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The Reaping (2007)
The Reaping is the eleventh deadly film plague
Here is one prediction I can make with one hundred per cent certainty. Hilary Swank will not be carrying any Oscar home for The Reaping.
Hilary plays scientific investigator Katharine Winter whose job it is to debunk religious myths with logical scientific explanations. Think of her as the person who will put that piece of toast with the Virgin Mary outlined on it under a microscope and find out that it is really caused by some old green mold that was on the bread before you toasted it. Yeah, I know you were hoping to make a killing on Ebay but that's the way it goes sometimes.
We find out that what she does because at the beginning of the film she is investigating some of these strange religious phenomenon, although we don't know for sure exactly why she is there until a few minutes later she is shown lecturing a college class about her findings and then bragging about how she is 48 for 48 in proving the natural causes for these so called spiritual events. Unbeknownst to Katherine at the time though is that a friend of hers, Father Costigan (Stephen Rea) has these old pictures of her and it seems that Katherine's photogenic Oscar winning face has an odd habit of bursting into flames and leaving a strange symbol on each of the pictures.. Shortly thereafter Katharine is asked by Doug (David Morrissey) to come on down to Haven, Louisiana with her assistant Ben (Idris Elba) because it seems that ever since some young boy has been murdered, the river has turned into blood.
The town people want to blame it on a little girl by the name of Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb), so it is up to Katharine and Ben to find out if it really is blood in the river or if there's a Sherwin Williams factory nearby. And they have to do it before poor Loren gets strung up by her Buster Browns if you know what I mean.
It doesn't take long before things get worse. It soon becomes apparent that the town may be in the midst of the ten biblical plagues of Egypt, so a simple internet search will tell you what else the film might or might not have in store for you.
So is it really some religious phenomenon taking place or is there something else at work? Will Kat find the explanation in time to save poor Loren? Will all of these story lines and loose ends be tied up by the end of the movie? And better yet, will we really give a damn one way or another? I have to say that for a certain portion of the movie, I was intrigued and entertained. I actually thought that it was more like watching a good detective story unraveling at first, whereas Kat would find out that there was a logical explanation for everything that was taking place. The thing about films like The Reaping, if they keep the hocus pocus stuff creepy enough, and then let the suspense build naturally with a nice simple and understandable explanation to tie it all together then generally you're on pretty safe footing. Unfortunately, Director Stephen Hopkins and his writers Carey Hayes and Chad Hayes begin to crank it up about half way through and the whole film comes tumbling down like a house of cards. When we begin to get some idea as to what exactly is going on, we find the explanation so goofy and convoluted we wish we had never taken the journey in the first place It is close to being the same kind of thing that killed Silent Hill for me. By the time the credits were rolling in that film the ending had become such a convoluted mess that you regretted ever having sat down to watch it. At least in The Reaping you will somewhat understand the ending but by the time you leave Haven, Louisiana, you may be wishing you had exited by the time plague number seven had arrived.
Hilary does a good job though, and actually is probably the main reason you'll stay interested longer than you would otherwise. And I actually thought she looked kind of sexy traversing around in that swamp in those skin tight jeans. David Morrissey and Idris Elba aren't bad either, but neither role is anything that would require a great deal of skill. Odd man out though is Stephen Rea. His Father Costigan seems like he should be in another movie altogether. Like maybe in The Omen being speared by a falling cross in the church yard.
AnnaSophia Robb as Loren is creepy and chilling and I am always appreciative when they find a kid actor who doesn't try and play their role as if they are taking sugar injections.
Despite what you may have heard, the film is not as bad as all of that. In fact, you'll probably find just enough of it to be entertaining to make it worth a possible DVD rental if you have absolutely nothing else to do. But there is one more cardinal sin that the film committed at the end. There is a conversation between two of the characters in the film, that is there for one reason and one reason only. It was there for no other reason then to set up a possible sequel. Considering how this movie performed at the box office, we are certainly in no danger of that ever happening. Nonetheless, because they committed what I consider to be one of the ten grievous plagues of movie-making with that sequel set-up ending, I have no choice but to do as I always do in these cases which is to lower the grade. And in the case of The Reaping that would be turning a C+ into a D+. But I can't change water into wine so don't ask.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Excellent film about wanting to love and be loved in a world unwilling to accept it
One does not head out to see Brokeback Mountain without having a general idea of what the film is about. Unless you've had your head buried in a cocoon, you know that Brokeback Mountain is the Gay Cowboy Movie which has received one award after another as the best picture of 2005. Are the accolades more the result of its controversial subject matter or is it really that good? I can say unequivocally that Brokeback Mountain is much more than just a gay cowboy love story. Yes, it is a love story, but it is also about the heartache, the heartbreak, the guilt and the shame forced upon those who through no fault of their own, love and cherish someone of their own gender and are unable to acknowledge that love openly and honestly because of the rigid codes forced upon them by society. It is in every aspect an excellent film.
A ranch hand, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) meets rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) while working as sheep herders in the mountains of Wyoming during the summer of 1963. During their time together they fall in love and have sex. Yet, it is a love that is never acknowledged between them as being such. It is as Ennis puts it, "one-shot deal going on." "You know I ain't queer," he tells Jack just to make sure he understands.
Jack's reply, "Neither am I." One need look no further then when Ennis relates how his father took him to view the corpse of a gay man who was tortured and then beaten to death, to understand the consequences of not only being gay in 1963 but being discovered. It's a story that casts a dark shadow over the rest of the film. Both men do what they can to fit in. They marry and have children. With Ennis, it is a way to prove that his summer on Brokeback was just a one shot deal, with Jack it is a marriage of convenience.
It is under this ominous cloud that these men must find a way to share their love, in whatever way possible and still try to fit into what society views as being normal. Jack knows he is gay without admitting it. We experience their joy when they are together. We feel their loneliness when they are apart. When four years have passed since their summer on the mountain, Ennis anxiously awaits a first visit by Jack. He chain smokes and chugs on beer trying to stay calm, unable to hide his feelings. It is also the first time that his wife, Alma (Michelle Williams), begins to realize there is more to the relationship than meets the eye.
Ang Lee's direction of this film is beyond reproach. It would have been tempting for some directors to exploit the subject matter and hammer us over the head with it. Lee keeps the focus on a very personal level, never letting the story stray or go off on a tangent.
The cast is as superb as the direction. I have seen Heath Ledger in several films, most of them instantly forgettable so I was totally unprepared and shocked by the depth of emotion he brings to Ennis here. And he does it not by being over the top, but with a great deal of subtlety and nuance. Ennis is a man of few words, but Ledger tells us everything we need to know about him without a tremendous amount of dialog.
Gyllenhaal is every bit as good as Jack Twist. Jack Twist is a man of many words, but he is also a man who never gives up on his dream of someday living the life he wants to, and sharing it with the person he loves the most.
In supporting roles, both Michelle Williams as Alma and Anne Hathaway as Jack's wife Lureen are excellent also. We suspect that Lureen's marriage to Jack is as much a marriage of convenience for her as it is for him. She doesn't have much screen time, but she makes the most of it. If her roles in the straight to DVD film Havoc and Brokeback are any indication, her days of being thought of as the Princess in the Princess Diaries films will soon be forgotten. Regrettably, I had not seen any of Michelle Williams work before Brokeback but I wish I had. She is very deserving of her Academy Award nomination for her work here.
Of course, there will always be those who say that much of the recognition Brokeback is receiving has more to do with its subject matter than with the quality of the film itself. Nothing could be more wrong. Yes, the subject matter may be controversial to some, but the truth is there is there is no reason why it should be. Although things have changed quite a bit since 1963 there are still way too many who fear gays as if they were the devil, the bogeyman, and should all carry the last name of Nasty as Alma calls Jack at one point. In the week before I saw Brokeback Mountain, a man walked into a gay bar in Massachusetts and began assaulting the patrons with a hatchet and a gun. In Roanoke Virginia five years ago, Ronald Edward Gay walked into the Backstreet Café and began shooting, simply because he wanted to kill homosexuals. If the day ever comes, and whether or not it is in my lifetime, that a person can love someone of their own gender and walk through a mall, a parking lot, or an amusement park hand in hand without receiving so much as a glance, then Brokeback Mountain may no longer be controversial. But it'll still be a great film, and when you're a great film you know I have no choice but to give you an overwhelming A+.
The Sims 2 (2004)
Sims 2 World expands the Sims Universe, along with the computer glitches
You are undoubtedly aware of the tremendous success Maxis/EA Games had with their original Sims games and the long parade of expansion packs that came later. The problem with the original Sims game was that although there were always new items and more interactions for the Sims there was an element missing that would have made the game complete. Teens stayed teens, children stayed children, and adult Sims never grew old.
The Sims2 has changed that. You can now follow your Sims as they progress through the stages of life, from infancy to eldership and eventually and hopefully dying a peaceful death in their old age. That is of course unless some other accident befalls them along the way. And as if that isn't enough, in The Sims 2 they Sims pass on their genetic physical and character traits to their offspring. There is even a family tree where you can keep track of your Sims heritage from generation to generation.
Needless to say there is also a great improvement in the graphics. You can now zoom down into your home and watch your 3D Sims close up and personal. You can make Sim videos or take pictures which you can edit into a story to be uploaded to the Sims2 exchange. All of this extra power does come at a price however. Many computers that were able to run the original Sims game will not have the capabilities to run Sims 2. The recommendations on the package are the bare minimum you can play with, and using those will require you to run the game at it's minimal graphics settings so you might want to go beyond those.
They have also added what is called an Aspiration. These are goals and wants your Sims want to achieve as they go through life, and it is your duty as their master to see that they get them so that when they do pass they can at least depart in a good mood.
As in the original Sims game, the original Sims2 game pack is being followed with a long line of expansions. So far we have had two expansion packs, University and Nightlife, and another one due out soon called Open for Business. And like before each expansion opens up new worlds for your Sims, new interactions, and new capabilities to make the game more interesting. With University you can now send your Sims to college for four years, complete with dorms, sororities, campus housing, and a host of other things you might find on any college campus. And while it can be a struggle to get your Sims through college, the payoff comes in more job opportunities for your Sims, and that they can interact with a whole host of other college goers that you can graduate also simply by moving them into your Greek house. And the young adults in College are far more interesting in every aspect than the annoying townies that come with the original game.
Nightlife is basically the Sims 2 equivalent of Hot Date only better. There are of course, restaurants, but there are shopping centers, night clubs, karaoke bars, bowling alleys, and places to play Texas Hold-em. For the first time you can have cemeteries where you can ship your dead Sims if their ghosts become too annoying floating around in your back yard. And with Nightlife, your Sims are given cars to get from place to place instead of a taxi, but waiting for your Sim to get where they are going no matter what the means of transportation can try your patience. The loading times are awful, and though they encourage you to download other people's creations into the game, doing so only magnifies the problems.
Maxis also seems intent on throwing in a bit of the strange stuff. So far we have aliens, alien babies, zombies, and vampires. Soon it will be robots.
All in all you'll find the game extremely addicting, way more so than the original. But that is not to say all is perfect in the Sims World. Sims games have become well known for their glitches and The Sims 2 is no exception. It took three months from the release of the original game for a patch to fix some of these glitches. It was worse with University. The glitches in that Expansion pack were not only extremely numerous, but extremely annoying to the point that they interfered tremendously with game play. A patch for University wasn't released until six months later when Nightlife was released. Granted a patch for Nightlife was released very quickly, but that particular patch for that expansion pack has still left a lot of errors. So if you are going to play the game, be aware that this is the price you'll have to pay for being part of The Sims 2 World.
There are also a host of minor quibbles, simple things that don't make any sense. Why can't Sims sit and hold their child instead of standing with them all the time? Why is the Sim who is the object of somebody else's flirt catch the heat from his partner instead of just the Sim who did the flirting? As for the official Sims 2 site, it also leaves much to be desired, but that's another story. All in all though, if you like this kind of fantasy world you'll certainly enjoy the game glitches and all. Overall, I'd give the game a B+ instead of an A. They'll get the A when they get their act together on the game glitches and begin releasing patches in a more timely fashion.
The Cave (2005)
There are places men or women were never meant to go. Into a theater to watch this film would be tops on the list.
I finally figured out what happened to all those characters in the teen slasher movies who somehow found a way to survive until the end credits. They get a little bit older, become scuba divers and star in even messier films like The Cave. Yet they still manage to have the word stupid tattooed on their foreheads.
Somewhere buried deeper inside this movie may be the idea for a good horror movie. Unfortunately, no one in this film would know what to do with it if they found it even if there were a hundred cave explores and/or scuba divers. There is not one second of horror, one second of suspense, nor a modicum of anything remotely horrifying. The film is supposed to take place in an immense cave with oodles of scary cave type creatures lurking about, but for all intents and purposes it could just as easily have been filmed in your bedroom closet. Maybe it was.
