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A good bad movie?
26 December 2010
I'm an MST3K fan, so my perspective might be a bit skewed. But you remember Eddie Murphy's stand-up routine about what his stand-up was like when he was a kid? Trying to be raunchy before he could say cuss words or talk about sex?

That's what "Ace Jr" felt like to me, like an unsophisticated Max Fischer stage play about his favorite Jim Carrey creation. It's a very derivative film that can't decide if it's for kids or not. The writing has the quality of a typical Disney channel sitcom, and brings back all the lines and bits from the original in the most awkward and cringe-inducing ways. I'm not sure if anyone that ends up liking "Ace Jr" would even like the original films; certainly, original fans would grit their teeth through a screening of this.

Nobody watches any "Ace Ventura" for the plot; these movies live and die by the lead. The kid playing "Ace Jr" reminded me more of Jack Black than Jim Carrey, better when he wasn't trying to do Ace Ventura imitations. There's a better movie in him somewhere...

In the "Ace" franchise, it's about as good as an average episode of that Saturday morning cartoon, but weak sauce compared to the Jim Carrey films. If you thought the Ernest films were funny, you'll probably enjoy this. Actually, if you thought Turkish Superman was funny, you might enjoy this, too...
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Australia (2008)
Just like the old days...
15 December 2008
Luhrmann's made his career from resurrecting cliché film genres (Shakespeare, movie musicals) by reinvigorating the storytelling power that made the genres so popular and familiar in the first place. With "Australia", he aims closer to home - not his homeland, but his kind of movies. "Australia" nods to the sweeping epics of classic Hollywood, and delivers exactly the kind of film that Selznick's people might have delivered if they'd tackled the subject. Fans of caffeinated Luhrmann might feel left out after the first thirty minutes; after that, the only faults in "Australia" are the same faults as its source material.

But does anyone watch "Casablanca" for gravitas, or "Gone with the Wind" for a searing indictment of Southern politics? History's just a place setting to offer servings of romance and high drama. Some will find that delightful; others will realize why most people don't make movies like this anymore.

Kidman and Jackman are good together, and on their own, but aren't quite a classic combination. I enjoyed Jackman's Han Solo to Kidman's Princess Leia - but there were scenes when I really wanted to see what Russell Crowe would have done with the role.

All in all, if you can get old movie fans to stay in their seats long enough to reach Faraway Downs, they should love this movie. A great date movie, a romance movie with plenty of macho action, and the kind of film that really tries to earn the ticket price, the kind of movie that reaches for the title "epic". Just like the old days...
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Goodbye, Lloyd Dobler
21 October 2008
In an attempt to understand the average modern romantic comedy, I picked up "Dogs" because I like the leads, and hoped that would be the spoonful of sugar I needed. And the movie is the big ol' therapy session I expected it to be (broken-hearted woman learns to love again,) but with the bonus of John Cusack, as Jake the boatbuilder, showing us what Lloyd Dobler probably turned into when he got older and Diane inevitably left him. Seriously, the witticisms and logic of his character just said Lloyd to me the entire movie. And seeing his fate in such a maudlin movie makes the Lloyd of my memory seem like such a schmuck. If I didn't know Lloyd Dobler, I'd consider the character of Jake half a person like all the other characters in this film, which might be intentional, but probably isn't. As it is, everybody just spouts greeting card wisdom and delivers the same beats as every other earnest chick flick of the last twenty years, right down to the 60's sing-a-long. "Must Love Dogs" would be a harmless, charmless movie for "ice cream and drunk dialing" night... but Cusack's performance recycling, inadvertent or not, is heartbreaking for any long-time fan. I hope they never make a sequel to "Ferris Bueller."
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King Arthur (2004)
King Arthur and the Cowboys of the Round Table (SPOILERific commentary)
3 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It's not exactly "The Wild Bunch" or "Saving Private Ryan", but it's still the story of a lone battalion, on their last detail, finding a reason to fight one more time. They get drafted, they find out they're not the good guys, they find the good fight to fight, leading to the big showdown at an abandoned outpost, against impossible odds...

