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Marley & Me (2008)
Warning: This is not a family movie!!
After I saw the commercial for this movie, I wasn't exactly expecting a masterpiece. It looked trite and warmed-over, yet another "wacky lovable dog does wacky lovable things" movie in the grand tradition of "Beethoven" or "Air Bud". Unfortunately, my little brother saw the same kid-friendly commercial and immediately latched onto my right ankle, refusing to rest or sleep for an instant until we hightailed it to the theater to catch the latest Hollywood animal hijinks. After some futile initial attempts at resistance, I saw the "PG" rating and shrugged my shoulders in defeat, figuring that there were probably worse ways to kill an afternoon.
And there undoubtedly are worse ways to spend an afternoon...it's just that, after watching "Marley and Me", I'm fairly certain that there aren't many worse movies you could view with an eight-year old.
We weren't even a quarter of a way through the popcorn before I began to realize that I had made a terrible mistake. First and foremost, the language was not at all what you'd expect from a "PG" rated movie that's (allegedly) geared towards kids; there weren't any "F" bombs, but there were plenty of instances of the 'A' word, the 'H' word, and even the 'S' word. Sex was also talked about frequently, making it painfully obvious after some initial slapstick that the movie wasn't a lighthearted farce meant for kids at all, but a romantic comedy for teens and adults! It sure would have been nice if the movie trailers had intimated that, or better yet, if the ratings association had simply slapped the movie with the "PG 13" rating that it deserved, thereby helping ensure that it was seen mainly by the older audience it was clearly meant for.
Secondly, it wasn't long before the antics of Marley the dog began to take a backseat to the utterly predictable trials and tribulations of the young married couple. If that wasn't bad enough in a kids' film (again, allegedly), we were treated to fascinating discourse about the husband's career path. We had the unique pleasure of sitting through endless vacillations by Owen Wilson's character choosing between life as a columnist or a reporter, and even witnessed a mind-numbing montage of how he got his column ideas (presented in rapid fire monotone) that left me longing for the quiet subtly of "The Fairly Odd Parents".
As the plot labored onward with pregnancy attempts and a miscarriage, I slunk lower and lower in my seat, unable to believe how negligent I had been in trusting the fraudulent "PG" rating and thus subjecting my kid brother to material that was fortunately over his head but which also must have been every bit as exciting to him as visiting a laundromat to watch clothes tumble dry. Anticipating a loud birthing scene once Jennifer Aniston's character officially did become pregnant, I took him for an extended trip to the concession stand and asked him if he wanted to leave early. Of course he said no, that the dog was funny; relieved that I hadn't scarred him for life, I gritted my teeth and compounded my mistake by returning to the auditorium for the remainder of the film (by the way, I have no idea if the aforementioned birthing scene ever took place-- I purposely made it such a lengthy process at the concession stand that by the time we got back to our seats, Jennifer Aniston's character had not one but two preschool-aged kids).
Providing a cure for insomniacs far and wide, the movie actually surpassed the two hour mark before culminating in the unthinkable: the dog dying at the end! Yes, what more could you possible ask for from a "children's" film than obscene language, sex jokes, and a dead pet? No amount of schmaltz was left unchecked, and by the end of the movie, my little brother was just sobbing (along with about half of the other kids in the audience). Me? I was left stunned, comforting my weeping brother and feeling as low as an earthworm's belly for having put him through such an experience. If only I had it to do over again, perhaps I could have suggested a less painful way for us to spend the afternoon together, like performing home root canals on each other and leaving the nerves exposed.
Now, let me be clear: I don't let myself off the hook for this miserable experience. I absolutely should have known more about the movie before going, and worse, I should have insisted that we leave when it became clear that the movie wasn't going in the direction that I expected. But it seems to me that the advertisers and movie ratings association are both somewhat culpable for a theater full of crying little kids as well. The movie trailers on television were shockingly misleading, making "Marley and Me" seem like a Disney-type film when it was anything but, and either the ratings association is suddenly taking direction from Howard Stern or they just flat-out dropped the ball on this one. In writing this review, I hope to help others avoid making the same mistake that I did.
If you're not an impressionable tot under the age of 30 or so, feel free to go ahead and give "Marley and Me" a shot! But if you're thinking about taking your young kid to what seems like a slapstick comedy about a dog, you would be wise to ignore the "PG" rating and stay away.
The Fairly OddParents (2001)
Ohhhh the pain!
I cannot stand this show! Has there ever been even one redeeming quality, one funny punchline, or one plot line that "didn't" make the average viewer want to drown himself in a bowl of soggy cornflakes?
The voices. Oh, those horrible, wretched voices. Akin to repeatedly dragging a set of fine cutlery across a dusty blackboard, each character is uniquely annoying in his or her aptitude for shrill, nasal vocals. Cosmo sounds like a whining mongrel, Vicky sounds like a stereotypical shrew, and Timmy's dad makes every line sound like a bad impersonation of a game show host (Guy Smiley from "Sesame Street" comes to mind).
