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My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Too bad I only have two thumbs to put up! (minor spoilers)
This is one of the two best independent films I've ever seen. ("Brigham City" is the other.) "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is about Fotoula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos), a Greek-American woman who is insecure about her looks and embarrassed by her family's overpowering... Greekness? Greekiness? Greekosity? Well, they're VERY Greek. She meets and falls in love with Ian Miller (John Corbett, "Serendipity"), but keeps the relationship a secret, knowing that her father would disapprove. Why? Because he's... GASP!... not Greek.
Vardalos, who also wrote the story (originally as a one-woman play) does an excellent job in her portrayal of Toula. Anyone who has harbored major insecurities about one's self will immediately sympathize with her character. Also well-portrayed was Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine), Toula's father, who is convinced that everything of value (and all words) are Greek in origin, and that Windex cures all ills. (I was waiting for him to claim that Windex was invented by a Greek, but it never happened.)
On of my favorite parts of the movie was Gus's futile attempts to convince the aged grandmother that "the war is over" and "the Turks and Greeks are friends now!"
There was only one negative point I could find with this film, and it's not that major, either: The film lacks the usual buildup of suspense or conflict which climaxes and is resolved near the end. The biggest conflict that arises in the film is her father's opposition to her marriage to Ian, and that gets more or less resolved around halfway through the movie. However, the film's content is good enough that the lack of a real climax to the movie is not much of a detriment.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is just plain hilarious, and one of the few movies that I've seen recently where I left the theatre with an honest-to-goodness "feel good" feeling. Movies that do that (without getting ridiculously sappy) are rare, and this is a rare film.
I've never read any of the Harry Potter books, probably because they're considered the "in" thing, and if there's anything I've tried to avoid, it's doing something just because "everyone else is doing it." But my friend Scott wanted to get the gang together and go see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on opening night, and I'm not one to turn down a chance to spend time with friends. I came away surprised that it was as good as it was.
The special effects are fantastic, and the story is interesting. I thought I might get a bit bored sitting through a 2-1/2 hour movie, but I was wrong. I was amused by Emma Watson's portrayal of Hermione Granger, all self-important and bossy. I was also impressed with Alan Rickman's performance. I'd seen him in "Galaxy Quest" and was hoping to see more of him.
Overall, this movie was better than I thought, and is worth seeing.
--- MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD ---
I was most impressed with Alan Rickman's performance as Professor Severus Snape. I figured out the ending to "The Sixth Sense" one-third of the way through the movie, so I didn't expect any major surprises from this film. But the screenplay and Rickman's performance do such a good job of convincing you that he's the antagonist, it really threw me for a loop when it was revealed that he was not. Very nice twist.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Don't look at the cover!
Ask a friend who has already seen the movie to go rent it for you, so you don't see the MAJOR SPOILER on the cover! Then again, if you got here via the main page for this movie, chances are you've already seen it. *sigh* Why, oh why did they give it away?!?
Hudsucker Industries is a vasty wealthy corporation with a bright future... until the CEO, Waring Hudsucker, unexpectedly commits suicide one month before the end of the year. The company bylaws state that in the event of Hudsucker's death, all of his stock would go to the open market on January 1st, turning control of the company to the public.
The board, headed by Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), decides to destroy consumer confidence in the company by getting an imbecile to be the new CEO. The value of the stock would be depressed to the point where the board could afford to buy up more than half of it, thus keeping control of the company. Then they'd fire the nitwit, put in a real CEO, and bring the stock back up.
It's not long before they find their idiot: Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), a naive graduate of a business school in Muncie, Indiana, who just started work in the mail room. He can't believe his good fortune, rising so quickly to the top of the company, but a reporter from a local newspaper, Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), doesn't buy it, so she goes undercover to find the truth behind the top twit at Hudsucker.
The dialogue in the movie is absolutely brilliant, fast-paced and rapid-fire, especially coming from Leigh and John Mahoney. Tim Robbins is convincing as the naive Norville, and Leigh plays an excellent "fast paced career gal." The cinematography alternates between breathtaking and brilliant, and in one or two places, it's both. Great pains were taken to give you the impression that Hudsucker Industries is HUGE. I'd have to say one of my favorite parts is the "Development of the Dingus" sequence.
What can I say? You just have to watch it to really appreciate it.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Sorry I even saw it.
