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Felicia's Journey (1999)
A young, pregnant Irish lass (Cassidy) journeys to England to search out her baby's dad, who has left them behind supposedly to work in an English factory. In fact he has joined the army, which she doesn't know. She comes across an apparently sweet old man (Hoskins) who run a catering company in Birmingham. He takes her under his wing, but we soon see his plans for her are not exactly pleasant. Hoskins is terrific as a mild-mannered psychopath, although his unusual accent is off-putting to American ears and not always understandable. Cassidy is very convincing as the naive young mom-to-be. Very dreary setting, understandably so since it take place in dreary Birmingham; also, the time frame is a bit confusing. One would guess it must be set in the 1950s or '60s, based on the attitudes expressed toward abortion. But it is apparently set in the early 1990s. So be it. Not your conventional thriller, this is certainly not aimed at the mass audience and will find limited appeal via TV showings. Tricky flashbacks help tell the whole story and there is an equally tricky and unexpected ending.
War of the Worlds (2005)
One of my favorite "bum" actors, C. Tom Howell, stars in this tepid remake of WOTW. He runs around a lot, while a CGI-generated spider-like machine goes around killing everyone. The budget for this one obviously was pretty low. It also was one of The Asylum productions. Have you seen any of those? Yikes! I am not sure why anyone would have made this while the big-budget Spielberg version was slaying them at the box office. And if truth be told, neither version is all that hot. The George Pal version from the 1950s remains the best representation of the H.G. Wells novel, primitive special effects and all. Perhaps because Gene Barry was much more convincing in the lead than Howell or Tom Cruise.
Tin Man (2007)
Back to Oz
What an odd miniseries. Dorothy (Zooey Deschanel) is back in Oz, and is accompanied in her wanderings by a tin man turned human, a scarecrow that isn't a true scarecrow, and a beast-man who vaguely resembles the old Cowardly Lion. Toto isn't really Toto, but a shape shifter named Tutor. Dorothy has an evil sister who has locked away their mom and seeks an emerald to gain ultimate power over the land. I am yet to catch the whole thing but I can see it will certainly appeal to fans of ongoing Oz tales and who don't mind watching a very long story. I am not a big miniseries fan, and would rather see a 90-minute DVD of this, but I suppose that's never gonna happen. So one of these days I will have to watch this to the bitter end. It seems to me Frank Baum wrote several sequels to WIZARD. I wonder why Hollywood hasn't adapted them instead of creating new OZ material periodically. Maybe because the sequels do not all feature Dorothy. Anyway, the CGI work here is pretty good for TV, and there are some lovely torture scenes. And I like Zooey Deschanel in anything.
OK but boring
Sincere but boring attempt to tell the life story of one of the nation's first black neurosurgeons. The guy faces an uphill battle from childhood due to evil racist whites (what other kind could there be in a story like this?. But with the help of his single mom, he forges ahead to achieve his dreams. Cuba Gooding portrays the surgeon as an adult. I have never been a fan of Gooding's, so suffice it to say he is about as believable as a neurosurgeon as Barack Hussein Obama might be. Actually, Obama might have been more believable. There are some gritty surgery scenes that look they might have been inspired by similar scenes on HOUSE. I suspect this was made for a black audience, who may find it more convincing than I. I really have nothing against HANDS, other than to point out it drags on and on. And I would have cast a much stronger actor in the main role.
The Closer (2005)
OK police drama
It's not LAW & ORDER, but THE CLOSER presents some interesting and quirky characters who comprise a special homicide unit in Los Angeles. The unit is headed up by a transplanted southerner -- a woman, yet -- who gets the hardest of suspects to confess. She also gets in the line of fire from time to time. Her team is made up of two older white detectives who frequently bicker for comedic effect, and several middle-aged and younger detectives who are still learning. One is Asian, one Hispanic and two are black. Talk about diversity. Kyra (Mrs. Kevin Bacon) Sedgwick is the so-called Closer, sporting a very thick southern accent that can be very grating. This is the kind of show, when no LAW & ORDER or BONES or NCIS or HOUSE or MONK or GHOSTY WHISPERER is on, can make for a passable hour.
