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Christmas Comes to PacLand (1982)
Fun trip down memory lane
I re-discovered this special this past Christmas when it was shown on Boomerang. I recorded it on my DVR and forgot all about it until today. I sat down with my 2-year-old daughter to watch and am surprised to see she can't take her eyes off the screen. (Probably wondering what the heck I am subjecting her to now) Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it as good as I remembered? Sort of. It does hold up well, but some things are better watched when you're 7. The animation is typical of Saturday morning cartoons from the 80's and it does bring back the memories of all the cartoons I used to watch (the best being Dungeons & Dragons, which I recently found on Toon Disney). If you get a chance to re-visit this, you should.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Very, very disappointing
It's a shame this movie is not better. I have really enjoyed Hollywood's recent trend of remaking older horror movies; today's technology has allowed for much better effects and camera work. I can't really say whether they are scarier or not, in that it is a rare film that is able to scare me. In this case, the effects get in the way. The original was a bit cheesy and not really very scary. But, it was good. This remake is rather mean, not really very scary. And it is not good.
After a brief opening sequence in which we see the murders which occurred in the house the year before, we meet George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George) and her three kids. They are just newly married (after her first husband's death) and on the lookout for a bigger house. They find it in the large, spooky house on Long Island. After moving in, George slowly begins to feel the evil influence in the house and gradually goes insane. Everyone else pretty much sits around waiting for him to yell at them. Loud noises, choppy camera-work and special effects pad out the first hour or so. We get three scenes which try to explain the haunted forces in the house, but they are brief and until the 28th day (the final 15 minutes of the movie), Kathy really doesn't seem to realize something is happening in the house. It's almost as if the filmmakers forgot they were actually making a movie in the middle of all the special effects.
Perhaps I am judging to harshly against the memory of the original. But, I blame the filmmakers for this. Gone is the priest trying to convince his superiors that something sinister is happening; here he gets two scenes that are really quite pointless, except to set the pacing for the conclusion. Gone are the supporting players; no friends, no aunt. This creates a claustrophobic feel to the proceedings. Gone is the well, hidden under the basement stairs; here we get the hidden room (last seen in the sequel/prequel to the original) and some new explanations on what happened therenot very convincing here, but would make a good movie of their own. This was a big misstep, but not as bad as the depiction of Jody. The creepiest thing of the original has been changed to just another ghost for the remake.
On a final note, this movie is very loud. Now and then we get horror movies that bore us and then throw a loud noise on the soundtrack to keep us awake. I guess I should be grateful here; I would have been mad at myself for paying $6.50 to take a nap and the movie was not compelling enough to hold my interest.
The Grudge (2004)
Well-made and creepy ghost story
Haunted house movies are an interesting sub-genre. I love horror films and I love ghost stories, but as a movie they tend to leave something to be desired. Usually they are over-produced disappointments (like the remake of "The Haunting") or they tend to leave too much to the imagination and are a little slow (like "The Amityville Horror"). This film manages to succeed as entertaining, a little chilling and fast-paced.
In Japan, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a nurse who is given the assignment of looking after another American (Grace Zabriskie). The previous caretaker did not report to work; after the opening we know why. We soon discover the house is haunted by an extremely nasty ghost. Even worse, it is cursed: those who enter will be haunted to their deaths by the ghosts who met a grisly end inside.
I think what helps the movie along the most is the way the story is told. After an opening that is shocking only because of the name actor involved (we don't yet know enough about the character to have any emotional connection), the movie cuts to another person at the house, then backwards to someone else, forward to someone we have met before, sideways to another person, backwards again and then forward some more. It would be very confusing if you were not to pay attention to what is happening. Those who are not entertained by this and let their minds wander will wind up disliking this tremendously.
The acting is good for a horror feature. Gellar is right in her element here, showing a more vulnerable side to herself than she did as Buffy. Bill Pullman acts haunted even before he actually is; I liked his character and wished they had done more with him. I especially like Clea DuVall. An unconventional looking actress, she is very good in every feature I have seen her in.
There are scares to be found, most notably from the spirit who likes to noisily crawl up and down staircases, slapping her hands on the steps and making a creepy clicking sound. A little too much is left unexplained (like what happened to all the police who show up at the house at one point; how does the curse effect them and when), but it is not enough to ruin a good fright flick.
The Incredibles (2004)
Funny lines, great animation, breathtaking action...excellent film
Hollywood has again shown that their best product tends to be of the animation variety. Pixar has again shown they make the best of the best cartoon movies have to offer.