A look into the "creative thought processes" that went into making this movie:
"Hey, let's drive some nice cars really fast, throw in some scantily-clad women, and call it a movie!" "What about a plot?" "No big deal. We'll steal one from some other movie."
This is a great movie if you are willing to settle for mindless entertainment. Otherwise, it will be an insult to your intelligence. A friend of mine also pointed out that the plot is a complete ripoff of some movie called "Point Break."
It's July 10, 2001, and it's been a long summer already. When is Hollywood going to show us some originality?
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Not your typical movie
I wasn't sure what to expect from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Homer's Odyssey set in the deep South during the Great Depression? A premise like that screams "arty film," and an "arty film" usually equates to "bad film." Look no further than "The Avengers" to see a what I mean. On the other hand, it was the product of the Coen brothers, and I was quite entertained by "The Hudsucker Proxy," so I thought I might like it. And if anyone can pull off an "arty film," it's the Coen brothers.
The story revolves around chiefly around three men who escape from a chain gang and rush to collect a hidden treasure before the place where it is hidden is flooded by a dam project. Along the way, they have a variety of interesting and amusing experiences.
George Clooney plays the head convict, Ulysses Everett McGill, a man obsessed with having perfectly slicked-back hair (with nothing less than "Dapper Dan" hair gel), to the point of wearing a hair net while sleeping. He is accompanied by the rather dull (mentally) Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and the even duller Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson). Their on-screen exploits are, to say the least, hilarious.
One of the funniest parts is how Ulysses, as described in one review, "manages to pull ten dollar words from a five-cent brain." My favorite scene was when the three cons, still chained together, attempt to hop a moving train. Ulysses hops on and faces a group of hobos. As the second convict climbs aboard, Ulysses says, "Any of you boys smithies? Or, if not smithies per se, were you otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts before straitened circumstances forced you into a life of aimless wanderin'?" During this, the last con trips and falls while trying to board the train, dragging the other two off with him.
The cinematography is, as usual, gorgeous, and the music compliments the story and location nicely. Particularly good was the number performed by the three convicts in the story to earn some extra money.
The storyline does wander somewhat, but, considering the topic, it's actually rather appropriate! If you like other movies produced by the Coen brothers, you'll definitely like this.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
A co-worker lent me his DVD of "Young Frankenstein" after hearing, to his disbelief, that I had never seen it. (Actually, as I watched it, I realized I HAD seen parts of it before, but never the whole thing.) While I would hesitate to agree with the tagline's claim of it being "the funnies comedy of all time," the movie was undeniably hilarious.
Gene Wilder did an excellent job in his convincing portrayal of the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstien, and Peter Boyle earned our empathy and laughs as the monster. Extremely funny performances were put in by Marty Feldman (Igor), Teri Garr (Inga) and Kenneth Mars (the inspector). Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth) wasn't as funny as she was in "Clue", but she played her part well.
Some of the funniest moments: the moving hump, the werewolf scene ("There, wolf."), the doctor and Inga find the secret passage, sedative charades, the horses' fear of Frau Blucher, the inspector's mechanical arm, the monster's visit to the blind man, and Elizabeth meets Igor and Inga.
Definitely worth seeing!
Classic, underrated film... rent it! (minor spoilers)
I'll get the bad stuff out of the way right now: This movie is somewhat predictable and Sly mugs for the camera too much.
That's it. That's all the bad stuff I could think of to say about this movie. The rest is all good.
People tend to react with disbelief when they hear about a comedy starring Sylvester Stallone. While I'm not sure about the range of Sly's comedic abilities, "Oscar" proves that he CAN do comedy, and given the right part, can do it very well.
Sly plays Angelo "Snaps" Provolone, a mob boss who promises to his dying father to give up the crime racket for good. The movie focuses on the morning in which "Snaps" is preparing to join the ranks of a bank administration at noon. During that morning, his daughter gets engaged... three times. She also reveals that she's pregnant... except she's not. "Snaps" repeatedly loses and regains $100,000 dollars... and a bag of women's underwear. And then there's his "other" daughter who's not (he thinks) really his daughter. Behind him all the way are his flunkies, reduced from robbing banks to scooping melon balls, and incapable of breaking the habit of calling him "boss" if their lives depended on it.