The animation is awful; even the producers of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" laugh at the overwhelmingly bad artwork on this show. Every character has buck teeth, or a square head, or a head three sizes too big for his or her body. And what's with having the characters speak every single line wide-eyed and grinning, as though posing for a photo op with the president? Then, there is the fact that every character on the show is completely moronic. Not since the subtle grace of Amelia Bedelia, Homer Simpson, and Buddy Lembeck of "Charles in Charge" fame have characters been portrayed as so unrealistically dumb. Usually "unrealistic" is synonymous with "unfunny", and that is most definitely the case here. There hasn't been this much slapstick based on cluelessness since "The Naked Gun 33 1/3"...and at least Leslie Nielson was good at it.
Finally, the premise of the show (and it's the same every single episode, so big time spoiler alert here): Timmy wishes for something with his two "Fairly Oddparents", something goes wrong, there's always some contrived reason why he can't immediately reverse course and wish away the damage, and then everything turns out just fine in the end. Oh, and on a side note, Timmy's parents never believe him when he complains about Vicky, and they continue to employ her at every opportunity. Maybe it's just me, but it seems that a kids' show containing the subtle message that it pretty much does no good whatsoever to tell on an abusive babysitter probably isn't a great idea.
If you're writing a paper and want to cite an example of just how far the quality of cartoons has fallen, "The Fairly Odd Parents" has to be a great place to start. A prime example of television producers throwing together a worthless product aimed at kids with little or no effort simply because they know that someone somewhere will watch it.
Clerks II (2006)
The "passion" is gone
What a disappointment. Kevin Smith, in continuing his slide into mediocrity, has decided to foist this cheap knockoff on his unsuspecting band of followers. The idea of creating a sequel to "Clerks" was a good one, but unfortunately, the execution was not.
It seems clear that the entire concept went awry when Smith decided to increase the budget of the film (in a director's commentary interview called "Back to the Well" on the DVD, Smith admits that he originally wanted to keep the budget as close to the original "Clerks" as possible, but was apparently talked out of it by someone who must similarly think that "New Coke", new textured basketballs in the NBA, and changing "Marshall Fields" to "Macy's" were all masterstrokes). Thus, instead of nostalgic grainy black and white visuals, we have funky, Brady Bunch era color eerily reminiscent of other Smith mediocrities like "Mallrats". It is all downhill from there.
The script is uninspiring, which is utterly amazing given that it is spawned from one of the greatest low-budget comedies ever made. Dante (Brian O'Halloran) is now in his thirties; after being forced to relocate from his Quik Stop appointment due to a fire that ravages the place, he takes over as cashier at a Mooby's Fast Food joint. Randal (Jeff Anderson) is still the same old slacker. Sadly, though, the chemistry between the two is nowhere near as effective. Gone are the snappy, natural exchanges from the first movie; the attempts at humor fall flat, and the random witticisms seem forced. The Dante and Randal personalities are the same, but nothing else is.
The plot (Dante prepares to leave the fast food/convenience store sector and get married, but not without a bad case of cold feet) is lackluster enough, but making matters worse were all the little touches that made the first "Clerks" such a memorable film. Where were the vocab words introducing different parts of the day ("Perspicacity", "Malaise")? Where were the various social commentaries sprinkled into the dialogue ("Title does NOT dictate behavior")? Where was the bizarre music from unknown artists that, nevertheless, stayed in your head well after the movie was over? (Hint: "What a Wookie!" replaced by "Smashing Pumpkins" is not even close to an equal trade-off). Where are the running jokes ("Are you open?")? All the lightning-in-a-bottle charm of the first movie is left out, apparently to make room for slapstick, a yawn-inducing debate about "Transformers", and a plot device about mating with donkeys that the average middle school kid would find hackneyed and old-school.
And then there is the dreaded rooftop dancing lesson for Dante who, in a male stereotype that must surely date back to the time of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, admits that he is about to get married but can't dance. Really, this scene provides an excellent parallel between all that is right in the first movie and all that is horribly wrong in this one; in the first one, a cool and funny hockey game takes place, and in this one...a dance scene that would cause even the creators of the infamous McDonald's dance party in "Mac and Me" to laugh aloud in derision.
One last note on the dance scene. In an oh so realistic portrayal of how "cool" people today view songs by Michael Jackson, the movie characters are all featured dancing, shimmying, shaking, and tapping to the melodious strains of "ABC" from the Jackson 5 as Dante learns the moves. While watching the scene, I couldn't help but wonder if the actors didn't enjoy the song a bit more than, oh, any sane person viewing the movie. Next time, a tune slightly less annoying might go over better with the audience; may I suggest Jim Carrey's version of "Mocking Bird"...or perhaps a test of the Emergency Broadcast System?