On hand we have Cole Hauser who after having recently starred in the film Paparazzi decided to try and hide from that previous embarrassment by becoming entombed here. And when I last saw Morris Chestnut, he was battling giant serpents in another misguided misadventure known as Anacondas. No, it's not true that the snakes swallowed him and spit him out into The Cave. Snakes aren't that cruel. But if you're going to make bad movies, my mother always told me you might as well do them in bunches. The rest of the cast are largely unknowns except maybe for Piper Perabo who manage to wangle this gig in between Cheaper by the Dozen and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. You know her career has been on fire ever since giving such a memorable performance in Coyote Ugly. But you have to take what you can get when you can get it I suppose. It makes no difference. You could plug in any number of has-beens and wannabes into a film like this and nobody would notice. That's probably what this cast is hoping for.
After starting with a silly needless and unnecessary prologue to set the film up and let us know that Yes, Virginia, there really are spooky mysterious caves with horrible creatures, we meet our fun-loving undersea cave exploring crew.
Quickly we are given an explanation to let us know who the leader of the gang is, who his brother is, who the irresponsible one is, and which of the two females will somehow survive for ninety-seven minutes. The only member of the crew that seems to be missing is Scooby-Doo. Then we're off to Never-never cave.
In short order our crew becomes cave creature bait and began to get plucked off one by one. That is except for Jack (Cole Hauser) who suffers a nasty bite and slowly begins to morph into one of the creatures. Hauser then walks through the rest of the film as if the trauma from being bitten means to act like one of the walking dead from George Romero's zombie movies. I take that back, there was no reason for me to start insulting zombies.
We do get to see the cave creatures climbing around, flying around, crawling around, jumping around, and swimming around in the dark. Occasionally we even get to see a blurry close up of them and I could have sworn they were creatures who have been looking for a gig since Alien: Resurrection. It could have been left over stock footage from one of those films but that might have been an improvement this film couldn't afford.
As we see Jack getting a little wackier and more wackier we and his companions are left to decide if he is really trying to save everyone, or have them become varmint fodder. We know Jack is getting a little bit balmy because I think a million dollars of the budget went into special effects on his eyes to let us know this for certain.
The fact is whatever happens to this assortment of adventurers we don't care. We know nothing about them from start to finish, and their only purpose is to be served up as a smorgasbord. We could almost forgive that if director Bruce Hunt had done something to build up any suspense or surprises along the way but he doesn't. Sure it's a cave, and it's supposed to be dark, but incredibly it's only really dark when you want to cover your cheap special effects. Hunt's previous work has come as a second unit and third unit director on The Matrix movies. He obviously shed his training wheels a bit too soon if The Cave is any indication of future work.
The fact is that I might have let this film slip by with a two vote. I mean really, I'm a generous kind of guy. But then someone decided that being bad just wasn't enough. They had to tack on the usual obligatory sequel setting ending and if you have read anything on here I've written about those kinds of endings you know what that means. It means you get one of your stars taken away which is the real reason I only gave it two stars. The IMDb does force me to leave you that one. And when I'm forced to do that, I have no choice but to give you my grade and that grade is an F, marked in red, circled and underlined and tossed back into the pothole that this film crawled out of.
The Omega Code (1999)
Omega Code equals a Mega-mess
The Omega Code, as we are quickly informed, is some secret words hidden in the Torah which will unlock the prophecies that will bring about the end of the world as we know it and with it the Rapture. As it turns out, God being all knowing and all seeing, saw to it that these codes could only be unraveled by computer.
Before the opening credits have finished rolling, there's this guy named Rostenburg (Yehuda Efroni) sitting at his computer where he has just finished deciphering The Omega Code. Just before being eliminated by a bullet hole to the chest, he rips part of the code out of his book and hides it in his shirt pocket. The guy doing the killing turns out to be Dominic (Michael Ironside), who is prancing about in the most ridiculous Rabbi disguise straight out of the Halloween Costume Department of Wal-mart.
After stealing the CD Rom which contains the computer program that unlocks the code, and not for one minute thinking to search the corpse, Dominic begins his escape where he is quickly confronted by two strange characters, who after showing Dominic that his pistol is no match for their "angelic" prowess, tell him to be on his way like a good little boy so he can kill a few more rabbis or priests or whoever crosses his path the wrong way.
Later on we will find out that Dominic is employed by a guy named Stone Alexander (Michael York) whose goal it is to rule the world by making sure the biblical prophecies are fulfilled. The best part of this opening sequence is that it let's us know early on that nothing in this film is going to involve logic, but at least the opening credits were finally over.
We quickly zoom back to the good old U.S.A. where we meet Tony Robbins wannabe Gillen Lane (Van Dien) just as he is about to appear on an Oprah TV like show hosted by Cassandra Barashe (Catherine Oxenberg). She doesn't seem too enamored of Lane as he comes bouncing out like Dr. Phil on steroids and immediately gets the audience applauding and laughing along with his antics as he preaches to them how they can release their own "empowerment." The funniest thing about this whole sequence is that the audience looks as if they were paraded over from TBN's Praise the Lord show and their laughter sounded like it was stolen from an old I Love Lucy episode canned laugh track.
Shortly thereafter we meet Gillen's wife, Jennifer (Devon Odessa) who is not at all amused by his globe trotting, book selling antics. Jennifer has two personalities, glum and glummer. There's also his daughter Maddie (Ayla Kell), who simply loves her papa regardless of what her dour mother thinks. Later, Gillen once again runs into the Oprah host Cassandra, who has mysteriously quit her television show to become a globe trotting reporter completely in awe of Stone. Stone, with Gillen's help starts shaping world events so that the prophecies of The Omega Code can fall into place, which in turn will make Stone more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, and holier than Jesus Christ himself.
All of the events in The Omega Code take place over a period of about seven years, but the way this film is edited it could easily have been two days or two hundred years. We are never given any logical sense of time and place. Often, when Gillen is running from Stone's men or the police, he escapes but we are never shown exactly how. And he does a lot of running. At least a fourth of this film's running time is taken up with shots of Gillen running up the street or down the street or onto another street, running out of an alley or into a tunnel.
In another sequence he returns home and at first his wife Jennifer won't talk to him. Then she holds up a sign saying the house is bugged and immediately they begin talking about their escape plan. In another goofy moment, Gillen is at the home of a friend who is secretly working for Stone. Coincidentally and right on cue, when the friend has to pop into the bathroom, the phone rings, Gillen picks it up and it just happens to be Stone once again which enables Gillen to escape.
As for the rest of the cast, I have to admit I didn't mind Michael York's over the top portrayal of Stone. He made me fondly remember the lineup of villains on the old Batman TV series. As for Dien and Ironside, both of who took a right turn out of the bug hunting of Starship Troopers to appear in this mess, my suggestion is that they both re-enlist in the marines. Oxenberg does nothing more than appear as needed when the plot calls for it. Just about anybody could have phoned the part in . Too bad they couldn't get the real Oprah at least that would have been interesting, but you won't find Oprah within a thousand miles of this fiasco.
If Crouch and Company were trying to win over some converts with this film, they probably failed. I'm sure it pleased those who are already sending in their nickels and dimes to the TBN conglomerate, but it certainly won't convince too many others. The plot is convoluted and totally incoherent. The dialog is stilted and goofy. The directing and editing wouldn't even pass the mustard on a network hour long television show. Anyway, if you're a good Christian, I am sure you can find some good causes to send your money to instead of lining the pockets of the Crouches. It'll get you closer to heaven then this mess ever will.
King Kong (2005)
Ape meets girl
I am not what one would call a Peter Jackson fan boy. I thought the Rings movies were well made, at least the two of them that I've seen. Return of the King still sits unwatched on my DVD shelf. A crime to many I suppose, but I'll get to it eventually.
So what about Kong? After now having seen it twice, once by choice, once as a favor to a friend, I suppose I should be in a position to offer some thoughts on it. It is usually at this point that I would offer a quick film synopsis, but unless you've been living on another planet, you certainly know the plot and I can dispense with that or I can just shorten it down to Girl Meets Ape, Ape Saves Girl, Girl and Ape like each other, Ape loses girl, Ape finds girl, and Beauty kills the beast.
Growing up, the original King Kong was easily one of my favorite films, just as it was Peter Jackson's. As many have said, you can only be first once, so it would be a herculean task to take a film that everyone is extremely familiar with and give it new life. Has he succeeded? As a cowboy friend of mine might say: "Yep!"
Despite all the silly endless arguing about how good or bad the effects are in the film, I can tell you without the slightest hesitation you'll get more than your money's worth out of the price of a ticket. What is on the screen is nothing short of visually stunning. Once we crash land on Skull Island, Jackson fills the screen with so many spectacular scenes that your you'll be on sensory overload. Then, as if that isn't enough, he tops it off with Kong running amok in a recreation of 1930's New York City that you'll swear he went back in a time machine to film. Forget anything you've seen before as Jackson does everything possible to top his previous work, and anybody else's for that matter. Jackson may also have put the nail in the coffin of any more possible Jurassic Park sequels. How could they even come close to topping this when he's made those films into the equivalent of B movies from the fifties? And it's not just the Special Effects that deserve applause. One has to have thought that playing Ann Darrow would have been a thankless role for any actress. The myth was that in order to play Ann Darrow, all you had to do was to be able to have a loud piercing scream and to look scared a lot. You can throw that notion away with this film. What Jackson did was give the character of Ann Darrow a great deal more depth than any previous version (for the record, the character's name in the 1976 remake was called Dwan, but a name change doesn't change anything really). But now, Darrow is as much at the heart of this film as King Kong himself is. Completely gone is the somewhat kinky affection Kong had for Ann in the original and in the previous remake. In this film, it is made not only understandable but quite plausible. This is due in no small part to an excellent performance by Naomi Watts. She takes the character and makes it her own. I would go so far as to say that it certainly deserves an Oscar nomination, although I doubt that it will be forthcoming. She has taken what could have been an impossible task and somehow managed to pull it off. I've seen other performances where actors were reacting to CGI that would later be put into the film. Often it seems as if they are not sure of what they are doing. You'll never have that feeling in the scenes between Ann Darrow and Kong.
There have been some quibbles about Adrien Brody not being right for the role of Jack Driscoll. If this was the original, you might have a point, but it is not. This Driscoll is in actuality, a completely new character, and certainly a far cry from the original Jack Driscoll who was sort of just there. Of course, the relationship between Ann and Jack is developed quickly, but when you think about it, his romance with Ann is not really central to this film anyway. It is there, it serves it's purpose, but even if it were developed more fully it would always be overshadowed by the relationship between Kong and Darrow.
I have to admit that in the first viewing of this film, I was taken aback by Jack Black as Carl Denham. This may be because I was still subconsciously picturing Black in such films as School of Rock, Orange County, and Shallow Hall. This was certainly a different kind of character for him. The second time I viewed the film, I was able to forget that and thought it was a much better performance than I had originally. And like Darrow and Driscoll, keep in mind that this is a completely different Denham than in the original. As a matter of fact, the fact that although the names are the same, Jackson having made the three leads so different went a long way towards making the characters new.
I think the first hour in New York and on the steamer could have been edited and tightened a bit. Yes, it's great for character development, but I think you could have achieved this in a bit less time and not hurt the film in any way.
There's no doubt that I got my money's worth both times I saw the film. And if you can give me my money's worth not once, but twice, then I have no choice but to give you my grade which for this giant Ape extravaganza is an A.
Superman may fly, but much of this movie is grounded in caricatures
Before the Man of Steel hit the big screen back in the seventies, courtesy of Producer Illya Salkind, Director Richard Donner, and Warner Brothers, we were assured that we would believe a man could fly. I am not one to doubt studio promotions, but just like everybody else I was game to find out if it was so. Did I come out of Superman: The Movie believing that indeed the son of Jor-el also known as Kal-el also known as Superman also known as Clark Kent could take to the airways without benefit of plane, hot air balloon, rocket pack, or zeppelin? Nahhh...of course not, but Christopher Reeve looked a lot better faking it then any of his predecessors such as George Reeve and Kirk Alyn. The truth is that Superman: The Movie has a whole lot going for it besides the flight abilities of Reeve. It also has a multitude of things that work against it.
Unless you're some kind of a vampire who has been locked away in a casket for the past hundred years or so, you pretty much know the story. The Planet Krypton which has a Red Sun was spinning around out there in the far reaches of space somewhere. Jor-el (Marlon Brando) had come to the conclusion that Krypton was going to explode wiping out all Kryptonians. Unable to convince anyone else of his findings, and not having a spaceship available that would carry him and Mrs. Kal-el (Susannah York), he packed up his only begotten son Kal-el along with his pampers and blasted him off towards Earth. Since Earth has a yellow sun, this would somehow increase the density of Kal-el, giving him super powers far beyond anybody but the publishers of DC comics could ever imagine. After being adopted by a farm couple known as Ma and Pa Kent (Phyllis Thaxter & Glenn Ford), Kal-el became young Clark Kent. Later in life he took a job as an ace reporter at the Daily Planet ran by Editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper), which he used as a secret identity until he was needed to get down and get funky in his identity of Superman, protector of truth, justice and the American way. It was at the Daily Planet that he met the love of his life, Ace Reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Lois had the hots for Superman too as long as he was Superman and not Clark Kent. When he was Clark, Lois wouldn't be caught dead in a Honeymoon Suite at Niagara Falls with him. But that's another story, as you well know.