Savage Planet (2007)
I have watched large portions of this movie twice now, and am puzzling over what the purpose of it was. I mainly watched it because Lou D. Philips is listed in the cast, but as far as I could tell, he was nowhere to be found in it. Did I miss something? Otherwise, it has the world's worst cast of generic actors imaginable fighting big bears on a remote planet. Horrible. At one point early on, a woman runs away from one of these big bears and the folks back at camp stand and listen to her scream for help. Suddenly. her head comes rolling into the camp, right up to their feet. But the gal was supposedly quite a distance from camp by then, so all I can think is that bear must have one hell of an arm. I didn't even have to look to know this was a Canadian job. Everybody is doggoned serious. If it were a Hollywood hack job, it would at least be campy.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A road trip not worth taking
Family road trip movie revolving around a children's beauty pageant is rated R, so it will not be to everyone's taste. Decent cast -- Greg Kinnear is the dad and and Alan Arkin is the granddad == but few laughs and frankly, I felt everyone tried much too hard. Toni Coillette as the mom is just plain annoying. SUNSHINE is clearly an indie, so it will appeal largely to that mindset, and not the mainstream audience. And again, it is an R, even after it is cleaned up for TV. The finale is bizarre, to say the least, and doesn't come off the way I suspect the directors intended. It is, frankly, embarrassing. After awhile, you kind of wish the dilapidated vehicle the family is riding in from their home in Albuquerque to the pageant in Redondo Beach would blow up. With them in it.
Deja Vu (2006)
Solid first half
I gave DEJA VU 7 stars because of a slam-bang, tension-filled first half. The second half detracts from the score, as the movie goes off in the wrong direction and comes to an implausible finish, even for a science fiction movie (and make no mistake, this is a science fiction flick). Washington stars as a cop investigating the bombing of a ferry that kills hundreds, including many servicemen. The mystery of the event deepens with the discovery of a woman's charred body miles downstream. A bunch of mad scientists working in a big, expensive lab show DW using their newly developed wayback machine a way to view the immediate past, in an effort to figure out the who and why and when of things leading up to the explosion. OK so far. But then, the movie shifts into time travel, and other than Jim Cavaziel popping up as the mad bomber, interest quickly wanes. Sort of like the second half of EVENT HORIZON, when Sam Neil becomes Pinhead. Not one of DW's best, for sure. You have to see him in his undies, curled up in a tiny box, being flung into the past via the mad scientists' wayback machine. I'd like to say, what was he thinking? But God only know how many millions he was paid for this semi-turkey. Plus, he apparently enjoys working with Tony Scott.
The Lost Room (2006)
I doubt we will ever see another TV show as inventive and creative and suspenseful as THE LOST ROOM. This 3-part drama has a detective (Peter Krause) investigating a motel room that is the gateway to alternate dimensions. He loses his daughter in this room and spends the rest of the miniseries searching for a way to get her back. He stumbles upon a series of mundane objects that have been taken from the room and now possess unusual powers. He uses some of these objects, which include a comb, scissors, motel room key and a jewel box, to try and find his way back to his daughter. Many of these objects have ended up in the hands of various wacko elements who are using the objects for their own purposes. One such group believes the objects are a bridge to God, and will kill to have them all. A subplot, which wasn't necessary, has the detective wrongfully wanted for the murder of his partner. Great sets, special effects, direction, acting, etc. Krause is ably aided by a number of familiar faces from TV and the movies, the kind of folks you instantly recognize but don't always remember their names (like the nurse from ER, the demon slayer in IT and Doctor Schnozze from HOUSE). This is one of those movies you stay glued to whenever it is on.