Oh, Kevin Smith. You had the right idea (finally) with this long-awaited sequel, but you let yourself get talked out of the basics that made you a star in the first place. I kept waiting for Ben Affleck to pop around the corner in a cameo as a rival clerk; other than that, this film is no different than anything else you've done recently, which is a shame. I'm giving you a "4" instead of a "1" for your good intentions and the closing scene (which was excellent). Here's hoping you finally get back to your roots if and when you decide to make "Clerks 3".
How to Eat Fried Worms (2006)
"Worms" nothing to squirm at
Watching the commercials for this movie, I was fairly convinced that I was going to loathe it. For one thing, it was one of those "loosely based on the novel" movies, which usually means that the book author saw the script, hated it, and refused to be associated with the film. Worse, the trailer showed only the most mundane slapstick imaginable (ex: kid gets squirted in the face with a garden hose...and falls over). So when my little brother got it into his mind that this was the "must see" film of the season (of course, he thought the same thing about "Cars", "Over the Hedge", "The Ant Bully", "Monster House", etc, etc), I was admittedly less than thrilled.
But once at the theater, the film won me over for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the writers capture 'kid dialogue' better than just about any other children's film I've ever seen. A prime example of this comes directly after the boys' principal accidentally eats a worm stuck in an egg omelet. The boys do a lame, over-exaggerated impression of the principal lecturing them, which makes it realistic since all little kids think (mistakenly) that they do great mocking expressions of their adult tormentors. Then one of the boys asks, "Why did he say, 'alley oop'?" Another boy responds, "Maybe he's crazy!" and the entire group laughs uproariously. Not an overly witty rejoinder, but exactly the kind of thing a young kid would come up with on the spot and exactly the type of remark other kids his age would find hilarious. As if to confirm it, my kid brother laughed right on cue when they were spoken on-screen; I could practically hear his voice spouting the same exact lines if he was placed in a similar situation.
Another reason the movie works is that the writers manage to work in issues like bullying, sibling relationships, the new kid in school, and peer pressure/conformity without making any of them seem as though they were subplots for some after school special. For example, the bully (Joe) isn't stereotypical; he's definitely bad but not pure evil, and just enough of his home-life is revealed that the audience feels sympathy for him and understands his bullying origins. There's also no "cue the dramatic music" moment where Billy ('Worm Boy') realizes what a complete tool he's being to his younger brother Woody, and yet, by the end of the movie, some type of minor transformation has been made. There's some realism here in the way the characters resolve situations and in the way they relate to each other, and very little of it comes across as corny.
The only drawback to the movie comes in the form of an absolutely laughable dance scene that even the creators of the infamous McDonald's dance party in "Mac and Me" would scoff at. Why oh why was it put into the movie?? Did Austin Rogers (Adam) pull a Macaulay Culkin and refuse to take the role unless he was given a vehicle to showcase his oh so impressive dancing skills? The entire sequence definitely did not need to be there and had slightly less comedic value than any given show on "The History Channel".
Overall, though, this movie was excellent, and the length (about an hour and twenty minutes) was just about perfect. One of the best, most realistic live action kid films you'll ever see if you're ever around children or just remember what being a kid was actually like.
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
Not a meltdown, but definitely a lukewarm sequel
Having now seen the film three different times (don't ask), I finally feel at least knowledgeable enough to write an adequate review. The original "Ice Age" was a good, not great, movie and I figured that the sequel would be more of the same. And that's exactly what the sequel turned out to be: a few chuckles sprinkled here and there, a nice talent addition in Queen Latifah, and a plot interesting enough to follow without falling asleep in the process. But a highly memorable film, "Ice Age: The Meltdown" was not.
The plot: the Ice Age is ending, and the herd from the original film (Sid, Diego, and Manny) must move to higher ground or risk drowning when the great ice dam collapses. Subplots include the introduction of new characters (Latifah as Manny's female mammoth counterpart Ellie and two possums named Crash and Eddie), Manny's worry that his species is on the verge of extinction, Diego's internal struggle with his irrational fear of water, and Sid's discontent over not being respected by the rest of the herd.
The characters themselves are a mixed bag of successes and failures. John Leguizamo and Denis Leary were once again very strong as Sid and Diego, respectively; the lisping voice of Sid is distinctive and endearing, while Denis Leary's dry menace makes you want to laugh even when nothing funny has been said. Queen Latifah is also highly effective as Ellie and provides her share of laughs throughout the film. However, Ray Romano's voice 'talents' appear to consist solely of reprising the same annoying character he portrayed for nine years on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (yes, if you were to close your eyes during scenes where Manny is speaking, you would almost swear that you were listening to a whining middle-aged man trying to combat his pushy, know-it-all wife. Try it for yourself and see). Romano's nasal voice combined with the surly nature of the mammoth end up creating a lead character that is fairly unappealing, which may not exactly be a coveted quality for a kids' movie.
