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The 'Burbs (1989)
One of the most underrated films of the 80's
30 September 2004
Commonly tossed aside as a predictable, poorly plotted film with few laughs, "The 'Burbs" has more to offer than most critics are willing to admit.

This film is not so much about the plot(which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. Included in this terrific cast are Tom Hanks, who plays the skeptical neighbor of the new family on the block (a bunch of oddballs who never leave the house); Rick Ducommun, who plays the gluttonous friend of Hanks, who is convinced that the new neighbors are brain sucking murderers; Bruce Dern, the ex-soldier who hasn't quite left his miilitary roots behind him; and last, but not least, Corey Feldman, who plays the dopey teenage neighbor who basically watches the events of the movie unfold from the comfort of his front porch. These characters are so well-acted and so downright wacky that you just have to believe there is a neighborhood somewhere with people like this. The chemistry between everyone of the characters is simply impressive, and much of the humor of the film can be found in the often ludicrous way the director portrays their interactions.

I urge anyone who has seen this film before to watch it again, this time paying little attention to the story and focusing on the superbly acted characters.
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A Tearjerker for sure, but a Manipulative One
13 December 1999
Yes, I had a hard time holding back the tears. But, when I left the theater I though to myself, "what the heck were you getting all choked up about?".

The film purposely raises one's spirits to the max in one scene, and in the next beats the audience mercilessly with misty drama. In fact, the entire movie consisted of this exhausting pattern of lift-you-up-then-beat-you-down techniques, and after reflecting back on the film, I felt very manipulated, almost cheated out of my tears. There was no compelling character depth or sincerity of events that could be perceived as genuinely touching (and deserving of tears), only highly contrived sequences in which the film doesn't compel your emotions, it forces it out of you, even though there is no real substance under the surface melodrama.

It's even more of a surprise that in a THREE HOUR film we learn so very, very little about any of the characters. Even Hanks' character is given very little motivation (why did he become a guard, why did he marry his wife, why is he so kind to the prisoners, and on). And the supporting characters are given one-dimensional, cliched roles (the brute, the old-timer, the rookie, the sadist).

Accordingly, the supposed center of this spiritual, modern Biblical tale, John Coffey, remains completely in the dark. If the four guards are as compassionate as the film would have us believe, then why do none of the guards ever actually TALK to Coffey? No one asks where he is from, or how he grew up, or how he found the girls--they just sort of talk about him while reveling in his miracles; how compassionate is that?

The focus on the sadistic guard and the lunatic inmate were to heavy--the bonding between Edgecombe and Coffey needed more fleshing out. It would seem that the mouse (a much overused metaphor in a film very, very concerned about contrasts) received more screen time than Coffey himself; and although this may parallel a certain theme within the picture, it works too harshly against the much needed character development.

This movie yearns to be exhalted as a rich, spiritual journey, but in the end, after all the tears had been shed (or pummeled out), I felt empty and cheated.
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Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Burton Once Again Delivers a Fantastic Looking Film
20 November 1999
Tim Burton's latest is a highly polished film visually, with very convincing gloomy sets awash in fog and shallow lighting. The audience certainly never needs to question believability of the dreary setting.

Both music and sound effects are put to good use in this, as well as a couple of highly effective implemenations of off-screen space to terrify without explicitly smacking one in the face with an image (although the film certainly has its fair share of decapitations). Be sure to look for the color red as a free visual motif...

Although the film looks terrific, the narrative is weak at points. In particular, Burton's choice of falling back on the annoying situation in which the antagonist proceeds into a five minute monologue near the end of the film in which all of the prior plot events are reviewed and all of the ambiguities are cleared up, is unfortunate and really ruins the pace of the film. On top of that, the love story between Depp and Ricci was thin and unconvincing.

However, Burton's macabre sense of humor really shines in this film, and much of the dialogue involving Depp is very tongue-in-cheek and very amusing (unfortunately, I think many people mistook Burton's sense of humor as either bad scripting or bad acting).

In all, I found this film to be both frightening and humorous, and all-around entertaining. I just wish it would have been released around Halloween... Oh, and Christopher Walken is absolutely terrifying as the headless horseman!
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Dogma (1999)
Horribly boring, and completely Unfunny
13 November 1999
I was extremely disappointed when I left the theater. I'm a big Smith fan, and I was expecting this film to be both funny and thought-provoking. To my dismay, it was neither. I almost fell asleep twice because it was so terribly boring, and I found the religious commentary to be nothing new or revolutionary. Save your money.
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Fails to Focus on the Goods it has to Offer
30 October 1999
House on Haunted Hill has its frightening, disturbing moments. Most notably are the first five minutes, which introduces us to the underlying back-story of the film. In the early 1930's, a sadistic doctor in a famous sanitarium for the criminally insane conducted horrifying experiments on his patients. When the insane inmates escaped one day and proceeded on to a murderous rampage, the vicious doctor sealed the entire building--everyone died when an inferno ensued. So goes the story, a wealthy prankster decides to put up 5 people in the haunted sanitarium, offering them each 1 million dollars if they can survive the night. Within the body of the film, many visually impressive, terrifying images are introduced, but the film falls short when abandoning the ghostly doctor idea and attempting to tie in a silly subplot concerning a husband and wife who are out to kill each other and a man who becomes involved. The premise of a doctor who proves more insane than his patients is interesting, but the movie fails to cash in, deciding instead to fill in the dull moments with comic relief a la Chris Katan (who does come off as quite funny). In fact, the quantity of humor is perhaps the most distractive element in a film that could have otherwise been much more terrifying had it decided to stick with the very creepy story laid out in the introduction. 5/10
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A Chilling Horror Tale with A Thrilling Plot
8 August 1999
In an industry awash with cheesy horror flicks and unthrilling thrillers, few dare attempt combining the two genres, and even fewer succeed. But The Sixth Sense dares…and succeeds. The film never succumbs to the pitfalls of either genre; at no point does the dialogue prove dense or the acting plastic. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Wide Awake), The Sixth Sense is both bone-chillingly frightening and touching and maintains composure throughout.

