpected turn when boss Fred MacMurray borrows the place one night and leaves behind his suicidal mistress, the lovely Shirley MacLaine. After she unsuccessfully tries to take her life with a dozen sleeping pills, Lemmon must nurse her back to full health. This leads to a few sparks, and soon MacLaine must choose between the good guy Lemmon and the powerful but seemingly non-committal MacMurray.

Not many films can pull off the blend of comedy and drama merged in THE APARTMENT. Full credit must go to the masterful performers, particularly MacLaine and the perky Lemmon, who easily draw our empathy with their diverse performances. High marks also go to the writers, who deliver original, clever dialog and three-dimensional characters who could have easily been much less comprehensive. And Wilder, best known for bringing us SOME LIKE IT HOT, provides solid direction while getting the most out of everyone involved. Those who don't often watch older movies will be surprised at how well this one holds up.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Unrelenting, 9 November 2006
6/10

This stomach-churning expose puts an anguished face on the brutality exalted by Saddam Hussein's former regime in Iraq. With some of the most shocking, unrelenting footage ever released on DVD, it's enough to make even the staunchest anti-war critic rethink their position that alleviating human suffering was not a legitimate reason for military action. We see tongues cut out and cruel beatings designed to induce kidney failure. We see public shootings and chain-wielding prison guards. It's truly more frightening than any work of Stephen King or Dean Koontz.

Yet the footage goes beyond Saddam's devastation. Uncensored footage of post-Saddam Iraqis gleefully stringing up the charred corpses of two American contractors is sickening. The new enemies in Iraq, the insurgents and terrorists, are also profiled with several hostage beheadings, again uncensored. It's all intended to shock, and in that it more than succeeds.

Unquestionably the biggest drawback in BURIED IN THE SAND are the studio segments hosted by an unknown named Mark Taylor. Taylor tries hard to make the compilation tasteful, but his appearances cheapen the entire documentary. He turns the production into a piece of right-wing propaganda, which it needn't be. It would have been much better to employ an unseen narrator and perhaps interviews with experts to help us digest what we are seeing. By marketing this as an anti-liberal film, the producers ensured they would change nobody's mind about the war and instantly alienate half of a divided nation. That's too bad, because taken more seriously, BURIED IN THE SAND could have been more.

The Losers (1970)
6 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Mindless Crap, 6 November 2006
1/10

A truly mindless, incoherent piece of trash, NAM'S ANGELS or THE LOSERS sucks under any name.

Five embarrassingly stereotypical American biker dudes are hired to rescue a CIA man from a Chinese prison camp during the Vietnam War. Of course the plan doesn't go entirely smoothly as the chumps hire prostitutes, get drunk and generally help the enemy by not only losing the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, but ripping them out of their chests and stomping on them in laughter. Eventually they get their acts together and ride into the camp on armored bikes equipped with front-end machine guns. Such weaponry might be cool in a less horrid picture.

The premise of THE LOSERS (the actual on-screen title when I saw it) had the potential for some silly b-movie fun, but the film tries to be something it isn't -- legitimate cinema -- and it falls apart before ever forms. There have been worse films, but not by much. Even that violence-obsessed boy who grew up the street from you will be shaking his head.

19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Cheap And Stupid, But..., 5 November 2006
2/10

Never before have so few words so fittingly summed up a film as the VideoHound Movie Guide's entry on ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE. "Cheap and stupid" were the key words in its evaluation of this (extremely) low-budget, Canadian-made horror flick. But what our friends at VideoHound forgot to mention is that ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE is also occasionally (and unintentionally) hilarious in the tradition of awful movies from yesteryear.

Jon Mikl Thor plays a muscle-bound lunkhead who heads to the corner store for Momma one fateful night. After heroically fending off two would-be robbers, our good ol' boy is fatally struck by a car full of bad ass punks who speed away from the scene. Rather than call an ambulance, the store owner does what any of us would, loading the corpse into a car and dropping it off to Lunkhead's fretful mom. Having already lost her husband to punkery, Momma calls in the friendly neighborhood voodoo practitioner to turn her son into a modern day Lazarus. Soon the goon is up and around once more, only he's not nearly as friendly as he now screams a lot and clobbers the hit-and-runners with a baseball bat.

ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE is like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE in that everyone will have their own favorite example of its ineptitude. For this reviewer, the hands down winner is Shawn Levy, who is inadvertently uproarious as Jim the head punk. It's positively priceless to see Jim, he of blow-dried '80s hair and preppy clothes, recant how he actually enjoyed striking Lunkhead. "Christ," he says in what was intended as a creepily dramatic moment, "it was so easy." And who could forget the moment when Jim, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, hurls a handful of cold spaghetti at his nagging mom? You just know this dude and his cohorts would last about 10 minutes in a real high school.

Of course there are other highlights (lowlights?). There's never been a less frightening zombie than Thor. I'm sorry, but big muscles, long hair and short sweat pants exude stupidity, not fury. The zombie's appearance becomes increasingly ridiculous as the film progresses, going from Lunkhead to some Munster-looking dude with short black hair. ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE also attempts some humor, most notably with Jim's frequent non-success with the ladies. But it's all so lame you end up laughing AT the movie, not WITH it. Then there's the Adam West factor. You just know that any film that has to misleadingly give top billing to the former BATMAN star is doomed. That said, there is a certain perverse pleasure in seeing a man we all know and love from childhood being dragged into the cruel depths of hell by a born-again corpse.

It's quite stunning that that something like ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE was able to clear all the hurdles involved in seeing a a film come to fruition. It's amazing someone thought of it. It's more amazing that someone had enough faith in those involved to fund it. Our amazement continues to escalate when we think that real people -- presumably those interested in careers in the motion picture industry -- would allow their names to be attached to it and that a company, no matter how desperate, would release it on video. No wonder they say truth is stranger than fiction.

7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Biopic Deserves More Attention, 22 October 2006
8/10

THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY is a slightly formulaic, but nonetheless solid, biopic that really deserves more attention that it receives. Robinson stars as himself, the first African American to break through pro baseball's color barrier. It's by no means an easy task as he confronts a society that is far from united in wanting to see this groundbreaking endeavor succeed.

The film is to be credited for not shying away from the racial tension of the time. Robinson endures racial slurs, unyielding boos, the indignity of sitting at the back of the bus, and so on. It's both shocking and infuriating to be reminded of how bigoted and unreasonable society was just a few decades ago. In many ways Robinson's is a heartbreaking story, even though we know it has a happy ending.

Robinson won't be mistaken for an Academy Award winner, but his performance is decent. He proves to be a highly likable screen presence, portraying the sort of gentleman that by many accounts he was in real life. Some of his supporting cast is stiff, but by and large the performances work.

Surely this important story will again one day be given the big screen treatment. And whoever gets behind the camera for that effort will have a solid foundation to which to refer in THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY.


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