And then there is the addition of Crash and Eddie, both of whom combine to make up what must surely be the greatest comedy duo since Scott Baio and Willie Ames. It's not that they're spectacularly annoying, or that they're bad enough that they detract from the film; it's just that they aren't very funny. Clearly their role is to provide belly laughs based on slapstick and over-the-top drama, but the writers give them next to nothing to work with in terms of material, and the result is a lot of tepid humor ("How are we going to re-populate the Earth? Everyone's either a dude or our sister!"...yawn), and a lot of blank stares from my little brother and the majority of kids in the audience.
Crash and Eddie notwithstanding, the film hits about as often as it misses with its attempts to create guffaws. Wildly successful were scenes involving Sid as the "Fire God", Queen Latifah's mammoth suffering from species identity confusion, and Diego's continuous bouts with Hydrophobia. Less successful were Jay Leno's scenes as Fast Tony and a musical number involving a chorus of vultures ("Food, Glorious Food"...please stop). Admittedly, the antics of Scrat drew raucous laughs from both kids and adults alike in the audience, although I have to believe that people finding this creature even remotely amusing are similarly likely to own a vast collection of Pauly Shore films and a shelf containing VHS recordings of every known episode of "The Jeffersons".
So all, in all...7 out of 10. Not bad, not even a waste of money or time, but your chances of remembering it even a few weeks from the time you view it are about on par with the likelihood that you'll accurately recall the contestant who won May 4th's Showcase Showdown on "The Price is Right"...in an episode that ran in 1982.
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Superior casting helps "Zathura" eclipse "Jumanji"
Let's face it: "Zathura" is basically a carbon copy of "Jumanji", with the former based in space and the latter based in the jungle. Both involve children playing a seemingly innocuous board game that shockingly comes to life, with the players needing to finish the game in order to survive.
With two such similar premises, how is that "Zathura" ended up as a completely superior film to "Jumanji"?
In my view, the reason begins and ends with the casting. Tim Robbins, kind enough to take time out from his busy politicking schedule in order to actually do some acting work, was perfectly cast as the father and added a sense of legitimacy to the film. The boys themselves were excellent young actors. Jonah Bobo as 'Danny' in particular was very impressive; it's easy to recognize his talent and emotional range as he goes from contrite younger brother to jealous sibling to frightened school kid within the span of a few frames. Josh Hutcherson's understated performance grows on you as you realize that his role is to play the sullen, long-suffering older brother.
In contrast, "Jumanji" had the overly exuberant (synonyms for "incredibly annoying"?) Robin Williams hamming it up yet again in one of his most unlikable roles, a cameo by Frasier Crane's wife (Bebe Neuwirth) and two nondescript kids. 'Nuff said.
I could go into plot points, but the basic premise of a game that comes to life about sums it up. The difference is that the audience actually cares about the fate of the kids in "Zathura", whereas the average viewer is probably rooting for Robin Williams to be eaten by a wayward lion in "Jumaji". If you're in the video store and are trying to choose between the two films' (and if you can get past some questionable language by Jonah Bobo's character in the beginning of the film), go with "Zathura".
The Bernie Mac Show (2001)
The Mac Mantra: Shrill bickering, threats of violence= great comedy
This show is repulsive, has always been repulsive, and will always be repulsive. Bernie Mac's whole shtick has been to center episodes around the abhorrent parenting philosophies he waxed philosophical about in a TV Guide interview a few years ago (The basic premise: If children do anything at all to get under your skin, threaten to hit them with a belt). In the interview, Mac talked about how he used to stand in the outfield of his little league games "afraid to go home" because of the beatings that often awaited him at the hands of his grandfather. But instead of learning from those experiences, he chooses to repeatedly exploit the concept for the cheapest of laughs in a show that redefines the phrase "appealing to the lowest common denominator".
Some viewers praise Bernie Mac's alleged "tough love" (a PC term if ever there was one) approach, but psychological studies have proved conclusively that prisons all across the nation are filled with the results of the same parenting style that Mac would have us believe is acceptable. Those who look to "The Bernie Mac Show" for parenting tips are equally likely to view "The Power Rangers" as a deeply thought-provoking social commentary on how to solve conflicts without resorting to violence.
While I am certainly not suggesting that parents viewing "Bernie Mac" will immediately pick up a belt and start hitting their kids with it, it is clear to me that this sad excuse for a show has the capacity to desensitize people to family violence by making it appear that it is somehow appropriate, even 'amusing'. I'm not exactly sure when acts/threats of child abuse somehow become synonymous with "great comedy" on FOX (perhaps with the equally exploitive "Titus", or maybe when Homer started choking Bart in a vile running gag that dates back to the eighties?), but as for me, I'd rather spend eight straight hours reading the nutritional labeling on every cereal produced by General Mills than spend time each week watching this overgrown bully browbeat and physically intimidate his unfortunate charges over and over again in a truly desperate attempt for yuks.