Before dispensing with the well known back story, Superman opens with a sequence where three criminals are banished into The Phantom Zone in order to set up Superman II. You just have to give it props for that instead of waiting until just before the credits role to tack on the obligatory sequel setting end as most film makers have a penchant for doing. Of course it helps when you know for sure there's going to be a number 2 before your number one makes it onto the big screen. Marlon Brando is okay as Jor-el but I can never seem to shake the feeling that I'm watching Brando in a white wig our forefathers would themselves have been proud to wear, and his delivery amounts to giving some kind of lecture to the Continental Congress. Krypton itself is not at all like one would imagine having read the comics, as it is displayed here as some kind of eternal homage to cubic zirconium. It's pretty to look at but has no substance.
This movie version doesn't spend much time with Clark as a boy, but they are some of the best moments in the film in spite of the fact that Jeff East who plays young Clark had his dialog dubbed by Reeve. Other than near the end of the film, it's the only time the film shows some real heart regarding Superman or anyone else in it. One almost hated to see Superman/Clark grow up.
In the comics that I grew up with in the sixties, Clark was always portrayed to be somewhat of a coward by Superman, in order to help protect his secret identity. In Superman: The Movie, Reeve's Clark is not only a "girly man" but is pretty much a bumbling idiot. While it strikes much more of a contrast between Clark and Superman, it is overplayed and overdone to the point that it ends up making us dread the moments when Superman does become Clark. That being said, when Reeve does put on his cape and takes flight, his portrayal as Superman is without peer.
I don't have much of a problem with Margot Kidder's portrayal of Lois Lane as it seems to be right on the mark as the character was written for her. The problem is not with her characterization but not for one minute do we believe in Superman's sudden infatuation with her or why he is even attracted to her. The only concern Lois seems to have is where is her next big story coming from and how long it is till her next cigarette. She seems to be the epitome of a liberated woman, so the fact that she would suddenly go ga-ga over Superman doesn't quite hold water even if he does take time out to rescue her early in the picture, and later give her flying lessons. The relationship is never developed in a way that makes any sense at all.
Gene Hackman is way over the top also as Lex Luthor but at least he does it with a bit of style and fun. Not so Ned Beatty who plays his henchman Otis. Otis is supposed to be comic relief, but the only relief you'll get is if you pop a couple of antacids in order to be able to stomach the character. We do not for one minute believe that Lex Luther would keep a total dunce such as Otis around for any reason, as there would just have to be less excruciatingly painful criminals in Metropolis willing to run errands for him. The character of Otis is more than just an annoyance as every scene he is in drags the story down to a mediocre level. Valerie Perrine's Miss Teschmacher is kind of a dumb bulb also, but her character is at least kept in check to the point where she is even likeable. And alas, just as most of the characters are in this film, Perry White is played by Jackie Cooper as a simple minded goof ball.
What is good about Superman are the flying sequences. As a matter of fact when Superman is zooming around performing various rescues ranging from a cat to a president and capturing criminals, the film as a whole takes flight. The special effect all around are well done, especially Superman's rescue of Lois from a helicopter, and later as he races around California to repair the damage being done during an Earthquake. The scenes where he takes to the sky with Lois for a romantic interlude are almost lyrical.
John Williams give us another one of his no holds bar musical scores. Its well done for this kind of film, and apparently the producers and director thought so too as it plays over top of some of the longest running opening and closing film credits known to man. In other words, when the film starts you'll have plenty of time to still pop another batch of popcorn, run to the bathroom and make it back to your recliner before we come close to reaching the planet Krypton.
Besides Otis, the biggest problem with Superman: The Movie comes near the end. In order to resolve a plot situation which if left as it was would have caused major problems for the subsequent sequel, the writer, director or somebody has Superman perform a stunt that reeks of lazy film making. It opens a plot hole as wide and as deep as the Grand Canyon. Usually in a film based on a comic book character, one can overlook such devices, but this one is so glaring and obvious in its ineptitude that it one will be forced to mumble a certain word pertaining to bull droppings. I haven't felt this cheated since my first girlfriend dumped me for another guy.
Superman: The Movie is highly watchable in many aspects. With a little more thought and consideration in how to bring the classic characters to the screen, it could have been one of the great comic book films of all time. Unfortunately, when you can only make me think of what might have been or could have been, I have no choice but to give you my grade which for Superman: The Movie is a C+.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Forbidden Planet helps to answer the question as to whether or not there were intelligent science fiction films in the 1950's
The words intelligent and science fiction in regards to a film from the 50's may seem like somewhat of an anachronism when one thinks about most of the drive-in movie schlock of that era, but there are a few treasures to be uncovered. It's a short list of course, but one that includes The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Forbidden Planet. I don't know what audiences of that particular decade originally thought of this film that was short on action and long on dialog, but almost fifty years later it still holds up quite well despite the seemingly endless advances film makers have made in the special effects department. It's living proof that it's not just the special effects that make a well done science fiction film, `it's the script and the story, stupid'.
The plot at first glance seems relatively simple. A spaceship crew is sent to the planet Altair-4 (Altair being derived from a Greek word for star, clever isn't it?) to find out what happened to the Belerephon Expedition that had settled on the planet some twenty years earlier. As they approach the planet they are contacted by one of the settlers, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who warns them to make a U-turn and go pester some other planet. Of course being an upright and true blue kind of guy who always follows orders, Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen), lands his flying saucer space ship on the planet anyway to find out what exactly is going on and so that we can have the rest of the movie. They are soon greeted thereafter by a robot named Robbie who is piloting a land speeder that would probably make Luke Skywalker just as pea green with envy as the sky of Altair-4 is. Robbie quickly whisks away the Commander, the `Doc' (Warren Stevens) and Lt. Farman (Jack Kelly) to the home of Dr. Morbius who seems to be in a bit more of a congenial mood then he was during his earlier radio transmission. We soon find out that all the other members of the Belerephon Expedition met a horrid untimely death, and the only inhabitants left on the planet are Morbius, Robbie, and the daughter of Morbius, Altaira (Anne Francis). So who or what killed the other colonists? Why was Dr. Morbius the only original member of the expedition to survive? And which of the three bachelors will our dating game bachelorette Altaira choose: the commander, the doctor, or the playboy?
All the answers for these questions are contained in a forthright screenplay written by Cyril Hume, who based his tale on a reworking of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Hume must have firmly believed in the existence of intelligent life on the planet Earth (name origin unknown). There is a monster in Forbidden Planet, but it is not thrown on the screen just so we can have another 50's type monster on the loose and have it stomp everything in sight scenario. There are explanations, and even though you may find many of the special effects antiquated, you won't care. As we tour the underground workings of Altair-4 with Dr. Morbius as our guide, we become totally fascinated by the story of The Krell, the previous tenants of Altair-4 who thought they had achieved the ultimate possibilities of mind over matter.
This is not to say Forbidden Planet is perfect. There is a comedic subplot regarding the ships cook (Earl Holliman) thrown in at the insistence of the studio. While one can see the humor as Cook has Robby perform a little chore for him, it still seems out of place and unnecessary in this film. The romantic angle of the film seems mired knee deep in 50's sensibilities. I'll be the first to proclaim loudly that the beauty of Anne Francis could knock any man for a loop, but the reactions of the crew to her appearance seem more like the twittering one would expect from a prepubescent school boy than anything else. Yet in the end, when she finally does choose Bachelor number one, we see an underlying tension emanating from Morbius that is essential to the underlying themes of the story.
As for the cast, Walter Pidgeon is outstanding as Morbius. Leslie Nielsen does a good job as the Commander, reminding us that he was once able to play a straight role. Anne Francis has always been a favorite of mine, but she handles the chores of Altaira, who meets her first Earth men (other than her father), with a kind of wide eyed matter of fact innocence. The rest of the cast are okay with probably Warren Stevens as Doc being the best of the lot. Oh, and let's not forget the legendary Robbie the Robot, whose appearance in this film alone makes it worth seeing.
Forbidden Planet is a must see for any science fiction film, if for no other reason than that it answers the question in regards to whether or not there were any intelligent science fiction films made in the fifties. The answer is of course yes, and if I can answer that particular question in that manner, I have no choice but to give you my grade which for Forbidden Planet is a B+.
Attack of the Rhedosaurus
If one is in need of a good laugh, there is no better place to start than by watching many of the creature features churned out in the fifties and sixties. Why else do we sit down to watch such perfectly awful schlock like The Giant Gila Monster or The Giant Claw? It is the total ineptitude of the film making process involved in putting those films onto celluloid that makes them endearing to us in their own special way. There were however, a few films of the era that somehow managed to rise above total mediocrity enough so that we can watch them simply because they are decent well made films. This is not to say they are any kind of spectacular cinematic achievement, but in comparison to the usual dreck of that era, they shine like the North Star.
The Beast from 20, 000 Fathoms is a giant dinosaur that has spent the last few million years as a perpetual frozen Popsicle. When some scientists start monkeying around with nuclear testing as they often did in these types of film, the beast does a quick thaw, and wakes up mighty darn hungry. When scientist Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) witnesses the creature, and his companion becomes dinosaur fodder, nobody believes him of course, attributing it to delusional traumatic distress, known more commonly in the fifties as hallucinations. Just as Tom is also about to chalk the whole thing up to delirium, he reads about a boat being attacked by a giant sea serpent. It is then that he enlists the aid of Paleontologist Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), and his assistant Lee (Paula Raymond). The old professor says no dice, it just ain't happening. Lee, however, seems to be hot for Tom's heavy Swiss accent and has him look through some dinosaur mug shots to see if he can identify the beast. After a quick scene in which they let us know that if this film were being made in 2004, Tom and Lee would be looking at the pictures in the bedroom instead of just making eye contact, Tom identifies the beast as a Rhedosaurus. Lest you decide to go looking up what a Rhedosaurus is in the Dinosaur Almanac, I'll save you the trouble by telling you it's a complete figment of the imagination of the writers and animator Ray Harryhausen. From here the chase is on, and eventually the Rhedosaurus decides to homestead in New York City.
There are several reasons why Beast stands out as a cut above normal. Though the script contains the usual inane dialog one expects, the fact that Tom and Lee come up with a decent intelligent plan to prove its existence helps a great deal. There is also the fact that they actually give us a reason as to why the Rhedosaurus is moving down the Atlantic coast instead of making it all seem like random attacks. Foremost, and most importantly, the film works because of the animation of Harryhausen. Forced by a low budget to do all the work on animating the Rhedosaurus by himself, Harryhausen does a terrific job at bringing the beast to life, despite the fact that at times its size changes to fit the scene it happens to be in. After this film, Harryhausen did all of his animations working alone until Clash of the Titans where for the first time he required the help of assistants. It makes one almost regret the use of CGI in films today, as the animations by Harryhausen always had a certain kind of charm to them. Despite continually being saddled with low budgets (the entire budget for Beast was $200,000), Harryhausen could always be counted on to bring a certain amount of class to many of these films that would have otherwise ended up as just another vehicle for Mystery Science Theater. It should also be mentioned that Director Lourie who spent most of his career as an art director and production designer, does a terrific job in the Arctic Scenes, and especially in the New York scenes as soldiers following a trail of Rhedosaurus blood are overcome by radiation sickness.
There are of course the usual bits of silliness that seem to go with the territory. Professor Elson gives a running commentary as he discovers the Rhedosaurus while in a diving bell though he is quite oblivious to the fact that the creature has decided to make him today's appetizer. Likewise a New York policeman uselessly empties sidearm before experiencing his own private version of an esophagus water slide.
As for the acting, it's nothing terribly outstanding but still much better than what you usually get. Cecil Kellaway was always good in roles such as these and his presence alone will lift any film a notch or two. Some may complain about the woodenness of Christian and his Swiss accent, but I found his acting to be quite adequate and was actually glad of the accent as it seemed to add a little more to the character. As for Raymond, she's fine too but could have used a little help in the wardrobe department as one particular dress she wears is too hideous for any film of any decade. Other than that though, she's quite good.
Best of all, Beast is available on DVD and if you are inclined to revisit these old films this is one definitely worth a purchase. And believe it or not, the DVD also has a few extras on it, including previews of other Harryhausen films, an interview with Harryhausen, and a section where Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury reminisce about the good old days. While it may not seem like much, it is infinitely more than you usually get for these kinds of films.
Beast will never win any kind of the accolades reserved for films of obviously better quality, but for me it's just good enough that one can watch and enjoy simply because it is a step or two up from what you might expect. And if you're a step or two up I have no choice but to give you my grade which for Beast from 20,000 fathoms is a B.