Not a movie I'd recommend my kids to watch for school credit. It's a re-imagining of the Arthur myth, like Burton's "Planet of the Apes." But the movie uses the legend to dress up the American chestnut of the imperialist soldier discovers the half of his heart that ties him to the land, uniting a fractured people against the forces that threaten to obliterate. It's "Dances With Wolves." It's "The Last Samurai". Heck, Merlin's a Wiccan shaman that anoints Arthur king of the Britons! All they were missing was a harmonica solo and Gabby Hayes.

Against those standards, "King Arthur" is found wanting. It's missing a couple of scenes to make it a banner addition to the genre, and nothing new to help it escape the limitations. Maybe a couple more scenes with Arthur's knights, to show him through their eyes. Or maybe a couple more solo scenes of the King, to hear his mind trying to contemplate his destiny.

Decent Arthur, decent Gwen, great villains, underused knights, laughable 'natives', one cool fight in four - add up to a half-great movie. Five of ten.
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Wish the title fit... (SPOILERS)
16 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
As road trip movies go, it's subtle and (perhaps too) familiar. Joe (no last name) decides to honor a stranger's last request, and deliver his ashes to an oasis in Nevada. Along the way he discovers the citizens of Today's America: the rebels whose time has passed, the franchise minimum-wagers, the common people in their varying degrees of lunacy... As he drives farther and farther from his old life, the purpose of his trip morphs into a larger exploration of the journey that everyone makes, the journey of life... John Doe's "Joe" pulls off the everyman bit, the straight man for everyone else to prosletyze to and joke around. His only job in the movie seems to be the audience's advocate, reflecting their reactions to the strangeness in the desert. Adam Horowitz's "Sam" is more than the lively sidekick; he represents the end result of being raised in modern times. A pathological liar, a pyro and a lemming, he's the motherless child that considers every location of the Motel 9 franchise his home. Overall, the movie feels as staged as an above-average Afterschool Special. The cameos feel like stunts (Mike Tyson's appearance in CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LA was more believable) and the intentions are so clear from the beginning that the trip seems redundant. And the point? It would seem to be as Sir Edmund Hilary reasoned for climbing Everest; "because it's there."

As a road trip, it's more a pleasant afternoon than the journey of a million miles. 5/10 stars
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Not a first date movie
21 March 2004
I'm entering my seventh year of marriage, as I write this. We've come a long way: first kiss, first night, first night on the couch, first fight, first compromise, first last apology, first marriage, first kid... there aren't many firsts left for us, and even fewer I want to experience. Love's old hat. But love with this imperfectly perfect woman is what I want most of all.

I bring this up because ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND reminded me of these things. The other reviews have already mentioned of the film's prowess and its explorations of the themes of love and memory. I do think that it is an excellent concept executed impressively. (If you're not into 'arty' movies, they used a similar story in an episode of "That 70's Show.") I also think a well-timed video release should ensure some Oscar nominations next year. But the reason I bring up my own baggage in this comment is to explain why I think this movie resonated so well with me. I can't think of the last time I saw a film offer this kind of complex and unflattering portrait of romantic love, and still make it seem like the glue of the universe.

Long story short, I laughed, I cried, I fell in love again. Since I've only seen it once so far, I can only rank it a 9/10.
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Mohabbatein (2000)
Chalk one up for love...
9 March 2004
This was the second Bollywood movie I've ever seen (after Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... or does Moulin Rouge count?) and I was blown away. I'm not used to this degree of complexity in musicals or romance films (at 3 hours, it'd better be complex.) Sure, it could have been four films, but the three stories of the young lovers lead up to a bigger story, about the battle between love and fear, between Machiavelli and Rousseau. Of course, Bachchan and Khan sold the idea, by showing that their characters both loved and both hated, and their battles were over the inevitability of change, the constance of impermanence, and the need for completion. A shorter way to say it is, they took what should have been a Hollywood ending, and made it work. The singing, dancing, comedy and pathos were a good distraction, which is what good movies should do. It really felt like they took all that showmanship to explain a greater truth, which is what great movies should do. Of course, I'm in love right now, so I'm kinda biased... I gave it a 9/10.
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Plot, schmot, it's one of the best action films in a looong time(SPOILERS)...
11 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I have to take issue with everybody whining about the weak plot, for two basic reasons:

1) This is an action movie, in the vein of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and DRUNKEN MASTER II. Were you expecting THE USUAL SUSPECTS? TRAFFIC? SEVEN SAMURAI? While the structure's not as inventive as PULP FICTION or MEMENTO, there's just enough setup to give room for the action scenes. And while the characters may not be as nuanced as OCEAN'S ELEVEN or JACKIE BROWN, they're still memorable and sympathetic enough to add genuine weight to the faceoffs (as opposed to, say, XXX or SWORDFISH).

2)SPOILERS: Okay, here's the plot: Once upon a time in Mexico, where everyone is out for themselves, and everyone uses everyone else, Agent Sands (Depp) is the king of the game. He knows who wants to kill who, and sets them in a row to kill each other off and keeps things as they are. The General kills the President, the Mariachi kills the General, the drug lord kills the Mariachi, the ex-Fed kills the drug lord, and everybody's happy and dead -- that's the plan. Of course, nothing goes as planned.

Now, I could go on about the death and rebirth of the Sands character, and his parallels with Saul's trip to Damascus; I could compare the arguments of redemption versus revenge as exemplified by Mr Good, Mr Bad, and Mr Ugly along with several ancillary characters; I could even prattle about the satirical elements addressing the political situations of Central America... or I could just write Santa for an Agent Sands action figure.

Bottom line, if your only complaint about the film is that the plot seemed confusing and less than substantial, watch it again! MEXICO is a classic: 9/10
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A movie for the fans...
29 December 2003
This movie doesn't deserve the shellacing it's received by so many. I'll admit that the Pikachu short that precedes it was maddening, like watching an acting exercise where everyone has to use the same word in a conversation. When this hit the theater, I stood out in the lobby with the other parents, trading headache medicine and bolstering each other's spirits. The film itself is an extended episode of the TV show, which is still better animated than the average Scooby Doo or GI Joe episode. The biggest complaint is that the movies aren't very inclusive. It's a kids movie, as opposed to a family movie: only hardcore fans and underexposed children will appreciate them. Of course, try explaining the charms of Kid Video and Thundarr the Barbarian to today's kids. As far as the first movie goes, it feels like there's about twenty minutes missing that would have made the film more whole, as opposed to wholesome. But the goofy bad guys are funny, and at least it's better than the Thief and the Cobbler... 5/10.
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R.S.V.P. (1984 TV Movie)
A sex comedy by professionals
29 December 2003
This movie was made a half-decade too late; it would have been perfect before movies like 'Porky's' and 'Zapped' raised the bar... I was watching for Veronica Hart, back in her redhead days, and she still comes off as the smartest, most capable actress in the room. Alas, the film's an hour-and-a-half of naughty one-liners that would be perfect if Reader's Digest ever had an adult-rated "Laughter is the Best Medicine". In fact, the best way to describe the movie is to imagine the cast of "Boogie Nights" attempting to make a mainstream movie (as in no hardcore). That's about as good and as bad as it gets. It attempts to bring a sense of burlesque back to motion pictures, but with nothing that really pulls the audience in. The jokes wouldn't past muster on a Fox sitcom, the plot's thin as a thong, and the performances are community theater level. You could argue that the film has some historical value, but RSVP is really only for hardcore fans (so to speak)... 2/10
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One of the great rock n' roll movies
29 December 2003
A few weeks ago, I was looking for great rock movies: y'know, like Spinal Tap, Committments, Jailhouse Rock. I can't believe this one slipped my mind; I always thought of it as an SNL comedy, until watching it this evening. But breezing through it, I gawked at the songs, the car chases, the performances (even from the non-actors), and the lines. The world of the Blues Brothers resembles our own more than usual movie comedies do, what our world could be if someone just got it to loosen up and shake a tailfeather, which is what the presence of the Blues Brothers does, throughout the film... For putting those songs in my head, for being the secret uncles of Ferris Bueller, for presenting Belushi's (and Ackroyd's) greatest performance, for putting Chicago on the map, for passing the test of time and so much more... I give "The Blues Brothers" my first 10/10 rating. It's a musical for people who love musicals and who think musicals are fake, an action movie for people who think action movies are stupid and those who miss them, three different kinds of comedy, and a movie that, by featuring all the ingredients that birthed rock and roll in the first place, really feels like rock n' roll.
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They Live (1988)
If you don't have time to watch the entire Matrix trilogy...(DOULBLE SPOILERS)
28 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Sure, it's a really, really CHEAP version. "The Matrix" is the pinnacle of millenial cinematic technology, casting some of the world's most recognizable stars. "They Live" looks like it was filmed for television circa 1982, and its stars are a professional wrestler and a dude who used to live in Mr Rogers Neighborhood -- in the land of make-believe. But if you've ever dug Chuck Norris movies, or anything with "Kickboxing" in the title, "They Live" will feel like a freakin' treatise.