Curious George (2006)
Surprisingly, "curiously" good
I'll admit it: when I first saw the trailer for "Curious George", it inspired in me little more than an eye-roll and a deep sigh of martyrdom. As of late, Hollywood has had a fascination with remaking children's stories from earlier decades, producing such atrocities as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "The Cat in the Hat", and "Bad News Bears" (to name just a few). Taking the misguided notion that people actually want to see modernized versions of these stories and combining it with the voice talents of perhaps the most overrated comedy star in Hollywood (Will Ferrell) seemed, at first glance, to be a recipe for certain disaster.
Forced by my little brother to see this and all children's fare, I sat in the darkened theatre of "Curious George" with a level of anticipation dangerously approaching ennui, fully expecting to be more entertained by the ads promoting the hot buttery popcorn at the concession stand. Then the movie started, and I tried to rearrange the hood of my sweatshirt so that I could catch a few winks without my brother noticing. Begrudgingly, with the reluctance of some bizarre fictional creature being force fed green eggs and ham, I began to pay more and more attention to the film as I was captivated by a surprisingly strong performance by Ferrell and the understated (yet effective) animation. I was surprised to find that there were a few laughs for adults as well as kids, and was shocked to find the plot as one actually worth following.
The premise of the movie: The man in the yellow hat (named "Ted" in the movie) has the responsibility of discovering an exhibit that will save his beloved museum from becoming a parking garage. He goes overseas, befriends George, and typical "Curious George" mayhem ensues. George is cute without being cloyingly adorable (not an easy trick in animation), and the script is also faithful to the books in that he doesn't suddenly begin giving verbal discourse on "War in Peace" (remember when suddenly Tom and Jerry could not only talk but SING in their disaster of a movie?). There are the occasional sight gags (a ship named the "H.A. Rey" comes to mind) and witty dialogue that make the Pixar films so successful, and the conclusion is satisfying (although the ending scene definitely enters the realm of the deeply weird).
If you're unsure about this film, take it from the word of the deeply skeptical: chances are good that you will you not hate "Curious George", and odds are that you'll even enjoy it. As "Yellow Hat" Ted and George fly over the city clinging to a set of balloons (guess I'll have to mark the 'contains spoilers' box for this), he makes the ironic remark that "This isn't so bad" after all.
We agree, Ted. We agree.
Chicken Little (2005)
Average in every way
This was a film with a somewhat interesting premise, a somewhat interesting main character, and a somewhat interesting conclusion. This was not a Pixar film: it wasn't designed to appeal to adults. Rather, the writers focus on giving the kiddies a few laughs without leaving the parents comatose with boredom.
And when everything is taken into consideration, the writers succeed. Somewhat.
It's just not a very memorable film. Whreas most kids can watch films like "Shrek" repeatedly because of the sight gags, talented voice-over performances, and hidden jokes that they might not catch the first time around, "Chicken Little" is likely to be forgotten the moment the credits roll. That's not to say that Disney doesn't provide it's standard politically correct message. Of course the best player on the baseball team is a girl (Foxy Loxy). Of course a girl (Goosey Loosey) beats up and humiliates the boy (Chicken Little). Of course the character with the most redeeming social value is physically unattractive (Abby Mallard). And on, and on, and on. Disney also manages to continue its bizarre tradition of creating single father families ("Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "Beauty and the Beast", "The Goofy Movie"): Chicken Little's mother has, of course, departed for the great unknown.
The relationship between Chicken Little and his father comes across as more annoying than heartwarming. The premise: A father realizes that it's probably not such a great idea to be embarrassed by his son; by the end of the movie, what his own child thinks of him actually takes precedent over the opinions of neighbors and perfect strangers! This message would undoubtedly come across as highly inspirational...if not for the fact that it's so blatantly obvious, hackneyed, and overplayed.
The voice-over's for the film were largely uninspiring, save for amusing performances by Don Knotts and Adam West. "Fish out of Water" was easily the most likable of the bunch (yes, I was suckered by the standard Disney cutesy animated character in their never ending attempt to sell more toys), and he didn't even have a speaking roll. No, "Chicken Little" is not the worst animated film I've ever seen...but memorable, it is not.
Far from "Incredible"
Ever since the success of "The Incredibles" (a children's film that takes the bold and innovative step of respecting kids enough to NOT rely solely on fart jokes and bathroom humor for cheap laughs), animated filmmakers have been scrambling to copy Brad Bird and Pixar's format. The basic idea is to have inside jokes that kids won't get but that adults can appreciate ("Shrek 2"), while at the same time appealing to the young folks with an easy to follow plot and stunning animation.