Taking Lives (2004)
Lara Croft as FBI profiler Ileana
For those of you have seen films like In the Cut or Twisted you probably know that both films were half-baked attempts at some sort of pseudo-psychology suspense thrillers dealing with serial killers. They offered little in the way of thrills or suspense, and spent a lot of time on what is suppose to have been the psychological aspect. What that means is that you had to insert tooth picks to keep your eyelids from drooping halfway through the tedious storyline. Taking Lives takes another stab at the genre, and its story is about as screwy as those two films, but I liked it anyway. Much of the reason could be because the over psycho-analyzing is kept to a minimum and the heroine, Ileana (Angeline Jolie), doesn't have the mental hang-ups that burdened Meg Ryan and Ashley Judd in the aforementioned films. That enables Director D. J. Caruso and writer Jon Bokenkamp to keep things moving at a rapid clip so that we do get a few real thrills and some genuine moments of suspense along the way and so that you won't stop to think too often about the Looney-tunes type. And for this kind of film, that's about all one can ask for.
Ileana is an FBI profiler called in by the French Canadian police to help them solve a murder case where a victim's face is disfigured by being smashed to bits until it's unrecognizable. Why are the Canadian police asking an FBI agent for help you may ask? Shame on you, you're not supposed to ask questions like that in a film like this so just accept it and move on. It doesn't take Ileana long to figure out that they are dealing with a serial killer, something you'll already know unless you were late getting into your theater seat from spreading too much butter around on your popcorn. So we know, and Ileana knows, which puts all of us one up on the Canadian police department that isn't exactly willing to accept that fact until another body pops up with a face that's another candidate for reconstructive surgery. This time however, there's a witness to the crime, an art dealer named Costa (Ethan Hawke) who was giving mouth to mouth to the victim when the police showed up. Of course that also makes Costa suspect number one, I suppose because the police think it's a little odd for someone to be giving mouth to mouth to a victim that doesn't have a mouth left to give mouth to mouth to.
As it turns out, it doesn't take Ileana long to clear Costa and to decide that Costa is in fact not the killer, but is being stalked by the killer. That's why she was called in because she is an ace at that sort of thing. There are a few plot twists, here and there, none plausible but entertaining just the same. Gena Rowlands is thrown in to the mix as the wicked Mother who tormented one of her twin sons who were supposed to be dead but may or may not be the killer. And everything careens down the suspense thriller runaway till we get to the final plot twist at the end. And that's about all you need to know in regards to the plot, less you start asking questions like the one in paragraph two.
A lot of what makes this work of course can be attributed to Jolie, Director Caruso, and to some degree writer Bokenkamp. It would have been easy for them to give us one of those tormented souls with a satchel full of cuckoo personality traits but she stays pretty much in character as to what an FBI should or should not be doing, well at least most of the time. Obviously she is attracted to Costa, but that attraction never weighs down her investigation or the script and that's a big plus. Rowlands is sufficiently haughty as Mrs. Asher, and she chews up the scenery fairly well in her brief scenes. Olivier' Martinez, John-Hugues Anglade, and Tcheky Karyo play the French Police. Martinez and Karyo don't think too highly of Ileana, but are kept in place by their boss Duval (Anglade). And thankfully none of them are written as just being dumb cops who are there just so we can see how much better Ileana is. Oh yeah, Keifer Sutherland is lurking about too, but you'll have to see the film to find out why.
The plot holes and plot contrivances are many, as that seems to go with the territory these days. The fact is though that Taking Lives offers enough of everything else that if you're willing to give it a pass on those things, you may just be able to enjoy it enough to let it get by. I had enough fun with it to do just that, and when any film gets me to suspend my disbelief long enough to have a little fun, I have no choice but to give it my grade which for Taking Lives is a B-.
Welcome to Mooseport (2004)
Even if you buy into the premise it doesn't help
In a Presidential election year such as this one, one would expect that Hollywood would release to the masses a serious political film or two dealing with candidates, elections and the political process in general. One might count Fahrenheit 9/11 as being such a film but it's more of a skewering of George Dubya than a commentary on the political process in general. What we did get is this Big Gulp comedy dealing with a president and a political campaign. Why Big Gulp? Because you have to take a big huge swallow before watching a film such as Welcome To Mooseport, just to buy into the premise. If you do somehow manage to swallow hard and dive in head first, than there is a chance you might find a few moments of enjoyment. Then again, there's just about an equally a good chance you won't relish any of it.
Here's the premise that you have to buy into: President Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman) has just finished his 2nd term as the most popular president to ever be in office. (1st swallow) Cole retained that popularity despite the fact that he was divorced by his wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) while in office. (2nd swallow) Because the former First Lady obtained their main home in the divorce settlement, the President is left to retire in their other estate which is situated in the town of Mooseport, Maine. (3rd swallow) Because the former mayor of Mooseport has recently passed onto a better life and probably a better film, the town leaders ask Cole to run for Mayor of Mooseport. (4th swallow) After figuring out that by being Mayor, he will somehow keep his home out of the hands of his greedy ex-wife, Cole agrees to run supposedly as an unopposed candidate (5th swallow) As it turns out, Cole is not running unopposed because local resident and all around good guy Handy Harrison (Ray Romano) has put his name on the ballot. Cole decides to pay a visit to Handy to talk him into resigning from the race, which Cole agrees to do out of respect for the President and because he feels he wouldn't stand a chance running against him. Unfortunately, right after Handy has agreed to step away, Cole puts the make on Handy's steady girlfriend Sally Mannis (Maura Tierney) and asks her out on a date. (6th swallow) Since Handy seems to be unable to make a commitment towards her, Sally agrees to go out with the former President. Out of anger and jealousy, Handy changes his mind and decides to stay in the race and run against Cole after all. (7th and final swallow).
When it comes to accepting far fetched wacko movie ideas, I can accept just about anything if the film is entertaining on some level. The problem with Mooseport is that it's just not as much fun as it could have been or should have been. I didn't have much of a problem accepting the underhandedness and dubious scruples of Cole as that was to be expected. Handy however is a different sort of guy. He's your all around good guy who wouldn't think of doing anything dishonest even it would enable him to win an election against a former president who is trying to steal his gal. He should be a sympathetic kind of guy but he is not. Handy is quite a dumb cluck. His ignorance regarding Sally and her desire for him to commit to a relationship just makes him a bore. His lame idiotic attempts to get her back just make Handy look as stupid as if he were one of the original Three Stooges. The guy simply hasn't a clue. At one point, afraid that Cole might do the naked tango with Sally, Cole gives her a pair of panties with a no access sign on the front. He sees it as a joke, we see it as just more ignorance on his part. I've seen Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond several times, though I don't make it a high priority to watch the show. Here he brings the same shtick to the big screen and doing it for almost two hours just doesn't work. He's seldom funny, and never sympathetic no matter what Cole does to him.
Hackman as Monroe Cole is somewhat better. We don't like him either but we're not supposed to. However, as he goes from one extreme to another in order to insure victory, it ends up becoming more of a lesson in monotony than anything remotely funny. Being mean, pompous and arrogant can be funny for a short while, but the longer it goes on and the more extreme it becomes the situation begins to lose any humor that might have been there earlier.
If you're looking for any silver linings in this dark cloud I can give you three of them. Maura Tierney is sweet, intelligent and lovable as Sally, which does make you wonder why she was ever with Handy the Shmuck in the first place. Rip Torn is on hand as Cole's campaign manager, and Torn is fun to watch no matter what character he plays or where he plays it. He has some of the funnier lines in the film. Last and certainly not lease is Marcia Gay Harden as Presidential assistant Grace Sutherland who worships Cole, sees his faults but loves him anyway. Harden and Tierney have the best scene in the film as they get together for a drunken game of miniature golf. It's one of the few moments in the film which is truly worth watching so cherish it.
I suppose one could almost view the film as a satirical look at the presidency and politics, but to do that one would have to think that this film is smart, intelligent and funny. Though there are a few minor chuckles here and there, there is nothing remotely intelligent about anything that happens in Welcome to Mooseport. It's mostly just dumb. And if that's all it is I have no choice but to give it my grade of a C-. Now go watch Fahrenheit 9/11 or Primary Colors.
King Arthur (2004)
King Arthur as an E True Hollywood Story
The first time I had a chance to meet up with King Arthur somewhere back in the ancient legendary time of the sixties, he wasn't a king at all. He was only a squire who liked to go around being called by the nickname Wart. Along came this wacky David Copperfield type of guy named Merlin who thought he could make something out of Wart by turning him into a fish, a squirrel and a bird. All Wart wanted to do was be a squire which kind of ticked Merlin off and he left for a while. Eventually Wart found this special sword called Excalibur stuck in a stone that looked kind of like an anvil, pulled it out, changed his name to Arthur and became King. Of course there's more to the story as told in the unofficial sequels Excalibur and First Night but it has been the Disney version that will forever be ingrained in me. According to Director Antoine Fuqua, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and writer David Franzoni however, all those stories are a bunch of hooey. They have taken it upon themselves to bring to the screen, 'the untold true story that inspired the legend.' And apparently, Disney also must have got tired of the big lie being told by The Sword in the Stone because it's their Touchstone division responsible for distributing this film.
In King Arthur, it seems that Arthur's (Clive Owen) real name is Artorius but his Knights call him Arthur because if they had to call the film King Artorius everyone would be dazed and confused about the subject matter. The Knights are all present and accounted for though, including Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), and Gawain (Joel Edgerton), and they follow their exalted leader Arthur around battling here and fighting there because they aren't just knights they are also slaves of Rome. It seems they have to fight for the Romans for fifteen years to gain their freedom and Arthur is their best bet to stay alive for any length of time. That would make anybody a loyal follower wouldn't it? Unfortunately, on the day the Knights are supposed to be given their freedom, this Roman bishop comes along and says not so fast, you have to do one more little all time dangerous mission for us. It seems the Roman's have problems of their own back home so they've decided to leave Britannia for good. At about this time the Saxons led by their fearless leader Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard) are ravaging the country and killing everyone they come across. There is however this Boy out there somewhere that is supposed to become a bishop in Rome whom Arthur and the gang must rescue before Cerdic gets to him and his family which means Rome would be minus a bishop and King Arthur would be without any plot. To make matters worse, there are the natural inhabitants of Britannia known as the Woads trying to reclaim the land for them selves. The Woads are led by Merlin (Stephen Dillane), who wants to convince his enemy Arthur to join forces with him to rid the land of the Saxons. Lest you ask why Merlin doesn't use his magical powers, the answer is because in this the 'true story' Merlin is no longer a magician. He's just a guy out there in full guerilla warfare makeup doing army type grunt work shooting arrows and setting traps.
Of course any story about King Arthur has to have Guinevere (Keira Knightly) in it somewhere and she pops up here also. She is not the lovely, soft spoken beautiful Guinevere prone to hanky panky with Lancelot. She's a sprightly lass who can shoot an arrow like nobody's business and swing a sword that weighs about ten more pounds than her body weight as effortless as if it were a light saber straight out of Star Wars. So do you want to know how does Guinevere get hooked up with Arthur? Either go see the movie or read some other review because I can't take everyone's world of discovery away can I?
As you can tell, most of this is dreary stuff. Arthur, like most film heroes these days spends a lot of time soul searching and questioning his career choices. Of course he is aided by the constant nagging of Guinevere to get him to do the right thing. The Knights tell off color jokes dealing with penis size, bodily functions and illegitimate kids. Their conversations are supposed to lighten the mood but the audience I saw the film with only gave a light scattered chuckle once or twice. They were probably trying to figure out as I was what this dialogue was doing in a story that takes place somewhere around 400 A.D. There is a round table here, but it makes only a brief cameo appearance. Lancelot and Guinevere do eyeball one another a couple of times but I don't think there was any passion involved in those looks. Perhaps they were wishing they could do a remake of First Knight instead of this.
Believe it or not there are some good things here. Slawomir Idziak's cinematography is breathtaking whether it's the scenes in dark hidden abysses of the forest, a light snow falling in the countryside, or a trek through the snow covered mountains. I will admit to the fact that a couple of times it irritated me how blue the sky was during one fog covered day, and during the early scenes of snow falling to the ground but that's a minor quibble. The battle scenes likewise are well stage and are fought in full close up with little if any dependence on a bunch of CGI created soldiers. One particular battle that takes place on a frozen river bed with cracking ice is in itself almost worth the price of admission. However, the battle scenes also seemed to be somewhat sanitized in order to help garner the precious PG-13 rating. We seldom actually see any sword strikes because magically the victim always seems to have the wrong side posed for the cameras. Most of the blood that pops up is some splattered spots we see on the faces of the Knights afterwards. It gave the film more of a 1950's gladiator feels to it, before blood was allowed to spew across the silver screen by the buckets full. In 1955, that was okay, but in 2004 it only makes the scenes feel that much more artificial.