After too many lawsuits for injuries sustained during rescues, the government creates a superhero protection program and the best heroes are sent into hiding. Of them is Mr. Incredible, who longs for the old days. At home, he feels unfulfilled with the family lifewife (Elastigirl, wonderfully voiced by Holly Hunter and able to stretch and bend to unbelievable lengths; daughter Violet, who has her own powers (invisibility and force-field creation) and looks eerily like Samara, the villain of "The Ring"; son Dash, whose power is the ability to run at super-speeds and resents not being able to show them off; and baby Jack-Jack, who seems to have no powersyet!) He gets his chance to relive the glory days through a top-secret experiment on a tropical island, which he soon discovers is a front for the villain. Looking like the Heat Miser from "The Year Without a Santa Claus," our bad guy is trying to eliminate all the superheroes and become a self-made one; his plot is to use his robotic creations to fool the people of the world into thinking they are under attack and he is there to rescue them.
This all makes for an entertaining story line in itself and the way director Brad Bird presents it is wonderfully exciting. Adding to the mix are the wonderful lines of the characters. They are funny, sarcastic and very well written. If only most comedies were half as funny as this movie is. I laughed more at this movie than I did any other released in 2004.
The animation, with its retro-futuristic rendering of 1960's designs, is amazing. The people at Pixar continue to amaze and impress. Rarely do they misstep and this is no exception.
What is it with TV-movies? They don't make any attempts at decent film-making and every movie must be a four-hour, two-night "event" that contain too many subplots and drag down the rest of the movie. This one is no different.
The basic plot of the movie concerns a series of super-storms that will soon converge on Chicago, resulting in a hurricane off Lake Michigan. That in itself is enough for a decent enough two-hour movie. But, the filmmakers feel compelled to pad it out to four hours and add pointless subplots. Such as the wacko who is planning to crash the power grid as a way of making a statement, but with bad timing it also hampers emergency procedures against the storm. There's also the head of the local power company (Thomas Gibson), who is dealing with a corporate merge and cheating on his wife. His wife is dealing with discovering this and her rebellious daughter and her no-good boyfriend, who uses them in an idiotic attempt at showing his loveby holding them hostage in a bank and shooting her! A reporter (Nancy McKeon) is desperate to show how faulty the power grid is and finds her chance with the wacko. And a senator (Dianne Wiest) who must use all her pull in Washington to get help in getting the power back on.
The majority of these stories could be cut, but since they are here they should at least be entertaining. They are not and are horribly acted out by the cast. Gibson shows no means of talent here; McKeon comes across as too horrible a person to care about, an angry woman who just insists she is right; Wiest is horribly wasted, confined to walking what appears to be the same hallway and overacting to an extent that is far beneath her talent.
The disaster scenes are good; the rest is crap.
National Treasure (2004)
My favorite movie of 2004
I loved this movie. It may be far-fetched, but the characters have such conviction in what they are doing and director Jon Turteltaub has filmed it in such an exciting fashion that it succeeds in being a fanciful entertainment and my favorite film of 2004.
Nicolas Cage stars as Ben Gates, the latest in a long line of treasure hunters, who believes in a mythical treasure hidden by the founders of our country. Despite everyone believing him to be a joke, he continues his quest for the gold and is even able to secure financial backing to do so. In the movie's least convincing sequence (I can only suspend disbelief so far), he finds a clue in a Revolution-era war shiplocated in the middle of the Arctic! And only buried a few feet from the surface!! The screenplay explains that the ice sometimes pushes objects to the surface, but come on! That said, he discovers the map to the treasure is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence and his former financiers (led by Sean Bean) are out to steal it for themselves. This sets up the rest of the movie, full of action scenes that may not be original but are imaginative and well-executed. It's been a long while since a movie entertained me in such a way that I was not concerned about how long until it was over. I was actually disappointed to see this one end.
The acting is about what one would expect from a film of this kind. Cage is passable as the hero of the movie; he tends to reflect how good a movie is. He's good in good movies, fair in OK movies and horrible in bad movies. I liked his performance here; he lends a quiet shyness to the character that is entirely fitting. When he is thrust into action, he seems to do so only for the sake of preserving history. Bean makes for a perfect villain; deceptively friendly when he needs to be and perfectly menacing when the script demands it.