Night at the Museum (2006)
Ben Stiller plays his usual nebbiish self in NIGHT, in which he takes on the role of the new night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. Problem is, everything in the museum comes to life after dark, thanks to a mystical gold plate that stands above a pharoah's coffin. Stiller must learn to control the animated figures, which range from a full-scale T-Rex skeleton to a tiny cowboy played by Owen Wilson. Wilson is terrible, by the way. To give this silliness something of a plot while all these creatures and people skitter around the museum, the writers present us with a trio of retiring museum guards who decide to steal the gold plate so they may live a long and rich retirement. Dick Van Dyke is the leader of the evil trio, and he simply is not believable as a bad guy. But that's splitting fine hairs, as the movie is written and performed on a strictly juvenile level, obviously to attract the kiddies. The T-Rex constantly runs around, which I'm sure must have delighted the little ones who saw this in theaters back in 2006. Attila the Hun and his boys are after Stiller's hide, and there is some made-up dialog between Stiller and Attila that obviously is meant to delight the little ones. Some cavemen on the loose act like -- well, cavemen. When Stiller gives them a lighter to start a campfire, one of them sets his hair on fire. Ha ha. Not. The film doesn't really go anywhere and it drags terribly in parts (I hear the sequel is far worse). Stiller spends a good deal of his screen time simply running around the museum. He also trades multiple slaps in the face with a tiny capuchin monkey. Good god. I did enjoy Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt in Rough Rider garb and a very nice-looking young miss as legendary Indian guide Sacajewa (Stiller never seems to be able to pronounce her name correctly). But he film is really a misfire, at least for adults. The three LIBRARIAN flicks made for TV and starring Noah Wylie are far superior to this. Hell, JUMANJI was better than this, and JUMANJI is pretty awful -- even with Robin Williams in the lead.
Runaway Jury (2003)
Satisfying, and it is wild
My., how time has passed. Novelist John Grisham is not exactly on anyone's lips anymore. A younger generation has come of age that doesn't read novels and probably never heard of Grisham. But back in the day, Grisham banged out legal thriller after legal thriller; he was the Tom Clancy of the courtroom drama (Clancy may also be a forgotten name today among the younger crowd, come to think of it). As quickly as Grisham banged them out, movie studios rushed to buy up the rights to his pulp-ish novels and turn them into high-profile movies as quickly as possible. Like the novels themselves, some of these films worked and others didn't. Sort of like the numerous movie and TV adaptations of works by Steven King or Clive Barker or Dean Koontz. 2003's RUNAWAY JURY actually works quite well, even with a major change in the bad guy, from a tobacco company to a gun manufacturer. John Cusack stars as a reluctant juror who actually has a hidden agenda. Gene Hackman costars as a jury specialist being paid handsomely by the gun company, and Dustin Hoffman of all people (considering the story is set in Louisiana) plays the plaintiff's lawyer, a woman whose relative was killed by a person using one of the gun firm's weapons. The luscious Rachel Weisz, who most folks know from THE MUMMY, plays Cusack's confederate. You will never encounter a tricker plot. Hackman makes a genuinely detestable villain. And irony of ironies: in between segments of the movie as broadcast on cable, the latest Lowe's ads employ Hackman's voice! The movie may not follow the novel as closely as it might have, but RUNAWAY JURY is a fun and suspenseful ride, right up to the very unexpected finale.
Murder at 1600 (1997)
Formulaic clichés aside, MURDER At 1600 is a classic Wesley Snipes thrill ride. He portrays a DC cop investigating the murder of a young woman in a White House restroom. Suspicion falls on the president's son, at a time when the president (Ronny Cox) doesn't need any more trouble. The North Koreans are on the warpath, and the president is being pressured to go to war, Alan Alda and Harris Yulin are among the president's advisers, and Diane Lane plays a Secret Service agent who teams up with Snipes to solve the murder. Lane is strictly window dressing, but that's OK. The movie is fast-moving, and Snipes was in his prime, battling both bureaucrats and black ops assassins as he inches closer to the truth. Movies like this were a staple of the 80s, and there's nothing really new here But with Snipes in the lead, MURDER AT 1100 makes for a fun time.