As for the acting, the cast does a pretty good job with what they have to work with. Owen is good as King Arthur, although the script makes him appear as somewhat of a dim wit for his blinding loyalty to Rome. Stellan Skarsgard as Cerdic the leader of the Saxons brings some true seething evil to the screen. And despite the oddity of watching someone of her stature battle and fight as well as the Knights, Knightly does quite well as Guinevere.
You won't hate yourself if you watch King Arthur. The battle scenes and cinematography are worth a look see at least once. The story is just okay enough to keep you interested, but it's one you'll forget about a few days after watching. What the film really lacks is the fantasy, romance, involving characters and magic that is usually included in any King Arthur story. Instead we just get a film about warriors with a convenient plot line used only to get us from point A to point B. And since the makers of this film feel that fantasy is such a terrible thing and they must destroy the myth, I have no choice but to bestow upon King Arthur my grade of C-. The next thing you know some film maker will try to convince me there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny either. What's the world coming to?
50 First Dates (2004)
A little less of the usual Sandler shtick would have helped
Let's make one thing perfectly clear. I am not an Adam Sandler fan. If it is within my power to avoid seeing Adam Sandler on the big screen, small screen, or on the cover of People Magazine, then I do so at all costs. The problem is that I have this girlfriend. She loves to watch Adam Sandler movies. Then again, my girlfriend will watch just about any film slapped onto a DVD and put into a case. She truly believes that if it says on the cover 'hilarious and uproarious' it must be so because they wouldn't print false advertisement since the manufacturer could be sued. Okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit but only a little bit. Anyway, the first Adam Sandler film I saw was The Waterboy, a film many found to be 'hilarious and uproarious' I found it to be 'stupid and idiotic cinematic crapola.' From that point in time, I vowed to cleanse my soul by making it my life's mission to never occupy the same room if there was even a whiff of Adam Sandler strutting across the TV screen. Until last night, except for one bout with Mr. Deeds, I had pretty much succeeded in that regard, but then my world caved in again. Having been to the theater three times this week without her (she was working so don't blast me), the aforementioned girlfriend insisted I sit and watch a film of her choosing. Her choosing was 50 First Dates, a film she had borrowed from a co-worker. Catastrophe! And worst yet, co-starring Rob Schneider! Yech! Well maybe I could fall asleep and she wouldn't notice. Then again, Drew Barrymore was also in it and I loved her in E.T. and loved her in Firestarter when she was doing that really cool fire trick with her brain so maybe I wouldn't suffer too much.
True to form, the early part of 50 First Dates is typical Adam Sandler/Rob Schneider shtick. Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a Hawaii Veterinarian who talks to his animals like Dr. Doolittle, and is heavy into one night stands with female tourists. To avoid having them become attached and want to stay in Hawaii with him he tells them stuff like he's a secret agent getting ready to go on a mission. So supposedly every female tourist that vacations in Hawaii is a dumb bimbo which they would have to be to fall for such nonsense. It wasn't funny and I was suffering already.
Henry's best friend and hanger on, Ula (Rob Schneider) comes to see Henry whenever he needs stitched up after having had a shark take a bite out of him. He also comes to see Henry hoping that Henry will relate every detail of his one night stands to him, because Ula's wife just doesn't do it for him anymore. Ula also brings along his brood of kids. As it turns out, the kids are cute, Ula is surprisingly funny, so are the kids, and my pain eases a bit.
Then there's Henry's assistant Alexa (Lusia Strus). She looks like Cloris Leachman had just made a wrong turn from the set of Young Frankenstein and ended up in the wrong movie. Her jokes are bad, we've seen the ugly assistant bit before and done much better, and then a Walrus pukes on her and I'm back wallowing in my misery once again. Soon Henry is having breakfast in a diner that specializes in spam and eggs so that later on we can have a few spam jokes thrown our way. It is then that he spots Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) making a house out of her waffles. He puts the moves on her, they have a nice conversation, Henry is attracted to her as a person and not as a bimbo, there's a funny guy sitting at the counter, the people that run the restaurant are kind of funny, and it looks like things are back on track. It's only a temporary reprieve though because when Henry goes back to the diner to meet her the next morning he finds out that she wakes up every day not remembering what happened the day before. This time when he tries to make hay with her, he fails and once again the film goes astray as we get scene after scene after scene of Henry meeting Lucy in the diner or down the road trying to get her to notice him so that they can have another first date. The sequences are totally done for slapstick, not remotely funny, and although we can sympathize with Henry's motives the low brow comedy just doesn't fit in with what he is trying to achieve or what the story is really about. Eventually Henry meets Lucy's father Marlin (Blake Clark) and her brother Doug (Sean Astin). There is a funny yet touching sequence where we see Lucy coming home and Marlin and Doug have to relive the same day over and over again because if Lucy finds out she loses her memory everyday, she becomes traumatized.
As you can tell the film is all over the place. There are times when it's a very well done sweet romantic comedy, with a lot of heart. At other times, it seems to want to sink back into the usual ineptness of low-brow films like The Waterboy. Eventually, in the latter part of Fifty First Dates, the comedy low-jinks do subside for the most part and the film seems to get on track. A lot of this can be attributed to Drew Barrymore who gives a very sensitive portrayal of a woman trapped by circumstances beyond her control. Whenever she is on the screen, the film lifts itself up about ten notches. Despite my earlier comments, I have always felt Barrymore was often underrated in the acting department. Her problem is she picks some lousy scripts with which to display that talent. Sandler however eventually tones down his shtick quite a bit, leaving the lowbrow comedy up to Schneider which is where it should have stayed in the first place because most of his lines are the funniest in the film. Likewise, Astin and the rest of the supporting cast are good also, but there's a running joke about body building concerning Doug that continues on way too long and wasn't really necessary at all.
This is the kind of film I find infuriating. There's a wonderfully romantic story, so why did writer George Wing not take that and run with it? Why sink to the idiotic antics that are so unnecessary especially when we've seen that kind of thing from Sandler so many times? When halfway through the film Sandler begins to show how much he does care for Lucy and the steps he takes to help her overcome her desperate plight, it's a side of Sandler we seldom see. He still can't act, as evidenced by his stupidly awful crying scene (at one point he does a fake crying bit, later he cries for real and both are the same), but Lucy and Henry's romance was good enough that we could easily have overlooked his failings.
There was much about 50 First Dates that I enjoyed. There was a large amount of it that I didn't. In the end, I'd have to say that the last half of the film is so good that it's just enough for me to give it a recommendation. Those who love the usual Sandler films will enjoy the first half, and those like me who don't will fall for the second half of the film.
And most of all it has a very nicely well done ending, that kind of touched me and when a film does that I have no choice but to give it my grade. I should probably just give it a C and leave it at that, but since it's an Adam Sandler film I have to grade on the curve and give it a B- but only because the romantic story was so well done, and I'm just a romantic kind of guy. Can't you tell?
Cold Creek Manor (2003)
Can all these talented people make a film this bad?
When one ventures out to see any Friday the 13th film, Nightmare on Elm Street movie, or Halloween fright fest, you can almost forgive their propensity towards total ineptitude and predictability. At least going in you know what you're going to get so you can either steer clear or watch to your hearts desire if you want to keep a running total of the body counts or smirk at what original new way they'll find to grind up teenagers for the meat market. At least there's no pretense about any of those films being great cinematic achievements, which is one reason they have been able to continuously garner a loyal following and there's nothing at all wrong with that.
And then there are the Big Hollywood Productions like Cold Creek Manor that are filmed with a supposedly A list director (Mike Figgis)and a few well known actors (Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, Christopher Plummer) then label themselves with adjectives such as `psychological suspense thriller' to make sure they can immediately grab our attention. Well I suppose it worked but not the way Touchstone and Figgis intended because Cold Creek Manor only grabbed my attention by how totally awful and clumsy it is in every department. From the dim-witted screenplay, to the poker faced wooden acting, to the heavy handed direction and to one of the most god awful musical scores ever to inhabit my ear canal, Cold Creek Manor is undoubtedly one of the more atrocious films released in 2003 if not the most atrocious film released last year. It truly makes films like From Justin to Kelly and Gigli seem like works of art by comparison.
Documentary film maker Cooper Tilson (Quaid) and his wife Leah (Stone) live in the mean old awful polluted, crime ridden, over populated, traffic laden big city with their two little darling children Jesse and Kristen (Stewart and Wilson). One day while Coop is dropping the fruit of his loins off at school, Jesse decides to play in the traffic despite repeated warnings from his older and wiser sister. He's only slightly injured, but Leah flies home from a business trip, and that night while in bed with Coop, they decide that instead of grounding the kid for a week or two, they are going to move out into the wonderful countryside where the birds chirp all day, the bees buzz as they pollinate, and there are plenty of friendly country folk who gather together everyday at the local diner/saloon/pool hall which is in a building that usually measures about ten feet square. That way if Jesse once again decides to cross the road without looking, he will still be stupid but supposedly quite safe. I guess Coop and Leah just never had the time to read or watch Pet Cemetery like the rest of us did.
Of course, there's not a person reading this who doesn't know that when city folk move to the country to get away from it all it, spells trouble with a capital T. I don't know what happens when country folk move to the city because they won't make a movie dealing with that subject. Too original I suppose or maybe they figured that idea was done to death with The Beverly Hillbillies TV series and subsequent movie based on it. Anyway, I digress.
The house that the Tilson's move into is one they picked up out of foreclosure because the owner didn't keep his payments up to date. We are given a tour of the creepy mansion early on, leading us to believe that we might be seeing some spooky haunted house tale with some blood thirsty relative of Casper menacing the new occupants. What we're really getting is a quick tour of the house so we can spot where all the plot contrivances are going to take place for the next hour and forty-five minutes. I personally would have preferred a spook story but instead writer and producer Jeffries gives us Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff). Oh did I forget to mention that the estate the Tilson's have moved into is called the Massie Estate? Yep, you now know where we're headed without me telling you but I'm going to relate it to you anyway just to be sure.
It seems the reason that poor Dale was late with his house payments is because he was doing a few months in prison. Dale doesn't care too much for people buying a house that has been in his family for years so he shows up one morning inside the house, going through Coop's film making equipment and looking grubby, creepy, threatening and obnoxious. So, does one call the sheriff to rid their house of this intruder? Not the Tilsons who not only invite Dale to breakfast but hire him on to do some work around the house. This work includes fixing the family pool so Figgis can pay homage to The Godfather later in the film. Coop says he hires him out of guilt because they bought the house cheap and also to see how Dale will work out. I think he does it because there's an hour and a half of movie left to fill but I could be wrong.
As you can see one can watch this whole film and offer cheap shot after cheap shot every step of the way. If the acting was at least passable it might have helped a bit but not much. For all the recent minor successes Quaid has had with films like The Rookie and Frequency, one would have thought this film might have put his career back in the dumpster. It's fortunate for him that not too many saw this overly wrought silly performance, or that the film was released before he signed on for The Day After Tomorrow, The Alamo or the upcoming Flight of the Phoenix remake. For much of the film Sharon Stone does the best Faye Dunaway Mommy Dearest impression I think I've ever seen. No, I don't mean she's a Looney tune child abuser, but her makeup and hair make Stone a dead ringer for Dunaway in that film, and her monotone acting style reminds us that her biggest film success was she played peek-a-boo with her legs in Basic Instinct. Dorff is undeniably menacing but that's not a good thing. From the moment he makes his appearance there is no doubt what he's up to which means you can forget about any kind of suspense at all being developed. As for the two kids, well the girl wasn't too bad, managing not to become too obnoxious but the boy who plays Jesse will make you wish you had been there to shove him in front of the car at the beginning of the film, the incident that started this congealed potboiler in the first place. As for Juliette Lewis, her only purpose in being in the film is to be a punching bag so that Dale can keep in shape. Oh yes, and Christopher Plummer plays Dale's father. I just read that it took him less than two days to film his role. One day with Quaid, one day with Dorff and then he was able to escape before anybody noticed he was there.
There are other strange occurrences worth noting in the film. I feel it is my duty as an unqualified film critic to point out the following so that you can truly enjoy some of the wonderful moments this film has to offer. Look specifically for the following incidents to enhance your viewing pleasure (be forewarned that this list contains plot spoilers):
1. When being introduced to one of the locals, the thought of messing with horses is abhorrent to Kristen till suddenly and magically her parents buy her a horse and all of a sudden she just loves them.
2. There are a couple of really funny scenes involving snakes.
3. Find the skylight so you'll know how it will be used later.
4. Pay attention to the lesson in how to slaughter sheep.
5. Watch as Sharon Stone is pushed into a well, but inexplicably Quaid is not.
6. Watch as the sheriff lies wounded in her office for a long period of time before anyone including her sister notices.
7. Watch as the sheriff witnesses Quaid getting stinking drunk but then does nothing to keep him from driving.
8. Watch as Dorff mistreats the heck out of Juliette Lewis but she loves him anyway for it. (At one point he smacks her down in the diner/bar/pool hall in front of about twenty witnesses but the Sheriff, who is Lewis's sister still doesn't arrest him.