And the makers of "Hoodwinked" try, really they do. It's just that the writing, which is supposed to be clever and sharp, ultimately fails miserably at both. The idea (the "REAL" story behind Little Red Riding Hood, which is almost surely already a book somewhere) is a good one, but the plot comes across confusing and scatter-shot. None of the main characters' back stories are interesting enough to follow; kids may get a kick out of an overly caffeinated chipmunk named Twitchy, but almost all of the other grand attempts at humor (hmm...a German Woodsman selling Schnitzel...these folks really ARE in-step with today's typical elementary school banter, huh?) fall completely flat.
Which brings us to the characters, another major problem with the movie. It is unwritten Hollywood law that all animated films have at least one highly adorable character if for no other reason than to sell a few toys (heck, even a mediocrity like 'Chicken Little' has the oddly endearing "Fish out of Water"). Not only do the makers of "Hoodwinked" fail to come up with one such marketable character, they create a cast that is largely unlikeable. In "Hoodwinked" we have an overly wry "Big Bad Wolf", an overwhelmingly unfunny Woodsman, a stereotypical 'wild' Granny, and a salt-of-the earth Little Red Riding Hood who comes across as though she belts back a shot of scotch and chain smokes each morning before heading to her nine-to-fiver. Detective Bill Stork is almost painful to watch both because of the bad fake accent and yawn-a-minute Sherlock Holmes impersonation.
The film gets a 5 out of 10 because it isn't blatantly offensive, but it is most definitely unfunny for adults and for any kid possessing at least the worldly sophistication of a six-year-old. You may as well rent it if your cable has been shut off and a winter storm is approaching, but don't go out of your way to find it, either.
First (and last) great Kevin Smith film
From a grainy, black and white film created on location during the off hours of a neighborhood convenience store, a kernel of greatness was born. It has become a cult classic, a 'must have' on the movie shelves of college dorm rooms far and wide, and one of the very few films that a person can watch over and over again without growing tired of it.
Contrary to popular belief, however, Jay and Silent Bob are not the tandem that drove the film's success. From a moral standpoint, I had a hard time accepting two drug dealers as the "lovable losers" that Smith would have us believe they are, but beyond that, Jason Mewes isn't all that talented. He speaks every line as though he's in need of adenoidal surgery, and his long hair and droopy clothing no longer disguise the fact that he's over thirty years old. Mewes basically plays himself in every one of his roles, and should probably consider himself lucky to have a famous friend willing to write entire movies for him to star in.
The dynamic duo who ARE most responsible for the film's success are Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson playing Dante and Randall, respectively. O'Halloran was brilliantly understated in his role; he is sympathetic without ever directly appealing to the audience to be seen that way. When his girlfriend Veronica claims that he's wasting himself at a dead-end job, we can believe it because of his penchant for subtle humor ("I assure you, we're open!" and the "pay by honor system" were both priceless) and his educated vocabulary. Randall was sufficiently smug and condescending to customers, treating them the way many would love to deal with dim people asking inane questions. And to top it off, the dialogue between Dante and Randall just could not have been better: it was snappy, witty, and realistic from start to finish.
"Clerks" is a film intended primarily for college guys (Is there a dorm room in the country that doesn't hold a copy of this film?) but that somehow also appeals to people from all walks of life. Educated people can enjoy it for the vocabulary ("Perspicacity") and incredibly smart writing. Low brow folks can love the off-color humor and graphic controversies regarding Dante's two girlfriends. And anyone who has ever worked in the convenience/fast food industry can appreciate the moronic situations that customers present, along with the ways that Dante and Randall deal with them.
It is easy to become a Kevin Smith fan simply from watching this movie alone; however, he has not even come close to this standard of excellence since, making several truly wretched films ('Mallrats", "Vulgar", "Jersey Girl") in the process. If you're thinking about becoming a Kevin Smith follower, do yourself a favor: rent "Clerks" again instead, sit back and watch it for the umpteenth time, and wistfully ponder how good Smith used to be.
Bad News Bears (2005)
No news is good news
When filmmakers get the idea to remake a classic movie, often it's because he or she feels that something was missing from the original. They feel that, by placing their unique stamp on the new film, they can satisfy unanswered questions, plot points, etc, while maintaining the basic dignity and character of the original.
So...based on that theory, Billy Bob Thornton's rationale for the remake of "The Bad News Bears" was that the original had too many letters in the title (in a bold and highly daring move reminiscent of Ed Wood at his finest, Thornton decided to drop "The", changing it simply to "Bad News Bears"), not enough swearing...and a kid in a wheelchair. Oh, and he changes enemy Yankee pitcher's last name from "Turner" to "Bullok" for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but himself. With revolutionary alterations such as these, don't be surprised if you pick up the rental box half a dozen times while watching the movie to make absolutely sure that you have indeed rented the correct film.