Scrubs: My Finale: Part 1 (2009)
You have to be kidding
JD is leaving Sacred Heart, and this first of two parts to wrap up the series chronicles all the goodbyes and the memories. It is so bad as to be virtually unwatchable, and whatever sparked SCRUBS to greatness is clearly now in the distant past. It is simply maudlin, poorly plotted and paced, and I doubt anyone's heart was in it. Best to stick with the first four or possibly even five seasons. By the sixth season, the show was a goner, much like ER and several other shows that outlasted their welcome. Clearly, the writers were out of ideas. And if you think part one is bad -- well, don't even think about watching part two. It gets worse, if such a thing is possible.
The Guardian (2001)
Intriguing, if a bit depressing
I have written here about this short-lived show in the past. Simon Baker is a perfect fit as the troubled son of a famous lawyer, played by Dabney Coleman of MARY HARTMAN fame. Because of some drug transgressions, the son, also a lawyer,must put in time at a child advocacy law firm. He also continues to work for his old man, and the two often do not see eye to eye. As time goes on in this show, things change: the father is up for a judgeship and the son starts his own law firm. Also, the son is hot for a lawyer at his father's firm, but alas, she loves another. The cases are usually intriguing, but the show is really about the father and son, and both actors pull off this thorny relationship with aplomb.There is an occasional soap opera aspect to the show, but it is kept to a minimum. Well worth watching, if a little depressing, as the son never seems to be able to stay out of trouble. It is not a lighthearted show and humor is basically nonexistent. Maybe that's why the show did not last longer than it did.
Mega Snake (2007)
I am at a loss to understand why The Sci-Fi Channel keeps running these cheap giant snake movies. Oh, what ANACONDA hath wrought! MEGASNAKE has a large reptile roaming the Tennessee countryside (actually Bulgaria), picking off one unfortunate resident after another. Bullets bounce off it, of course. There was just enough gore to keep me reasonably happy, but the snake is badly composited and the generic cast doesn't help one bit. The filmmakers even steal a plot element from JAWS, involving an upcoming county carnival that wiser heads feel needs to be called off but of course the mayor wop't hear of it. Otherwise, the snake would have little to do outside of picking off an occasional individual. Pass on this one.
OK summer filler
Cross the classic high school comedy ELECTION with the TV show SCRUBS, and you have the new TV show, GLEE. A nebbishy high school teacher takes over the moribund glee club at his school, and soon has a collection of misfits all of whom can sing up a storm. Getting them to perform as a team is another matter. The stereotypes abound and fall close to the ELECTION caricatures: the overachieving junior miss, the jock who yearns to be sensitive, gay kids, assorted nerds and so on. But the show is quite witty and occasionally funny and has energy. The music is right out of almost any SCRUBS episode, with heavy emphasis on tunes made popular by Steve "Journey" Perry and Kevin "REO Speedwagon" Cronin. Nice, safe, loud 1980s American pop songs that allow for great vocal lines. Nothing wrong with that. They even work in a number from GREASE. This is probably a summer show only, as I don't think anyone would want to see too many episodes of this. Ir doesn't have anywhere to go, even if it is cute and clever for a network TV offering. But then again, look at American IDOL. Five minutes of that junk is more than enough, and yet it's been on the air for years.
Bones: The End in the Beginning (2009)
Fun episode, but padded
Brennan and Booth are a happily married couple who own a swanky nightclub that looks suspiciously like the Jeffersonian lab. A body is discovered on the premises, and Booth falls under suspicion. Saroyan and Booth's brother are the investigating detectives. Various employees, including Sweets the bartender, Mr. Nigel Murray the entertainment director, Jared the chef and Zack (yes, Zack), who does something or other at the club, all lie to protect Booth. That's because they all think he's guilty, including Angela, the club's hostess. Brennan, of course, knows better and it is us up to B&B to solve the case. Hodgins, interestingly, is a best-selling crime writer who hangs out at the club and narrates this story. And Brennan's dad is a crooked councilman who is of little help, since they never paid him off. Maybe the slyest character nod is having the one black intern who was the most conservative and quiet among the interns show up as a flashy, bad-ass rapper/impresario/gangsta. Now, we all know Booth went in for brain surgery in the previous episode after having crossed paths with Stewie of FAMILY GUY. So could this be Booth dreaming while under anesthesia? Just wait for the denouement. It will knock your socks off, and maybe have you shedding a tear or two. The episode goes on a little long, but it is devilishly clever. And we get to see B&B in a tight, naked, sweaty embrace in their boudoir. Like House getting it on with Cuddy, it was a long time in the making.