9. The parents letting the thirteen year old swim in an extremely skimpy bikini despite the fact that Dorff whom they don't trust is right there watching.
10. See if you can predict what the weather will be like in the final moments of the film.
11. Watch how by using his psychic powers, Dale knows to take the sheriff's radio because the Sheriff gave Coop one just like it.
12. Last and certainly not least, pay attention to the score written by Mike Figgis. At least four or five times you'll be looking around asking, `Who's that banging on the piano?'
There are many more great moments such as these to relish during Cold Creek Manor. My suggestion is to invite some friends over, have your own Mystery Science Theater and make a party of it. It's the only way you can possibly survive and if that's the only way you can do it, it leaves me no choice but to bestow upon Cold Creek Manor a big fat F.
An irreverent look at an irrelevant film
Imagine this scenario if you can:
A while back there was this big Hollywood bash being held at some big name Hollywood hot shot's over-sized Hollywood mansion, probably overlooking the Pacific Ocean or something like that. The Mr. or Ms. Big who was throwing this huge celebration was obviously someone who was on the A list because everybody who was anybody was there and to miss it would have meant you were absolutely on the Hollywood D list. It was quite rambunctious, and it wasn't long before everyone was feeling the effects of too much wine, liquor, champagne or whatever they drink at those things. Somehow, Director and Producer Philip Kaufman, actors Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, and Andy Garcia ended up lounging down by the pool together sipping on one two many Marguerites. After having drank their way through a lively discussion about the evils of George Bush, the greatness of Michael Moore, and how the Lakers were going to win the whole thing in 2004, Kaufman having enjoyed the company of his companions so thoroughly took another sip on one more Marguerite and said, 'you guys are great fun to be with. We ought to make a movie together.' Of course everybody else nodded in agreement. 'I've got this script lying in my desk from this gal Sara Thorpe that I owe a favor to,' Kaufman continued, 'I'm told there's a big part for three leads in it, and if there isn't, I'll have somebody rewrite it so there is.' And that is how a pretty good director, three pretty good actors, ended up making Twisted. If all this sounds a bit implausible it's the only explanation I could come up with as to how so many talented people ended up in making a film as messy, ludicrous and is as half-baked as Twisted is.
Jessica Shepherd (Ashley Judd) has just been promoted to be a homicide detective. She seems to have a knack for being able to remember crime details that aided her in getting ahead. She also happens to be a close friend and confidante of Police Commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson).
Mills it seems was the partner of Jessica's father before he went berserk murdered some innocent people including Jessica's mother before pulling the trigger on himself. Of course all this has left Jessica with enough issues that would keep Dr. Phil on the air way into the next millennium. She's an alcoholic and drinks herself to sleep with a bottle of wine; she's into one night stands with just about any sleaze ball she can pick up at a bar, when she has sex with the sleaze balls it's more of a wrestling match than anything else, she has recurring flashbacks of events that may or may not have happened, and because of an event that occurs early in the film, has to consult the Dr. Phil of the police department, in this case Dr. Melvin Frank (David Straithairn).
Then there's her new homicide partner Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia). He has this odd habit of following her around and seems to have a case of the hots for Jessica right off the bat because he ends up keeping an eye on her a lot before they even begin working together. When Jessica and Mike finally do get called in to work on their first case it's a doozy. The victim turns out to be one of the sleaze balls that Jessica had a quick sexual liaison with. That doesn't make her a suspect though and inexplicably she is allowed to continue working on the case anyway. It's not long before victim number two shows up and then victim number three and of course they are all ex sex toys of Jessica. It isn't long before Jessica begins to suspect that she herself might just be the killer. It seems that every night just after she begins to hit that good to the last drop bottle of Mad Dog, she blacks out, then wakes up later unable to remember what if anything happened.
Everybody including Jessica is a suspect. They are all written to be as creepy as possible as if somehow that will draw your attention away from who the killer is. Even the psychiatrist is made to act a bit odd so that they can put him out there as a suspect. It didn't matter though and I had it all figured out within about fifteen minutes after the opening credits rolled. It's a good thing old Jessica had that photographic memory because as she stumble and bumbles through the film it's obvious she doesn't have a whole lot else going on upstairs. There's about fifty different ways she could solve her dilemma, the most obvious of which is for her to just quit drinking the damn wine. Of course if she did that we wouldn't have gotten what seemed like endless scenes of her drinking, passing out, waking up, finding a murder victim, having flashbacks and nightmares, and then doing it again and again and again. And that's what most of this film consists of.
I can't really fault the actors too much for this mess. They all do okay with what they have to work with. I can fault them for not bothering to read such a lame, impossible, improbable, far-fetched, hole-ridden script before agreeing to do it. They must have all sold their services for a pretty good paycheck to get involved in this mess.
I have seen at least four psychological suspense thrillers in the past year or so that were hardly worth turning on the DVD player and burning electricity for or taking a trip down to the dollar theater as I did for Twisted. One of those films was In the Cut with Meg Ryan. At least Meg did shed her clothes for that one which gave it some modicum of realism. In Twisted, for all her one night stands and sexual liaisons, we don't see anything of Ashley at all. It seems the more Ashley Judd keeps her clothes on the worst her films seem to get. I doubt if that has anything to do with quality, but if a film makes me dream up logic as irreverent and as illogical as that, I have no choice but to give it my grade which for Twisted is a D.
The Terminal (2004)
Entertaining throughout, but doesn't add up to much
Having been around a few airport terminals in my time, I can safely say that it's a place that I only visit out of necessity, and sure is hell would never think of living in one. I've been lucky enough not to have been stuck interminably in between flights or delayed more than a few hours, and will be eternally grateful to the powers that be for that. I can't imagine having to spend a whole day in an airport, and the thought of having to take up residence in one for several days is almost as abhorrent to me as the thought of having to clean out a construction site porta-pot.
In The Terminal, our mythical hero Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) from the mythical land of Krakozia lands in the not so mythical J.F.K. airport. While Viktor was in the air, getting from there to here, Krakozia undergoes a coup. Because of this, Viktor technically has no country to return to, and since the U.S. doesn't recognize the new mythical regime, his passport and visa are no longer valid and are confiscated by mythical security chief Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) who then tells Viktor he can't leave the airport and enter New York City and must not leave the International Arrivals Lounge. Of course Frank expects Viktor to do what just about anyone else would and leave anyway, but Viktor does as he is told and stays at the airport, and stays and stays and stays and stays and stays etc. It doesn't help matters that Viktor doesn't understand but a few words of English, that his money is no longer any good, and that it takes him about five minutes to lose all of his food vouchers. I think it's called having your back up against the wall.
Viktor finally makes a few friends at the airport including a janitor, a food service worker, an INS agent who stamps his permission to leave with a big red declined every day, and develops a crush on the beautiful Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an airline hostess having an affair with a married guy (Michael Nouri). How Viktor copes and learns to live is kind of sweet, often funny, and sometimes sad. The fact that we buy any of this at all can be laid squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hanks who gives a remarkable performance as Viktor. Not only does his accent stay consisted, his broken English never falters one bit as he learns phrases by comparing his Krakozia tour book to the exact same one written in English. He keeps Viktor consistent throughout, a simple man whose one desire is to be able to enter New York to fulfill a promise kept in a peanut can he carries from place to place. Viktor is the kind of person Frank Dixon doesn't understand, can't understand, and yet in some small way perhaps envies him because he is able to relate to people in ways that Frank will never be able to.
Of course much of what happens in The Terminal is far-fetched (although supposedly loosely based on a true story) but since this is fairy-tale land I guess it's supposed to be. Viktor acts as a go between in helping develop a relationship between the INS agent Officer Torres (Zoe Saldana) and the food service worker Enrique (Diego Luna), both of whom end up being devout trekkies. Relationships have been built on less though as witnessed by Amelia who has been hanging out with the married guy for several years waiting for him to leave his wife. As Viktor develops his own relationship with her, it is both touching and sweet, and we root for them. Viktor eventually does find a job at the airport in a sequence that seems written more out of convenience for the plot than any other reason.
Credit also has to be given to the writers and Spielberg for being able to pace a two hour film that takes place in an airport terminal in just the right way so that it is interesting and seldom bogs down. I never felt like it was two hours which is saying quite a bit when you think of what two hours at the airport really feels like.
There are some truly warm and fuzzy moments in The Terminal, some pretty good laughs, a few good enough if not spectacular performances by the cast (other than Hanks who is excellent), and several entertaining characters. Yet when it is over, you'll still leave the theater asking, `So what?' A lot of the reason for this is that we get an ending you'll find only partially satisfying. Some may quibble that if Spielberg had given us everything we wanted, than it wouldn't have been true to the story or the characters. In answer to that I can only say hey, if you're going to give us two hours of what is basically a modern day fairy tale, you can at least give your audience what you know they want to see. If a totally satisfying ending is good enough for Mother Goose, it should be fine for Spielberg's fairy tale as well. I still may have left saying, `So what?' but I would have felt better about asking the question. All in all, it's an entertaining enough way to spend two hours, but it's just one of those films that in the end isn't memorable enough to make it worth a trip to a theater, yet is good enough that you would probably want to watch it on DVD in the comfort of your living room at some point in time. And if the only thing I can recommend is that people see your film on DVD, I have no choice but to give you my grade and for The Terminal that's a B-.
I, Robot (2004)
My own three rules for I, Robot
When I saw the first early trailers of I, Robot, I can honestly say I was not impressed. Much of those early glimpses featured a wise cracking Will Smith doing his best Eddie Murphy joke a minute imitation while investigating whether or not a robot of the future had committed a murder, something they were thought to be incapable of doing. Later trailers dispensed with most of the jokes, and showed us a more serious side of the film and I began to have hopes that I, Robot might be better than I initially thought. This in turns brings me to the first rule of the three laws of movie reviewing:
1. First impressions do count for something
The reason I bring this up is because Isaac Asimov also gave us some rules. These are THE THREE RULES by which robots of the future must abide by: 1. A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.
Now that you know those rules you can forget about them because the I, Robot you see on the screen makes little use of any of those rules. You know going in that the robots are going to run amok, rules or no rules which means the only use for them in this film is so we know that these robots are going to break every one of them. What I, Robot also does is to take a great idea by Asimov with infinite possibilities and conflicts, and turns it into another long winded CGI filled yarn with Smith thrown in to play a bad ass cop straight out of Bad Boys.
In the world of the 2035, it seems robots will become an important part of most of our lives doing many of the mundane tasks we have grown accustomed to doing for ourselves. Police Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is an odd kind of chap. He hates robots and doesn't think they can be trusted. When a friend of his, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), who works at major robot supplier U.S. Robotics, appears to have committed suicide, Del begins to suspect that it wasn't suicide at all and a robot might have committed the crime. When Del finds the good doctor's favorite robot, Sonny, hiding in the same room that Lanning performed his swan dive from, Sonny quickly becomes major suspect number one. Of course nobody, including psychologist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynihan), the owner of the company, Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), and his boss Lt. Bergin (Chi McBride) believes such a thing could be possible as no robot could conceivable break or even bend THE THREE RULES. It seems because of Del's robot psychosis, he's cried wolf one too many times. And there, in a nutshell is where a lot of the problems with I, Robot begins.
Although Del's hatred of robots is eventually explained, it comes off as nothing more than a plot contrivance so that Del can play the part of Chicken Little. When will filmmakers learn that there are THE THREE RULES in regards to such plot contrivances?
1. A hero in a film that continually suspects the innocent or is constantly making unfounded accusations will never be believed.
2. A hero in a film who makes such accusations will never be believed until it's too late. Even if the audience knows he's telling the truth.
3. Any use of the first two rules makes your film predictable, repetitive and boring and are totally unnecessary.
As if one plot contrivance isn't enough, I, Robot hampers itself with two of them. Because of the same situation that led to Del hating robots, it seems Del is also sporting a bionic arm. Why does a character have a bionic arm? Because there are THE THREE RULES of having a character pretending to be The Six Million Dollar Man.
1. A character sports a bionic arm so that at some point it will accidentally become uncovered to surprise the audience.
2. The Bionic arm will eventually be uncovered by the female love interest so that she can appear sympathetic and understanding towards the hero.
3. The Bionic arm can be used to perform impossible feats flesh and bone can't, thus enabling the screenwriter an easy way to write the hero out of situations he wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of escaping.
The early scenes when Del is questioning Sonny are interesting and hold promise, but it doesn't take long before I, Robot disintegrates into one long CGI chase after another, making little use of its initial premise. We know the robots are going to run amok. We know that there is more to Sonny than meets the eye. We know that Del will somehow escape every dangerous situation he encounters keeping in the tradition started by James Bond some 40 years ago. We know that Susan will eventually believe him and turn into his best ally. We know as soon as U.S. Robotics start delivering thousands upon thousands of robots they will be marching down the street like so many metal clad Nazis.