Kudos for expert scene theft go to Peter Riegert as the shifty Aldo, Marisa Tomei as the spoiled brat Lisa Provolone, Martin Ferrero and Harry Shearer as the Finucci brothers and Tim Curry as the unctuous Dr. Thorntone Poole.
The critics panned this movie. Rent it anyway and find out just how wrong they were.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Disappointing, even when I wasn't expecting much. (minor spoiler)
I wasn't planning on paying money to see this movie. The only way I'd planned on seeing it was when it came out on video, and even then, only if a friend rented it and invited me over. However, a friend invited me to see it on opening night, and, as I'd had to turn him down several previous invitations for other events, I didn't want to let him down this time. Too bad the movie didn't feel the same obligation.
It's strange. The stakes in this movie were higher than most. The heroine didn't have to save just herself or her family or a whole town, it was the world and all time. Yet, somehow, I found myself not caring, even near the end in the scene with her father, where you're *supposed* to care.
Maybe it was because the characters were flat and uninteresting. (Okay, so maybe you couldn't call Angelina Jolie "flat", but you know what I mean.) Jolie as Croft was *convincing*, sure, but that doesn't make the character *interesting* beyond her physical attractiveness. All the characters were pretty two-dimensional: You have your typical, aggressive heroine with a chip on her shoulder; your typical, stuffy butler who is trying to be a civilizing influence on her; your typical, clumsy, whiny computer geek and your typical, megalomaniacal bad guy and his flunkies. It's all been done before, and there was no depth to any of them.
The heroine, of course, is incapable of making a mistake. The antagonist, of course, is incapable of achieving his goals without coercing the heroine to help him. Not for a second did I ever think he'd win.
And then there are the action scenes. The camera work was horrible; very jerky and disorienting. It was like watching a foot chase scene on "COPS", except that on the "COPS" scenes you can at least tell what's going on half the time. In "Tomb Raider", you didn't know where anyone was in relation to anyone else during an action sequence. It was just blurs of one person or another, the camera jerking in any direction except one that makes sense. The decent special effects would probably have been a lot more enjoyable if it weren't for the horrendous camera direction.
The fight between Lara and the bad guy at the end was fairly unbelievable. I'm sure there are plenty of women that could beat up most guys, but she just did not look like she had the upper-body strength necessary to slug that guy like she did. It was not convincing at all. I've no problem with a woman beating a man in a fight scene, but she should either look like she actually could do it, or have superior weaponry.
One pleasant surprise was the appearance of Chris Barrie (best known as Rimmer of "Red Dwarf") as the butler, who would have been better comic relief than the whiny computer geek. Unfortunately, he was woefully underused and, try as he might, the character was still two-dimensional. The other thing the movie had going for it was scenery. It was, although not breathtaking, very good.
Overall, I wasn't expecting much from this movie, and boy, did I get it.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Fun for Trekkers and non-Trekkers alike.
I'm an avid Star Trek fan and I haven enjoyed "Home Improvement", so I was pleased to hear that Tim Allen was going to make a sci-fi parody movie. I was particularly eager to see it, because the story writer was from my native Utah, and this was his first Hollywood film. (What a way to start, with a big player like Dreamworks and with stars like Allen and Weaver!)
In the movie, "Galaxy Quest" is a classic sci-fi TV show with a cult following, much like the original "Star Trek" is today. The actors make their living now by appearing at "Galaxy Quest" conventions, with which they are not content, but they are resigned to their fate of signing endless autographs and dealing with obsessed fans with esoteric questions about the show. The cast does not get along well with Jason Nesmith, the show's lead, who is arrogant and irresponsible, but loves his fans and receives their unwavering adoration in return.
He realizes at one point, however, that his career's at a dead end and that he has alienated (no pun intended) his friends from the cast. But the next morning, some of his biggest fans lead him and his "crewmates" into an adventure that will turn their careers and lives around. The story of just exactly how this happens I will leave to the movie itself.
Although this movie is funny for just about anybody, it's particularly hilarious for those who are familiar with the sci-fi genre and with Star Trek in particular. There are quite a few "in-jokes" that makes the movie especially amusing in the eyes of a Trek fan. Examples include: Nesmith getting his shirt torn off in a fight on an alien planet; Weaver's character, Tawny Madison, not having anything important to do on the ship besides talk to the computer and look pretty; a cold, calculating first officer; "transporters" turning things inside out; fans who believe the show is real; discord among the "Galaxy Quest" cast; parts of the ship that serve no useful purpose except to provide danger for the episode; etc.