The action pieces are highly entertaining; I was surprised given that previously Turteltaub was better known for lightweight comedies or mid-level dramas. It looks as though he has found his calling. The stealing of the historic document that is the center of the movie is thrilling. But, the most fun sequences are the race to find a clue hidden in the buildings of Philadelphia that can only be found at a certain time of day due to the position of the sun; and the deep, hidden catacombs that hold the treasure.
The central mystery is purely fiction, but I am unsure of the facts that are used to propel the story. I imagine they are as well. The movie made me want to pop open a history book and find out.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Depressing holiday "comedy"
How can you go wrong with a holiday movie that pairs Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis? Director Joe Roth has found a way. Based on the novel "Skipping Christmas" by John Grisham, the movie centers around a couple (Allen, Curtis), depressed because their daughter will not be home for Christmas, who decide to skip the celebration and take a cruise instead. While I admit I would've still decorated, the movie goes overboard in the reactions of the neighbors (led by Dan Aykroyd). Turning into Christmas Nazis, they begin stalking and harassing the pair to try to get them to decorate. I was not aware Christmas spirit meant decorate at all costs. I don't find the humor in the characters here who believe so.
Making matters worse, about halfway through the movie, when the Kranks change their minds, it seems more like they did so out of giving in than because they wanted to. And their reason for changing their mind is preposterous: the daughter has gotten engaged to a man from Peru and wants to bring him home for Christmas. She goes on to explain to her mother that he has never seen a snowy Christmas because he spends it in Peru every year with his family. Why would she go through all the trouble of making last-minute changes to take him away from this tradition when she was already in Peru? I guess it fits the rest of the movie: everyone is centered on themselves.
Allen and Curtis are the best things about the movie, but the scene of her in that tanning salon in the shopping mall is the least funny in a movie full of dead jokes. We even get a Santa Claus finale that does not fit the tone of what came before. Good job, Roth! You've made the worst Christmas movie of all time. Bring on "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!" Please.
Spring Break Shark Attack (2005)
Note to casting agents: Talentless actors make good shark food
This weak TV-movie has the distinction of being the first movie in film history to combine spring breakers, lecherous college-age womanizers, date-rape, overprotective parents, struggling beachfront business owners and sharks in the same picture. It still doesn't make for a good movie.
Shannon Lucio is the girl with the overprotective parent. She lies and heads to Florida for spring break, where she quickly encounters lecherous college-age womanizers: two guys with a camcorder intent on videotaping their conquestsand scoring as many times as they can. But, she is attracted to the local working boy (Riley Smith) whose mom (Kathy Baker) is struggling to run her boat-tour business and trades barbs with another struggling business owner (Bryan Brown) from farther down the beach. And, to attract more business to his bar, Brown is dumping chum in the waters to attract the sharks.
More time is spent on the Lucio and Smith characters than on the sharks, which are more interesting in that there are so many in one area. You would even think with the words "shark attack" in the title, there would be more with them. As it is, all we get are a few attacks before commercial breaks and a goofy, extended scene at the end. The rest of the time we get a worthless WB-style romance between the two leads and a bunch of pointless plot devices (including date rape) with one of the camcorder guys.
Once we get to the "big" shark attack (a very large amount of them make a buffet out of the drunk spring break bathers), our heroes come to the rescue and (with the aid of more chum) lead the sharks back out to sea. If you were a shark and you had lots and lots of live bait to eat right in front of you, would you settle for old cut-up fish instead? I doubt it. This movie is stupid on every level; not that I was expecting more from a TV-movie.
Sin City (2005)
Breathtaking visuals enhance a wonderful graphic novel adaptation
There is something to be said about visual style. It can make a horrible movie entertaining and an excellent one stunning. It can even make a decent movie far better than it is. Without the style of directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, this movie would have been a forgettable take on film noir.
I'm not a fan of the new film-making method of shooting completely against green-screen and adding everything but the actors and smallest of props later. I think it takes more effort to work with what exists than too create it on a computer. Last year's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" was also made this way and, while it was a good movie, it could have worked just as well without the technique. "Sin City" could not. The way this movie was filmed is the key to everything. Without style, it would have been forgettable; made without the computer-generated sets and scenery, the movie would have been a disaster. Every last frame of this picture succeeds in ways no other movie has in adapting a comic book. The mood, atmosphere, lighting, coloring (or lack of) and characters all look like they stepped out of the back pages of a newspaper. And I loved it.