What's really sad about I, Robot, is so much is wasted by its predictable plot, its unending chase sequences, and even more predictable convenient plot devices. The robots are fascinating to watch and the CGI created Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) gives the most intricate and interesting performance in the film. Maybe they should have created a CGI Del character also. The visual effects are stunning and interesting to watch, but the fact remains that when you have viewed so many of these artificially created worlds with a new one hitting the screen almost weekly, without anything worthwhile going on, they end up becoming nothing more than watching the latest Playstation or X Box video game without getting to participate.
Earlier I mentioned one of my THE THREE RULES of movie reviewing. Let's review:
1. First impressions do count for something
2. Second Impressions are okay if your first impression is wrong. Second impressions are most welcome especially if your first impression is negative.
3. If my first impression is totally negative, and the second impression agrees with the first impression, than I have no choice but to give you my grade.
And for I, Robot it's a D+.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It's not about the special effects, it's about the story, the characters, and the human drama
Two years, ago Sam Raimi brought Spiderman to the screen in spectacular fashion. Of all the come book super heroes romping around on the big screen since then, some have managed to be good, a few have struggled to be just okay, and some have reeked of super doo doo. Absolutely none of these wannabes such as The Hulk, Hellboy, or Daredevil, have come close to matching the success of Raimi's Spiderman. For all their razzle dazzle CGI special effects, none of the writers and directors of those films seemed to be able to grasp the fact that when all is said and done, it's still the story, the characters, and the human drama that counts. Peter Parker could be the guy next door, your best friend down the street, your cousin, your nephew or even me. He is just an ordinary guy, who has been blessed with powers that he didn't ask for, and much of the time would just as soon not be burdened with the responsibilities and anguish that comes as part of the deal. So after almost two years and two full months since we last saw Spiderman, the question remains as to whether or not Raimi can recapture the magic. The answer is that he not only recaptures it, he harvests it, weaves it, and packages it in a film that surpasses the original in every way imaginable. This film surpasses the first one in so many aspects that I almost feel compelled to go back and lower the A grade I bestowed upon that one. That was then, however, and this is now, and this is as good as it gets.
From the time the opening credits hit the screen you know there's something special in store. Raimi does a recap by using comic book paintings to recapture important details of the original film. I can't remember any film where I wanted it to start over again just so I could soak in the opening sequence. The artwork is done by an artist named Alex Ross, and this is the first time I felt it necessary to give acclaim to someone about film credits, but he deserves it.
As for Peter Parker things aren't going too well. He still carries a torch for Mary Jane who has a new boyfriend, his best friend Harry Osborn is obsessed with avenging his father's death, his late night hours fighting crime as Spiderman are causing him to flunk his college courses, he's always late for work delivering pizzas, and his mother is in such bad financial straits that the bank may foreclose on her home. It's enough to make a guy want to give up the ghost, or failing that his Spiderman costume. Worst of all, as his personal life begins to weigh heavily on Peter Parker, his Spiderman powers seem to be diminishing, sometimes failing him altogether at the worst possible moment.
In order to keep from failing one of his classes, Peter is doing a paper on Dr. Otto Octavious whom is experimenting with fusion as a viable energy source. Eventually Harry, who is financing the Dr.'s experiments, takes Peter to meet him and shortly thereafter with scientists and the press in attendance, Dr. Octavius begins his experiment. In order to handle the material needed to carry out the experiment, Dr. Octavious has huge tentacles connected to his body. When the experiment goes awry, the tentacles permanently fuse to his body and develop a will of their own, while controlling his mind and turning him into Doc Ock.
Just as in the first Spiderman, we have another villain that is in some ways a lot like Peter Parker. Like Spiderman, Norman Osborne was changed into the Green Goblin, not because he wanted to be but because of an overzealousness in perfecting scientific experiments. Norman may not have been the best person on Earth, but he was far from being evil. The same can be said of Dr. Octavius. He is a good scientist working to better things for mankind, but just as Norman Osborne found out, you better make sure you know exactly what you're doing. Both of these are perfect examples of what makes a good villain. In a way, we can almost sympathize with their misfortune much in the same we sympathize with the dilemma of everyday life wearing on Peter Parker. Why other films such as Hellboy find it necessary to give us villains who come from incomprehensible mumble jumbo hooey phooey is something I'll never understand. Spiderman doesn't require us to take a notepad and pencil along with us so we can map a convoluted plot that we have to spend so much time figuring out that by the time we do we've lost interest in the film the characters and everything else.
There was a time when Tobey Maguire was almost replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal for the sequel. I don't know how Gyllenhaal would have done and frankly, I'm glad we didn't have the chance to find out. Maguire is able to portray the burdens he faces as Peter Parker without falling into the trap of overplaying the role with so much angst that we lose our identity with him.
As he worships Mary Jane from afar, we feel the love, we feel the pain, but not too much that the film becomes weighed down by it. To not have Toby as Spiderman, they should just as well put George Clooney in the role.
Both James Franco as Harry and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane manage to bring even more depth to their characters. Harry is still tortured by the fact that he never seemed able to live up to his father's expectations. The experiments of Dr. Octavius are crucial for him to be able to lift that burden because if successful, he will have surpassed anything his father had accomplished. When the experiment fails, the only driving force left in his soul is his desire for revenge against Spiderman whom he mistakenly holds responsible for his father's death. Mary Jane has become a model and an actress. She is now independent and self-assured, and despite the fact that she may love Peter, she is determined to move on with her life.
Let's not forget Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. Unlike the first film, she is given much more to do here. She has some great scenes, some funny moments, and some very touching ones. Whereas the first film explored in depth the relationship between Peter and his Uncle Ben, we get more in depth story between Peter and his Aunt here. She is not in this film just to bake cakes and pat Peter on the head.
As for the special effects, what can I say except that in every way they surpass anything you've seen before. The arms of Dr. Octavius wave around as if they have a mind of their own. When Spiderman goes to battle with him, it makes the confrontations between Spidey and The Green Goblin pale by comparison. There is an amazing battle in a bank, and an even more fantastic one aboard an Elevated train. Not to mention that we find out what it's like to be Spiderman and try to deliver pizzas as a superhero. Some found the special effects in the first film flawed. I was not one of them but just the same, they are done with such precision and expertise here, flowing seamlessly between CGI and live action. You won't know the difference.
You'll also be happy to know that Raimi does an excellent job in wrapping up this episode, yet is able to already begin setting up Spiderman 3 in the process. It's a perfect example how to just wet your appetite for the next one, yet leave you completely satisfied with the conclusion at hand.
For all the special effects, all the battles, and all the scenes of Spiderman flying around the Manhattan skyscrapers, without the human elements the film would be just another special effects extravaganza we would forget about as soon we walk out of the theater. Raimi understands this better than anybody else. So does Maguire and the rest of the cast. It's the burdens, the conflicts, and the passion that Spiderman carries inside himself that lift him so far above any of the other Super heroes. That's what has made these films truly something special. It has been years since I felt compelled to pay money to see a film twice in a theater. The last time I did was probably for one of the original Star Wars films. I think I'll be seeing Spiderman in a theater for a second time, and that's the highest recommendation I can think of. And if I'm going to the theater for a second time you can damn well bet I have no choice but to give Spiderman 2 an unqualified, resounding, A+.
The Uninvited (1944)
A true haunted house film, brimming with mystery, atmosphere, and suspense
I can't think of any truly good haunted house films that have come from Hollywood in recent years. There was that absolutely horrid 13 Ghost movie that was a remake of a film that wasn't any good in the first place. There was also The Haunting, which was a remake of a film that was based on a book by Shirley Jackson. The original film was an excellent exercise in suspense and spookiness; the remake was just another excuse to blast us away with some over the top special effects. I guess you can call the recent Haunted Mansion a haunted house movie even if it is based on a ride. I haven't seen that film yet, but since the film starred Eddie Murphy we know it was played strictly for laughs even if there might not be any in it. Then there's this film, The Uninvited, which I have read was the first serious attempt by Hollywood to tell a straight forward haunted house story. If this was truly a first serious effort in the genre, it's a darn good one.
While vacationing on the English coast, Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) come across a long abandoned mansion. When their dog chases a squirrel into the house, they enter the house themselves to retrieve the dog and save the squirrel. After exploring the dwelling, they fall immediately in love with the house and decide to try and purchase it. The owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) is only too happy to sell in order to provide a nest egg for his granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell) and because previous tenants had spread rumors about the house being haunted by the Commander's deceased daughter, Mary Meredith, who met an untimely death by taking an unscheduled dive off a nearby cliff. You know without me telling you that the haunted house rumors aren't rumors at all as Roderick and Pamela soon find out for themselves after moving into the home. Why the house is haunted, and by whom is yours to gleefully discover as the film slowly unravels the secrets hidden within the walls of the house.
There is no doubt that The Uninvited is a talky film. There are many conversations that take place but most are not here just as screen filler. Each conversation seems to unlock a part of the mystery. All this is complicated by an added love story as Roderick begins falling for the young Stella, who is drawn to the house by the ghost of her dead mother who may or may not have good intentions. The film is in black and white, but if ever there was a reason for black and white films The Uninvited tells us why. The stark cinematography by Charles Lang perfectly captures the eeriness of the house to perfection, especially in the dimly lit night scenes which are lit only by flickering candles. Candles flicker when they shouldn't; the house is filled at night by the uncontrollable sobbing echoes of an unseen entity. A flower inexplicably wilts in a matter of seconds. Anyone who enters the studio where Stella's father painted her mother is overcome by a huge sense of dread and depression. Pets refuse to go up the steps. While playing a love song for Stella on the piano the music Rod is playing turns haunting and surreal. This is great stuff folks, told with mysterious atmosphere and a continual sense of foreboding that edges slowly toward its climactic ending. Not one single headless rotting guts hanging out corpse makes an appearance. Yes we do see the ghosts, but by using the simplest of special effects, they are more realistic and haunting than any amount of CGI could ever hope to duplicate. To top it all off, we are treated to what I consider to be is of the best séance sequences I've seen in any film.
A film like The Uninvited will probably not appeal to many of today's youthful film watchers. Things like subtlety and atmosphere are too foreign to those waiting for the next special effects extravaganza to hit the big screen. For a serious film viewer, who wants to see what a true haunted house film should be, The Uninvited is a must see. It's a genuine puzzling mystery film that will leave you guessing and a truly chilling ghost story with just enough romance and a few light comedic touches thrown in to top things off. And if a film can combine all of these elements together as well as this The Uninvited does, I have no choice but to give it my grade of an A.
So how does one see The Uninvited? The last time I saw it was quite a few years ago when it ran on American Movie Classics before that network became just another network selling soap, deodorant and tampons. I also had the foresight to tape it that night. It is supposedly available on Vhs but not on DVD so you may find it somewhere in that format. Other than that, one can hope it pops up on Turner or some other cable network.
Mean Girls (2004)
How do you make a successful film for teenage girls? You start by casting Lindsay Lohan.
Forget Hilary Duff. In the fickle world of teenage film icons it would appear that Lindsay Lohan has not only surpassed Duff but left poor Hilary eating her dust in the process. Just from reading the tabloids one could say Ms. Duff should be more concerned about that fact than whether Miss Lohan is dating her ex-boyfriend. Beginning with her appearance in Disney's remake of The Parent Trap, Lohan has shown that she can not only carry a film but has the ability to turn them into minor hits in the process. In The Parent Trap, she was able to play a dual role almost flawlessly. In Freaky Friday, she was required to take on the characteristics of an adult and handled it quite well. Having done two remakes, she then went into un-chartered territory with the original films Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and her most recent outing Mean Girls. Confessions died a quick death at the box office, while Mean Girls has gone on to become a minor hit having accumulated 82 million in receipts and still counting with only a seventeen million production budget.
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) has been home schooled by her parents, Betsy (Ana Gasteyer) and Chip (Neil Flynn) all of her life. When her parents, move back to the states, she begins her first day of public school as a high school junior. High school life being a jungle in itself, Cady draws many similarities between the animals in the wild and the student animals running wild through the hallow halls North Shorewood and does it to the beat of jungle music playing in the background. She is befriended by a Goth girl Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and almost too gay to function Damian (Daniel Franzeze), who fill her in on the `plastics' so named because of their similarities to Barbie Dolls. The Plastics are led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams) referred to by Janis as "evil in human form that may seem like your typical backstabbing slutface ho-bag but is so much more". The Queen's court is the dim witted Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) and the wealthy Gretchen Weiners (Lacy Chabert) who seems to know every secret known to man. When Cady, because of her own good lucks, is asked to become one of the Plastics by Regina, Janis goads her into becoming one of them so that Cady can find out all the dirty little secrets Regina and her crew have to offer. Cady soon falls for Regina's ex-boyfriend Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) but when Regina takes Aaron back, Cady's quest for digging up the dirt turns into one of revenge.