It should be noted that the movie does poke some fun at Star Trek and its obsessive fans. Some Trek fans may not like being object of some good-natured ridicule, but the majority of fans (those who don't take themselves too seriously) will enjoy and join in on the jabs at their own sci-fi enthusiasm.
The story, sound, music, special effects and humor in "Galaxy Quest" are all excellent. Especially interesting are some of the added features on the DVD, including scenes cut from the final version of the movie, and dubbing of the entire film in Thermian, an alien language in the movie, for that oh-so-geeky touch.
If you've already seen "Galaxy Quest", see it again and catch all those in-jokes you missed the first time around. If you haven't seen the movie yet, what on Thermia are you waiting for?
I've never really been a fan of the X-Men comic books, and I'd only seen a few of the animated X-Men episodes. So I didn't really know what to expect from the X-Men movie. I came away impressed.
The acting was top-notch. I'm a big "Star Trek: The Next Generation" fan. When I heard that Patrick Stewart was to portray Professor Xavier, I had mixed feelings. I had no doubt that he would do an excellent job in the role, but I was concerned that he might end up being an otherwise excellent actor in a lame movie (a la Sean Connery in "The Avengers"). I was therefore very pleased to watch the movie and find that wasn't the case with X-Men. Stewart gave a stellar performance, opposite the equally excellent Sir Ian McKellen ("Magneto"). Other good performances were put in by Hugh Jackman ("Wolverine"), Anna Paquin ("Rogue"), and Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly).
Turning a comic book into a movie is a dangerous endeavor (again, look no further than "The Avengers"), but X-Men pulled it off just right. The movie takes itself seriously (but not too seriously), and--from what I've heard--it remains pretty faithful to the existing X-Men story, without alienating the uninitiated. It also makes the viewer think about important issues, such as racism, instead of just being a brainless, explosion-filled, ammo-laden action movie. Yet the action is there, and movie never gets too heavy or preachy on the issues.
Visually, X-Men is stunning, featuring some really slick computer animation, particularly Wolverine's claws and the scene where Xavier uses the mind-machine to find Rogue. The sound and music complimented the on-screen action. The plot and the explanations of the characters' backstories were interesting, and left things wide open for a sequel.
Overall, X-Men is worth your money.
"Land Before Time" on a NICE 3D accelerator card (SOME SPOILERS)
VISUALS: Being a computer graphics buff, I anticipated the release of this movie for a long time. I was surprised to find that it was NOT a collaboration between Disney and Pixar; it is actually the work of an internal Disney department code-named "The Secret Lab".
What the "Lab" has cranked out is the most impressive piece of computer animation ever seen. Combined seamlessly with real backgrounds, the visuals were absolutely incredible. Of particular interest:
- The fly-by of a huge herd of dinosaurs is very impressive.
- The falling meteors looked VERY good.
- The lemurs' fur moves like REAL fur, in individual strands, not in clumps like most computer animated hair. CG buffs will appreciate the difficulty in achieving that effect.
- The expressions on the characters' faces were surprisingly lifelike (especially on the lemurs, as they looked a little goofy on the dinosaurs).
DON'T WAIT FOR IT TO COME OUT ON VIDEO! There is no way the small screen could ever do this movie justice.
STORY: Unfortunately, the story is the low point in the movie. It was very reminiscent of "The Land Before Time"; a group of dinosaurs flees the destruction caused by meteors in search of a safe location. There are some important issues addressed, such as the importance of compassion, in addition to the typical Disney "friendship" message.
The PG rating is there for good reason; there are some "big bad scary dinosaur" scenes that are a bit too intense for very small children. It isn't terribly graphic or violent, just scary.
SOUND: The sound effects were well done and gave an immersive feel to the movie. One thing I really liked was the fact that the meteor impact, viewed from a distance, was silent until the sound wave arrived, a subtle touch that is often overlooked.
MUSIC: Viewers will likely be relieved that there are no singing, dancing dinosaurs. The stunning graphics were perfectly complimented by a fantastic soundtrack. I actually liked the music to "Dinosaur" more than that of "Jurassic Park".
Overall, I would recommend this movie to anyone, for the incredible computer graphics, if nothing else. If you're looking for a good story, you're likely to be disappointed, but the awesome visuals and sound make it worth watching.