Date Movie (2006)
You have to be kidding
From the title, I assumed this was another sendup flick like NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE or SCARY MOVIE or even AIRPLANE, the flick that launched the genre. If that was what was intended, DATE MOVIE fails on all counts. There isn't a single laugh to be had, and the movie feels like a bad high school play. A nebbish (Campbell) is courting a sweet young gal (Hannigan, who should know better). But his best-est friend is a fem,ale and a knockout (Monk) who also happens to be a former girlfriend. She intends to spoil their marriage plans and win him back. A slew of familiar faces play various parents, other relatives and friends. Eddie Griffin is along for the ride, and he is singularly unfunny in this. Somehow, I don't think it was his fault. Let me give you one instance of how this film fails at every turn: When Hannigan first meets her beau's best-est buddy, Monk is shown diving into a pool, coming up on the other side, showering off, then washing a car in her too-tiny bikini and even pole-dancing with the shower. This is all done in slow-mo and seems to go on on forever. Hanigan even comments on it. Through it all, we keep cutting back to Campbell and Hanigan for reacti0n shots, but they are all too obviously staring at the camera and not at Monk, who clearly filmed her sultry scenes separately. If this is supposed to be funny, it isn't. And when the three of them finally sit down together next to the pool, Monk whips off her tiny swimsuit and sits down nekked, except it just isn't funny or arousing or anything. You just want the damned sequence to end. Please pass this stinker by.
House M.D.: Both Sides Now (2009)
For a change, the patient was interesting. The guy has a split personality, due to brain surgery to correct his epilepsy, and now starts exhibiting some kind of bizarre illness, the kind that House cherishes. The soap opera part of the finale, involving House and Cuddy and Chase and Cameron, was far less interesting. In the previous episode, it appeared House and Cuddy finally got it on while Chase and Cameron might not be getting married. But wait: Is that the late Bobby Ewing we see in the shower? DALLAS fans will understand what I just said and be able to apply it to House and Cuddy's apparent joining. Anyhow, twas not a great season finale by any means, although the guy with the split brain was pretty entertaining, especially when he viciously slaps his poor girlfriend upside the head. And Carl Reinmer of all people has a cameo as a clinic patient who may have more going on than meets the eye, if House will only pay attention. But with its false fits and starts and very messy and even maudlin ending, this finale to the 5th season likely will cost HOUSE some viewers down the road. Frankly, five seasons of this is enough. Let's not see it go the way of ER, which ran out of gas about the same time yet limped on for several more years, jumping sharks every which way.
Harrison's Flowers (2000)
A wife searches for her photojournalist husband in war-torn Yugoslavia. She has the help of some other journalists who had left her husband for dead. We see the Serbian army killing anyone and everyone in its path, and even the destruction of a hospital. I guessed the movie must have been filmed in the Czech Republic, and I was right. Sad to say, some of the scenes probably did not need much "dressing" to suggest the utter destruction wrought by the blood-mad Serbs. Andie MacDowell is the determined wife and David Strathairn is the missing husband. They are supported in their efforts by gifted actors like Elias Koteas, Adrian Brody and Brendan Gleason. Based on a book, this is a compelling love story using modern war as a backdrop.