Bruce Willis plays Malcolm Crane, a confident child psychologist who has recently received a reward for his dedication to the field. On the evening he and his wife (played by Olivia Williams, Rushmore) are celebrating the honor, a former patient (played by a well-disguised Donnie Wahlberg) of Crowe's breaks into his home. After an emotional, catatonic outburst in which he condemns Crowe for being unable to heal his emotional pain, the patient pulls a gun. Crowe is shot. Without further explanation, the film moves forward to "The Next Fall" (as a subtitle reads). Quickly, we realize that Crowe has changed. Distraught over the failure to help his former patient, Crowe is eager to take on a young boy named Cole Sear, (played by Haley Joel Osment) who exhibits similar symptoms, in hopes of reclaiming faith in his abilities. Although Cole initially feels that Crowe is incapable of providing a solution, he eventually accepts the doctor's open hand. As their relationship grows, Cole, who is rejected by his classmates and is even called a freak by his own teacher, gradually feels comfortable enough to reveal his secret: he sees dead people, everywhere and all the time. Although Willis refutes the idea of otherworldly communication, he is determined to aid the boy.

Crowe's study progresses, and we see just how capable Willis is of performing serious roles. He adeptly portrays a man torn between his urgency to repair the failures of his past and the need to restore his crumbling marriage (caused by the very dedication to his work for which he was rewarded), all with an odd, melancholic irk that fits the character completely. The real star of the feature; however, is Haley Joel Osment, whose precocious acting is honest, centered, and convincing-qualities rarely seen or expecting from children his age. Osment truly convinced me that he was a child tortured by the ghastly apparitions of the dead and by his vicious, cold-hearted peers who issue constant torment. Looking back on the film, I'm honestly not sure what would be worse-seeing the dead or being completely shunned by the living. Nonetheless, Osment's skill is evinced in every petrified facial expression, in every cringe of anguish, and in every eye that wells with tear. I'm anxious to see what the future holds for this bright star.

The analogy between the struggles of Crowe (torn between his work and his personal life) and Cole (tormented by both the living and the dead) constructs the framework that supports their relationship, and is the crux of the film's story (which becomes clearer near the film's end). Shymalan juggles both central characters along with the impressive supporting cast, and he maintains firm control of every one, even though the story falters slightly at times.

But let us not forget the other strength of this film: it is creepy, and it will make you jump from the securityof your seat. Although the gore feels excessive for a PG-13 rating and often seems present only to act as a crutch for the film's snail-like pace, it is quite effective at coercing the hair from one's neck and the warmth from one's skin.

The Sixth Sense succeeds in frightening its audience. But, more importantly, the film achieves the lofty goal of presenting a solid, thrilling story about the struggles between life and death, overshadowed by a strong message of compassion and acceptance.

If you seek a scare with a good story to support it, The Sixth Sense will provide, and the ending will truly blindside you (it's quite a surprise, and it doesn't leave any plot holes that allow arguments along the lines of "that could have never happened if…"). And if you're anything like me, this film will haunt you for days, creeping its way back into your mind like a slow tide on a darkened beach.
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The Goonies (1985)
The greatest movie of OUR generation
22 June 1999
Nothing brings forth memories of the adventures my generation took part in during our youth than "The Goonies". Every time I watch this film, I feel like breaking out my Garbage Pail Kids or my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or perhaps rounding up a bunch of my childhood friends to go out on a treasure hunt.

This movie does such an excellent job of showing the free spiritedness of children, and their unfounded ability to stand by and support each other through difficult times. I believe that everyone can identify with at least one of the characters, which is a rarity in what is considered a children's film.

If you were to ask anyone my age (males especially) if they remember "The Goonies", I guarantee that a wide smile will stretch across his/her face, and I know that he might then go on to unfold many a tale of his childhood adventures with his closest friends. This ability to bring out some of the most important remembrances of our past is what makes this movie so powerful; "The Goonies" will forever be the defining film of my generation's youth.
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Austin Powers: The Spy Who Swindled Me
21 June 1999
I admit, some parts of this film were hilarious (i.e. the Jerry Springer sequence, and...uh...hmmm). Beyond Evil's mauling of guests on the Jerry Springer show; however, the film became more annoying than anything else. Does Mike Meyers really believe that he can buy our laughter with tired gags reminiscent of the first film? Let's see...Dr. Evil's "shhhh" skit was changed into a "zip it" sequence, which was just plain depressing; instead of falling into Dr. Evil's fire trap and screaming for help, Mustafa falls off a cliff and screams for help; Ivana Humpalot sequence=Alotta Fagina sequence; Burt Bacharach sequence=Burt Bacharach sequence; Austin makes bad puns after a guard dies=Austin makes bad puns after a guard dies; and on and on and on. Even more regurgitation from the first film: Okay, we get it--Frau likes to yell, enough already. Did anyone really find Dr. Evil's outburst of ghetto speak in front of the president funny? And of course let's not forget the lame, already tired catch phrases like "yeah, baby" and "shagadelic." Not even Mini-Me or Fat Bastard (the only non-recycled goods in this film) could save the movie. Yes, Austin Powers, who originally was intended to be a parody of 60's spies and "Casino Royale" culture, has sadly become a parody of even himself. A big disappointment. Save your money. 1.5 stars
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