Basically, the plot can be summed up as "Bad Santa coaches a group of misfit kids". Yawn. We've seen this role, this performance, from Billy Bob Thornton one too many times. Thornton wants to bowl us over with the 'shocking' vulgarity of youth, but a trip to "Hooters" and Tanner teaching a boy in a wheelchair to curse both turn out to be so lightweight that it is likely that only the Reverend Jerry Falwell would take offense.
At best, the casting was marginal, and at worst, the audience is forced to wonder if the director actually auditioned the kids or merely closed his eyes and chanted 'Eenie, Meenie, Mynie, Mo" while holding a stack of acting resumes. Sammi Kane Kraft (as Amanda) was a great baseball player with limited acting ability, and Timmy Deters was only modestly successful in trying to recreate the role of Tanner Boyle. Tyler Patrick Jones as Timmy Lupus was far and away the most talented of what basically amounted to a mediocre cast of child actors, but he was utterly wasted in this film and was limited to a few one-liners that must have ended up on the cutting room floor from "Bad Santa". Naturally, Thornton is no match for the venerable Walter Matthau as Buttermaker. Whereas Matthau was irascible and cantankerous in a lovable 'Grandpa's dipping in the cider again' kind of way, Thornton's version of Buttermaker is creepy enough to make us think of adequate background checks and the stupidity of parents who would willingly leave their children alone with him.
Per his film tradition in his post "Sling Blade" days, Thornton goes out of his way to remove any heartfelt sentiment from the plot, and thus the friendship between Timmy Lupus and Tanner Boyle never materializes. That adds to what is perhaps the most irritating part of the film: the introduction of a new player (Tony Gentile as Matthew Hooper). It is an unnecessary plot device, possibly added only because the always classy Thornton had some good 'kid in wheelchair' jokes that he was just itching to use, and adds a touch of surrealism to a movie that should be imminently grounded in realism. In fact, Thornton changes one of the most touching moments of the original movie by handing it to Hooper (a character who, let's face it, has no redeeming qualities other than the fact that he's in a wheelchair) in one highly unrealistic scene; he thereby successfully strips even more of the heart away from the original film. Which, judging from Thornton's film-making history, was probably exactly what he intended to do.
In short, there are undoubtedly worse remakes out there ("War of the Worlds" and "Bewitched" come to mind), but not many. If you're thinking of renting this film because you're desperate for some true seventies banality, allow me to suggest that you save the money and instead try catching either the rerun of "Alice" where Flo says "Kiss my grits" for the eighteenth time or the action-packed episode of "My Three Sons" where Fred MacMurray lights his pipe. If you choose to rent the film anyway...well, don't say I didn't give you any other viable options.
The Sandlot 2 (2005)
A hateful experience
Oh Dear Lord: somebody somewhere must have been offended by the original movie (which was obviously a fiendish plot to perpetuate the stereotype that a group of school boys could play sandlot baseball games without following preconceived notions of gender equity and politically correct behavior). The result of this brutish insensitivity manifests itself in "Sandlot 2", which is quite possibly the worst sequel ever made. Hey anonymous narrator guy who agreed to reprise his 'Sandlot 1' role for this atrocity...have you no shame?
This film's offenses to all of moviedom are far too numerous to adequately catalog. First and foremost, "Sandlot 2" is not so much a sequel as it is a B level remake of the original. Virtually every situation from the first movie is clumsily recreated by a far less talented cast and group of writers: the scene where Squints kisses Wendy Peppercorn is transformed into bizarre (yet utterly predictable) slapstick involving a kissing booth, another 'Beast' must be outrun (this time by the uninspiring Max Lloyd-Jones), another outfield wall collapses...you get the picture. And what this shameless ripoff cannot steal from the original, it manages to plunder from other movies (such as the scene in "Bad NewsBears" where Amanda takes a cheap shot to the chest near home plate).
The cast itself is incredibly lackluster. Max Lloyd-Jones is an inadequate replacement for Mike Vitar's benevolent Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, although to be fair, the writing doesn't help him any; whereas Rodriguez selflessly places his own reputation on the line to take a shy, gawky kid under his wing for the summer, Lloyd-Jones' "David Durango" has little concern for the plight of misunderstood Johnnie Smalls (yes, the little brother of Scotty Smalls) and appears far more interested in being aloof and ultra-cool while scouting out love interests. Brett Kelly's "Hamilton Porter" impersonation begins and ends with his physical appearance. Even little James Wilson sounds suspiciously like Marcy from "The Peanuts Gang" as Johnnie Smalls, and he was probably the most talented of the bunch.