Honestly, the parallels are there. Is Roddy Piper's character, Nada, any more reticent and mysterious than Keanu Reeves' Neo? If anything, Nada seems more charming, and definitely more human. There's the mysterious glimpses and glitches into a world that exists among our world, akin to the parable of Plato's cave; a scrappy but armed underground contingent whose ultimate goal is to return awareness to the human race; a malevolent alien force that sates mankind into complacency while it uses humanity for its nourishment; the sublimination, the betrayals, the humor amid the chaos...

For me, 80's B-grade action is a genre, like French comedies and Woody Allen films; in this context, "They Live" is a capable film, though not strong enough to transcend its conventions. It's a working class action film, with the catchy bon mots and gratuitous explosions that you crave from these films.

I can think of two distinct advantages that "They Live" has over "The Matrix": -the alley fight between Nada and Frank is a more powerful struggle for me than all the wire work of all 3 Matrix films. -"They Live" only took an hour and a half of my life. rating: 6/10
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A reminder of what independent film is supposed to be...
11 October 2003
Okay, is that overselling it? Perfumed Nightmare blew away all my expectations. Understandably, there's not a lot of expectations for Filipino cinema, and there's not a lot of expectations for independent film anymore (today, independent is anybody without studio money, and some with, making any kind of movie). But this film was a learning experience for me.

Instead of another gritty soap opera, the filmmaker presents a story about a guy from a one-bridge town who dreams of becoming an American astronaut. Instead of trying to ape a Hollywood film, he took advantage of his technical limitations: there's no dolly shots or zooms, and the audio track's perpetually out of sync. So, instead of a strictly linear narrative, Perfumed Nightmare unfolds like the browsing of a scrapbook, while the director narrates. It helps that even the disintegrating scenery is photographed beautifully, and the narration is sharp and succinctly funny. I'm still chewing on the symbolism and politics of the film, but it's heartening that the film recognizes the contradictions of the situation. And it's heartening to see tricks from directors like Spike Lee, Sodebergh, and Von Trier in a film made over twenty years prior (apparently, this film's director knew Herzog). Of course, that may be a personal bias (I'm half-Pinoy and an aspiring filmmaker). But mostly, it's nice to see a film that could surprise me every couple of minutes. It's not a perfect film, but it's one I'll never forget.
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Chasing Sleep (2000)
don't call it a Lynch movie (slight spoilers)
12 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
first, don't watch the trailer. it shows the end of the movie.

second, I think the comparisons to Lynch are dangerous, especially when Lynch has already made a movie about a guy who feels disconnected with his wife and the love they used to have, about a guy who finds himself down a bloody path, about a guy who finds himself in a really bad dream, indistinguishable from his reality...