On Deadly Ground (1994)
Not even good for a laugh
Segall had a misfire with his second film, HARD TO KILL, and it is fair to say this was his next big misfire. He plays a government operative sent to Alaska to deal with a ruthless oil tycoon (Michael Caine, slumming in greasy dark hair and tailored suits) who is about to destroy some wilderness. Caine's hambone villain also has no use for the local populace, who oppose his plan. The action, which is what we came for, is sporadic and only partly satisfying. There is a serious disconnect going on here. Seagall can still fight, which he pretty much stopped doing after EXIT WOUNDS, but he spend more time parading around in buckskins and horseback riding. He also goes on a destructive tear near the end that in my mind is not justified, and ends up doing more damage than the oil mogul might have! There's some laughable mystical mumbo jumbo in the middle involving the dative populace, and it is very similar to another Seagall film involving Native Americans. What we have here is a vanity flick, pure and simple. And a very bad one at that. To make matters many times worse, Segall makes a very odd "eco-friendly" speech at the end. It may remind some of Superman's mind-grinding world peace speech at the conclusion of SUPERMAN IV. Yuck.
Family Guy: We Love You Conrad (2009)
I don't know Lauren Co9nrad, and she really doesn't have the voice for cartoons, but this young actress gives it her best in an episode where Brian is about to see his one true love, Jiilian, marry another. Somehow, mainly to do with alcohol, Brian ends up in the sack with Conrad, and this makes big news as Conrad is a celebrity. But Jillian (Drew Barrymore) is really the only one on Brian's mind, and Graham and Brian and Stewie -- yes, Stewie -- do their utmost to stop Jilian's wedding. Funny thing, it's not a particularly funny episode. It is actually dramatic at times. Maybe that's what MacFarlane wanted. The main thing is to watch for the very final shot. It is worth sitting through the whole episode.
Family Guy: Three Kings (2009)
Unbelievable. This series keeps getting better while THE SIMPSONS keeps jumping shark after shark. The episode has Peter telling his version of three Stephen King stories, but clearly based on the movie adaptations and with little or no knowledge of the printed source material. Adults will get this, youngsters may not. By far the best tale is Peter's take on SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, but you will want to see all three tales because they all have plenty to make you laugh out loud. The episode's right up there with MacFarlane's two-part send-up of STAR WARS. Among the celebrity voices: Richard Dreyfuss, George Wendt and Roy Scheider. And watch for the River/"Jack" Phoenix gag. It is an absolute killer. MacFarlane clearly belongs in an institution. I was shocked to discover just today he is from a small Connecticut town not too far from where I grew up. This is not a guy you would want for a neighbor, believe me. But he is very, very funny in a totally insane way..
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
Reviewing a movie based on a Shakespeare play can be volatile territory. I took a course in Shakespeare in college, but MOV was not on the reading list. So it's like MOBY DICK, which actually was on one of my reading lists: I never read the thing -- nor, in the case of MOV, have I ever seen seen a performance. If this movie adaptation is any indication, I think I now know why. The movie is dreary as hell, and I begin to understand why one rarely come across this play. I don't know if I should blame the director or Shakespeare. One thing is certain: the cast tends to whisper much of their dialogue, and I cannot imagine having sat through this in a theater with out bolting. Also, I have never been a fan of the skinny, pasty, too-English Fiennes brothers, and one of them plays the "hero" of this piece. Pacino is hard to get a line on, so I will simply say I would like to someday see Dustin Hoffman in the role for comparison. I also was not impressed with the actress playing Portia, who looked like the slightest breeze would knock her over. I suspect this was a British production, which may explain its anemia and dreariness. It might have helped had it been American. Get a little hot blood going, know what I mean? Approach with extreme caution. Beter yet, go watch ROMEO AND JULIET instead
House M.D.: House Divided (2009)
Eccellent episode has House still hallucinating that Amber is with him, a high school wrestler falls ill, and House prepares Chase's bachelor party. The patient is actually interesting for a change, and reminded me of a young Matt Damon. The business with Amber is not funny, but quite serious as House makes a couple of decisions that cause problems, and which he blames om her apparition. The bachelor party is a riot, especially when Wilson walks into his apartment and finds it going on in his living room. Thanks to House, Wilson also meets up with an old flame, a stripper named Karen who apparently hasn't aged a day since he last saw her nine years ago. Unfortunately, Chase finds her to be toxic (see the episode). Highly recommended.