The rest of the movie was a little disappointing. The movie is broken up into three or four short stories that interweave some of the same characters and settings, but don't really connect in a traditional film manner. Many will like this, I was under whelmed. Each story has the same basic structure that, given the short time allowed each story, is not able to be fleshed out enough to hide its sketchiness. I also did not like the bleak tone to the movie; numerous characters are not as bad as they act, but nearly everyone meets a violent end. The dialogue is wretched; everyone speaks in the overcooked 1940's film noir tone that has been spoofed and mocked time and again. I was told afterwards by someone who liked this that this was how they spoke in the comics. I don't really care for film noir and I don't like comic books; I am obviously not the intended audience to fully appreciate this movie. Those who are, will love even these few reservations I had and will not be bothered by them. In fact, they will probably embrace them.
High marks also go to the actors, all excellent and each one not given enough screen time. Bruce Willis as Hartigan, a retiring cop who saves a young girl from death, is better here than in any movie he has ever been in before. Sympathetic and heroic, he plays every scene perfectly. Jessica Alba, as the grown up version of said girl, is also wonderful and convincingly sympathetic. I know of her, but have only seen her before in "Idle Hands" (a movie not up to her obvious talent). Mickey Rourke is better here than in his movies since the 80's; good marks must go to the heavy makeup he must act through. But, I found his character to be one-note and the least interesting of the "good" guys. Pretty much everyone else is barely on screen long enough to make more than the briefest of impacts: Powers Boothe as a sinister senator; Rutger Hauer as a crooked holy man; Rosario Dawson as a tough prostitute; Brittany Murphy as a gritty waitress; Benicio Del Toro as a slimy cop; Elijah Wood as a stealthy cannibal killer who looks like a demented Charlie Brown. But the best by far is Clive Owen. As Dwight, whose back story is either not given or I missed it (all I caught was that he was a murderer who recently underwent plastic surgery), he helps the prostitutes of Old Town keep their independence. He is sympathetic, menacing, tough, vulnerable and, yes, cool. I want this character in a movie of his own.
Comic books fans will love this movie, the casual moviegoer will find it quite good and original. Those who can't tolerate heavy violence and gore (even in black and white) better stay away.
Fast-paced adventure rises above it's own mediocrity
No treasure-hunting adventure film is ever going to live up to the standard set by the Indiana Jones trilogy. All that is left for a filmmaker to do when making one, is to make one that is entertaining. It seems they can never make the absurd seem plausible, so it is best for us as the average moviegoer to forget how silly these movies really are and just sit back and be entertained. This movie succeeds splendidly in doing so.
Matthew McConaughey plays adventurer Dirk Pitt, in Africa with his deep-sea recovery employers bringing a rare artifact to the surface. While there, an underground contact informs him of a rare coin which he believes came from a Civil War Ironclad battleship he speculates made its way to Africa. Enlisting the aid of his sidekick (Steve Zahn), he convinces his boss (William H. Macy) to let him search for the fabled boat. Of course, he must escort a W.H.O. doctor (Penelope Cruz) upriver as well; she is seeking the source of a mysterious plague. Along the way, they encounter warring African troops and a megalomaniacal French businessman.
There is a lot of plot to this movie and it all gets pretty jumbled. The movie is more about the search for the disease than it is a treasure hunt picture. Given the villains, at times the movie plays like a James Bond picture. I would have preferred for everything else to have been in the background and centered more on the Ironclad. But, this movie is very entertaining. McConaughey is not going to win any awards here, but he plays the part very well. He is charming and funny and fully capable of getting himself out of whatever situation the movie can put him into. Cruz is well, she's not as bad as she is in everything else. I just have a problem with the way she talks; the accent is too thick and her dialogue stilted. Macy and Delroy Lindo (as a CIA agent) are underused, but make the best out of their parts. Macy, especially, has fun with his wisecracks. The star of the movie, however, is Zahn. I don't think he has a single line that is not a funny throwaway and practically every one of them had the theater I saw this at in stitches. He is a positive point to any movie he is in; most of the time he's the best thing about that movie.
Director Breck Eisner has done a commendable job here. He could have put more effort on the screenplay level to streamline the action and add more explanation to the events; there is too much going on and, as written, none of it makes much sense. As it is, he has put together a string of exciting action sequences; from the opening Civil War battle to a river chase in Nigeria to many, many more in the desert. I've always said, no matter how good or bad a movie is, as long as you blow up enough stuff I'll be happy! This is a good popcorn picture; nothing more, nothing less.