Okay, I'll just say it straight out: Chasing Sleep is a farm-league Lost Highway. If you know someone who likes creepy psychological movies, but couldn't dig Lost Highway, they'll probably like Chasing Sleep. Spells out the main character's situation a bit more plainly. That's because the setting's plainer (the entire movie's in the man's house, a lifeless six-figure suburban hovel), the characters are plainer (especially against Lynch characters), and the plot is a lot simpler -- almost predictable.

There's a couple of familiar faces for TV junkies, but this movie rests squarely on Jeff Daniels' shoulders. He does alright as an Everyman on the breaking point; at least, I believed that he was spiritually exhausted throughout the picture. Given the story's setup and flavor, I think the hollowness of the other performances are intentional, avoiding the intimacy that might break this spell of solitude on the main character. Or the actors might have just had too little to work with.

Conclusions? the movie's slightly clever, some intriguing shots, still haven't figured out about the baby... But I can't watch this without thinking about Lost Highway, Vanilla Sky (Abre Los Ojos), or Dr Caligari, and what's already been done. Still, good enough for cable...
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We are the dwarves (well, duh...)
22 April 2003
Too many things to say about this movie: I couldn't watch it in one sitting, but I couldn't leave it be, I had to finish it. If the evening news makes you laugh, maybe you should give this a look. Don't think this is some dwarfspoitation flick; this story could have been filmed with standard actors and retained most of its meaning. But creating this vision of dwarves in an oversized world makes the story timeless, makes the characters closer to universal. The inmates rebel against a world they never made, but they don't want freedom; They just want to hit something back. When I watch CNN, that makes even more sense. Bottom line, Herzog made his casting choice so we'd all be feelin' it, yo. BTW, someone suggested that the more accurate translation for the film title is "Even Dwarves Had to Start Somewhere" Hope that helps it make sense.
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Battle Royale (2000)
Spiritual sucker punch
29 November 2002
I haven't been hit this hard since I watched Pasolini's movie about the Marquis de Sade. That's the only movie I can think of that's more relentlessly nihilistic, and yet commendably crafted.

The reason it was more palatable was that we were given heroes. In fact, everyone's at least given a name and a moment, although usually characterized in standard Hollywood-style shorthand. But the mere presence of cliches (just a couple) was like a security blanket for me, something to cling onto while the rest of the movie was horrifying me.

I can't tell if America's ready for this movie. In Japan, 'BR' examines humanity in general and Japanese life in particular. I don't know what will be lost in the translation. Will the audience see the hope and altruism imbued in the characters, or will the audience just see Fourty Little Indians? Time will tell...
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Fallen (1998)
Gaping plot holes opening into Hell... (SPOILERS)
12 September 2002
Warning: Spoilers
*SPOILERS* (don't worry, I'll try not to reveal anything from the last ten minutes...)

Denzel's in too familiar territory here; he plays the same cop he's played before, which feels off in this particular world the movie's in.

John Goodman, on the other hand, is a perfect fit, as are most of the supporting cast.

Without an Award-Winning bad guy for Denzel to play off, Denzel has to muster the menace himself, from his reactions. He doesn't do bad, but there are a few moments you feel like he's in front of a blue-screen...


On a related note, the demon's motivation did seem murky, as well as the discussion on man's purpose. was the demon letting Denzel know who he really was to drive him nuts, and make him a patsy, thereby creating the chaotic pattern (now that's an oxymoron) he started 30 years ago? and how come he didn't put together who the daugther/ religous expert was?

Ah, it's stuff like this that got in the way. This just made me long for "Wicker Man". Still, as an entry in the cop-vs-the Apocolypse subgenre, not bad. As an entry in the Denzel-as-cop, about as good as "Virtuousity".

Let's call "Fallen" a rental, and leave it at that...
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