And then there is Teryl Rothery appearing in a hackneyed feminist role that undoubtedly had Susan B. Anthony turning in her grave. No cliché is left unturned as she chides her husband for calling his daughter by a pet name ("Female children are every bit as good as male children" she pronounces, providing an unsuspecting Johnnie Smalls with a smarmy look just oozing with resentment and general creepiness. *shudder*) and responds to her daughter's romantic uncertainties by telling her that "women need a man like a fish needs a bicycle". Sadly, the writers did not manage to have Rothery work a single utterance of "Burn your BRA for the ERA" into the mother/daughter dialog, but perhaps they will correct this glaring oversight in time for "Sandlot 3: The Gloria Steinem story". Coming soon to a theater near you?
The rest of the movie provides a quick cure for insomniacs far and wide as the writers desperately try to make amends for the first film's over-indulgence of testosterone (the phrase 'Male Chauvinist Pig' was repeated, I think,about eighty-six times). The movie's objective can probably be summed up in a single line, where the insult fest between the sandlot kids and the little leaguers is recreated. "You play ball like a GIRL!" one of the kids snarls. "Ex--CUSE me?" chirps one of the newfound female ballplayers. The only thing missing from the moment was a scrolling disclaimer at the bottom of the screen with the producers not only apologizing for the original scene but for everything else wrong with the world up to and including dishwater spots.
Which is all well and good. My only question is, when will these same producers get around to issuing an apology for stealing ninety-seven minutes of my life that I can never, ever get back?
Dennis the Menace (1993)
Not bad, but...
For whatever reason, this film has been somewhat underrated since its release in the early nineties. I suspect that much of the apathy stems from the fact that audiences at that time had reached the saturation point with "Little kid outsmarting the bad guy" slapstick (Home Alone 1 and 2, The Three Ninjas series, etc). Still, this version of Dennis Mitchell's escapades is well worth a look, and is certainly holds its own against other John Hughes films with a similar (ok, "identical") premise.
The highlights of the film include winning performances by Mason Gamble and Walter Mathau as Dennis and Mr. Wilson, respectively. Mason Gamble was one of the more talented child actors to grace the screen at the time- if you're able to see more than a 'cute kid' and listen to his inflection, he's actually pretty funny. Mathau, of course, is Mathau and brilliant. It's somewhat annoying that the film decided to go 'PC' in portraying Alice Mitchell as a career woman, but other than that, the casting of the parents and Martha Wilson was perfect. The musical score was also excellent- whimsical, nostalgic, without coming across as cloying.
There were only two problems with the film, but they were big ones. First, the director did not adequately develop Wilson's friendship with Dennis, which makes the end scenes seem forced and trite. The only recollection I have of Wilson even speaking civilly to Dennis before he 'ran away' was when he briefly explained why he kept his coins in a safe. Other than that, their relationship was nothing but snarls, grumbling, and apologies. Secondly, the introduction of Switchblad Sam was a typical (and oh so tired) Hughes device, although it was surprisingly violent compared to his other films (watching a cute little five year old force feed and then accidentally set a villain on fire was slightly disturbing, to say the least). Christopher Lloyd's performance was over-the-top and distracting, taking away from what could have become a semi-classic children's film.
Kids are so adorable when they turn 13, aren't they?
Yikes...one of the most awkward sequels of all times. First they replace the inspiring, easily recognizable soundtrack of the original ("Carmen") with some maudlin seventies fare that even Laverne and Shirley would laugh at. Then they have a group of unappealing adolescents known as the 'Bears' ride to the Astrodome in the back of a cargo van (why the Bears were chosen to play in this game instead of the Yankees, the team that actually WON the championship in the first film, is conveniently glossed over). In between, there's a sandlot game where, predictably, the Bears revert to their 'Bad News' ways. Yeech!
There are some sequels that should not be made when the star of the original decides to move on, and this is one of those times. Perhaps Matthau saw the script and realized that his career would follow that of Roy Scheider's if he participated in this atrocity. Other than a somewhat touching subplot involving Tanner's desire to win the game for "The Looper" (Timmy Lupus who appears in the sequel for about twenty three seconds), this film is more than worthy of a royal skewering from Mike and the bots of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" fame.
Mac and Me (1988)
Hey everyone, dance party at McDonald's; let's go!
The dance party scene was such subtle product placement. I can't say why exactly, but for some reason I was left craving a Big Mac after watching the movie. Hmmm....
If anyone can watch the dance scene and tell me exactly why it was in the movie, I would love to hear it. Also perplexing were the jogging scene with musical score (even Phil Collins at his worst would have been an improvement) and the cameo by that annoying red-headed kid from 'Different Strokes'. Perhaps someone who has watched the movie repeatedly and considers it a cult favorite could enlighten us....?
I do like the fact that the producers cast a kid in a wheelchair as the star, but the writing was awful and the plot was laughably bad. It was an ET knock-off right up to the end, where you will find a shocking conclusion rivaled only by "The Usual Suspects"!