This may all sound rather predictable, but Tina Fey's screenplay does so much more than give us your typical teen angst comedy. In Fey's world there is a little bit of meanness in everyone, and being mean and spiteful is not just a character trait patented by Regina George and the Plastics. Cady, as it turns out, has her own Darth Vader buried inside of her, and when it rears its ugly head she doesn't hesitate using it to her full advantage. Lohan seems to excel in these chameleons like roles where she is required to portray a character that has one distinct personality one minute, but changes into something completely opposite the next. In Parent Trap she played twin sisters both unique in their own way. In Freaky Friday she went from being a typical teenager to an adult inhabiting a teenage body. In Mean Girls she runs the gamut from being a shy fish out of water to a girl who is capable of being every bit as dastardly as any of the Plastics. It is an uncanny ability that some actresses can only dream about.
I also appreciated the fact that Mean Girls does away with the `Super Teacher Myth' continually perpetuated in films ranging from To Sir with Love all the way up to last years Mona Lisa Smile. The teachers in this film are shown as being as normal as the rest of us, and have the same problems and foibles just as the students have to deal with their everyday problems. Tina Fey who wrote the screenplay also gives a marvelous performance as math teacher Ms. Norbury, who is divorced, broke from getting a divorce, and the only guy that calls her house is Randy from Chase Visa. It's a small but memorable role. Tim Meadows as Principal Mr. Duvall is also on hand, as the principal whom can't quite get a grip on how to deal with the backstabbing and one-up-man-ship which seems to have spread through the female school population like an out of control virus.
As for director Mark Water, I have no clue as to whether or not he has teenage daughters that he is cribbing from, but in both Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, he has shown an uncanny ability not to stray into the usual hodgepodge of hi-jinks that would betray most films of this type.
I'm sure a lot happens in Mean Girls that your typical teen age girl can relate to. It seems to offer some degree of insight into the never ending anxiety most teenage girls confront head on every day. The rest of us may have trouble relating to the message, but we can still enjoy the film for it's wry sense of humor, it's crash course in surviving the teen years, and the fact that it manages not to fall into the trap of being just another excuse for plastering the screen with endless raunchy comedic moments that in the end add up to zilch. I may not have been able to relate, but if I can't relate and still enjoy a film anyway I have no choice but to give you my grade and for Mean Girls, it's a solid B.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Tune into the Weather Channel for this years end of the world scenario
Back in the 70's, Hollywood producers and directors were overcome by a highly contagious disease known as disaster-itis. Filmmakers seemed to take great delight in blowing up one airplane after another, burning 120 story buildings to the ground, leveling Los Angeles with earthquakes, turning ships upside down, and even going so far as to have the whole state of Texas attacked by Killer Bees. Irwin Allan was the biggest carrier of disaster-itis and unfortunately for him, the longer the disease went unchecked, the more his films sank into an abyss of mediocrity. (See: Allen's The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure & When Time Ran Out). Disaster-itis has never truly left Hollywood. It just lays dormant from year to year, returning sometimes annually, sometimes semi-annually to goad some big name director into giving us another CGI laden special effects extravaganza wreaking havoc on either the good old U.S.A. or the world as we know it. Director and Writer Roland Emmerich is a known carrier of the disaster-itis germ. In 1996 he suffered an outbreak and brought us Aliens doing in Mother Earth in Independence Day. Two scant years later disaster-itis reared it's ugly head again, this time mutating into a Japanese strain of the virus causing Emmerich to bring Godzilla over from Japan. To relieve the symptoms, Roland had Godzilla stomp and chomp his way through New York. Apparently it was enough to send the germ into remission for six long years until Emmerich again was overwhelmed by the disaster-itis germ as if it were a form of incurable herpes.
The culprit Emmerich selected to help rid himself of the disease this time around is global warming. It seems we are nothing but a bunch of careless polluters riding around in our SUV's sending emissions out into the ozone layer. This in turn has caused the polar ice caps to slowly melt away into the oceans. Funny thing about fresh water and salt water is that they don't mix too well. This is not a good thing to happen and is clearly stated so several times by Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), to Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh) and anyone else who happens to be within ear shot. Hall says that despite the Arctic meltdown, we have at the minimum a hundred good years left, maybe even a few thousand by which time you and I will be pushing up daisies and be none the wiser. Trouble occurs however because although Hall is a good scientist, he's not a very good fortune teller and underestimates this impending disaster by about a hundred to a thousand years. This means that from coast to coast, from the United States, to Great Britain, and on to Russia, all hell is going to break loose at any moment and in The Day After Tomorrow hell hath no fury like an environment scorned.
Unless you truly have been living up in the Arctic, you know all this already what with the bombardment of television ads, newspaper ads, web site ads and everything else Fox and Emmerich have used to promote this film for the past six years .well it hasn't been that long it just seems like it. If the film turns out to be spectacular all that advertising doesn't matter. If the film comes in as being average or less than okay, just as Emmerich found out with Godzilla, hype will get the fannies into the seats that first weekend, but word of mouth can make your film an even bigger disaster than anything you put on the screen. Does The Day After Tomorrow live up to the hype? We go to the expert from another over hyped Emmerich film for our answer.
'Mr. Godzilla, does The Day After Tomorrow live up to the hype?' Godzilla grins and says, 'Nope.'
The special effects that you have seen in the trailers, in television ads and in the ten minute sneak preview Fox ran before American Idols one evening are spectacular on the big screen with digital surround sound included to blow out your ear drums. There's something awe inspiring about seeing a bunch of twisters circulating around Los Angeles taking out the Hollywood sign, wiping out skyscrapers, crashing helicopters and making a huge mess. In Japan we have huge chunks of ice falling to the ground. In the skies we have super sized thunderstorms giving airline passengers one heck of a bumpy ride. Hurricanes run rampant, and Great Britain gets a very early White Christmas. To top it all off, New York is flooded by a gigantic tidal wave, which then freezes over causing snow to bury much of what's left of the skyline. It's all amazing stuff, but unfortunately there's not enough of it and everything else about the film is as bland as day old toast.
As silly as some of the 70's disaster flicks were they could always be counted on for some entertaining characters occupying the film no matter how cheesy and inept the dialog may become. It didn't matter how inept (Airport 1975) or how good (Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure) those films were, they managed to overcome their weaknesses by making us care about the predicament of those involved. As predictable as they were, you could always count on a few moments of hair raising adventure or suspense. In The Day After Tomorrow, we never care about anything that happens to the characters and when the rampaging weather isn't on the screen the film falls into long stretches of tedious boredom.
With disaster all around them, it's incredible how blasé everyone in this film seems to be. It's just not the Dick Cheney vice presidential look alike, but Quaid's Jack Hall seems to be taking everything in stride also. When he goes off to rescue his son who is in danger of becoming a human Popsicle in New York City, we sit and wait for excitement and some kind of suspense that never develops. Only twice in the whole trip does Hall face any kind of eminent danger and these situations are dispatched with quickly and predictably. Likewise, Hall's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his companions in New York, never strike us as being in any real danger. Although they have one scene where they are being chased by some escaped timber wolves, the rest of their scenes include a lot of talking, some preaching, and a lot of book burning. After all, they have a whole library at their disposal to keep warm with so why not torch a few copies of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann? Unfortunately, burning books adds up to zero in the way of suspense unless your film is title Fahrenheit 451.
Then there's Hall's ex-wife Lucy (Sela Ward) left behind to care for a cancer ridden young boy. We admire her for it, but once again there is no build up of suspense as Emmerich leaves little doubt as to what the outcome of that story or anything else will be. Even when President Blake (Perry King) waits until the last minute to depart the White House, we only hear of his fate, we don't witness it. Wasn't it much more interesting to see the President and The First Lady in Independence Day facing imminent danger? Also, when will the studios learn that when they show all the aces in your hand with trailers and ads before people even get to the theater, those first weekend patrons will be sure to let everyone know 'you saw all the good stuff in the previews.'
So why whitewash everything? The problem with Emmerich and the studios that make a film like The Day After Tomorrow is they are so intent on assuring themselves of nothing worse than their precious PG-13 rating, that for all the disasters taking place, we see little of the actual human toll involved. If all you want to show us are buildings and cities being taken down when millions have lost their lives, do you really expect us to become emotionally involved with your story? As for the PG-13 rating, the studio must have begged for it as there's no reason this film shouldn't be any worse than a PG. It is never frightening, never suspenseful and most of the time a bore with a capital B.
If Emmerich was trying to make a serious film about global warming, then perhaps they should have done away with all the special effects hype and sold the film on a more serious level. It's possible that's what he really had in mind but you can't sell a film on that basis when you're trying to put more fannies in the theater than that green ogre known as Shrek. The problem is, I have to view the film the way it was sold to me. It was sold as a special effects laden disaster film which just happens to use global warming as it's plot device. And when you make a disaster film that does nothing to sustain the goodwill accumulated by some great special effects, has no interesting characters, and zero suspense, I have no choice but to give you my grade which for The Day After Tomorrow is a C-.
Oh yes, one more important thing before I go. Take it from an old Midwestern boy. Someone should tell those L.A. news stations that if for some odd reason a tornado does come floating down Hollywood Boulevard, it's really not a good idea to be playing tag with them while riding in a helicopter.
Peter Pan (2003)
The definitive version
When I was very young, the first version of Peter Pan I saw was the annual televised production of the Broadway Musical starring Mary Martin. It was delightful in its own limited way because after all, when Mary as Peter took to the skies you could definitely see the wires. Not to mention that Peter's shadow looked suspiciously like female hosiery sewn together in the shape of a boy. Some years later, when it was first released on video, I finally was able to enjoy the animated Disney version of J.M. Barrie's classic story. The songs, the animation, the characters were all first rate. Later, I caught a special showing of the Broadway Peter Pan again, this time with Cathy Rigby filling the shoes of Mary Martin. She was full of spunk and energy, and certainly had the physical frame for the role but you could still see the wires. Then Stephen Spielberg tried his hand at it, bringing us Robin Williams as a grown up Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook and even Julia Roberts as Tinkerbelle. Spielberg called his film Hook, and it's the first time that character was ever given star billing. I like Julia Roberts, but the beam of light used for Tinkerbelle in the Broadway production gave a better performance. Of course, being a Spielberg film you couldn't see the wires, but surprisingly Spielberg somehow forgot to make his film either interesting or magical. I'd rather have had the magic and seen the wires. The question is, just how many versions of the story does one need? Please don't despair, as it turns out, the latest may just be the greatest of them all.
In late 2003, Director P.J. Hogan brought to the screen his vision of the boy who would never grow up and having just viewed it on DVD, I can proclaim with all honesty that it shall forever be the definitive version of Peter Pan. Well, at least for me it will be. Through the spectacular use of CGI, Hogan brings us a wondrous and beautiful Neverland never before realized on film. From the opening scenes in London and the flight to Neverland, to the snow encased ship of Captain Hook and his Pirates, each scene is rendered in illustrious detail. In one of the more humorous bits in the film when Peter loses his shadow, the shadow takes on a life of its own and it sure isn't unused panty hose. When Peter Pan flies, he does so unimpeded by any laws of gravity, twirling, bouncing, and floating, in a whimsical way that not unlike Superman, will convince you that with the help of good thoughts and fairy dust, a boy can indeed fly. With each movement, Tinkerbelle emits a shining sparkling cloud of fairy dust that fills the screen like a thousand Independence Day Sparklers. When Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael first arrive in Neverland, they land on puffy pinkish clouds, which are quickly bombarded by Captain Hook and his cannons. In one of the most compelling and touching scenes in the film, Peter and Wendy are witness to a fairy dance, and then take to the skies themselves in an airborne ballet. When Pan takes flight to engage in swordplay with Hook and his pirates the scenes are nothing short of amazing. These are just a few of the many magical, charming, and energizing moments throughout Peter Pan.
As for the story, it pretty much sticks to previous incarnations we've seen in the books, films, and on Broadway. Wendy tells stories, Pan listens and loses his shadow one night, the dog Nana makes a mess of things a few times, Papa tells Wendy she has to grow up, Pan comes back to retrieve said shadow and off we go!
There is however, something inherently different about the relationship between Pan and Wendy than anything previously seen. We are made well aware of the fact that Wendy stands on the threshold of womanhood, and all indications are that the process has indeed begun. Peter, on the other hand, had run away from home with Tinkerbelle, before the rites of passage from boyhood to manhood had commenced. It is well within Wendy's ability to love, whereas the concept of true love is a foreign concept for Peter. He cannot love, and will not love, and is firm in his resolve to stay a boy forever. It sets up a much more tense conflict between Wendy and Peter and adds an emotional depth to the story never before realized.
Much of the success of Peter Pan also has to go to the young actors portraying Peter and Wendy. Jeremy Sumpter, who shined in Bill Paxton's haunting film Frailty, will make you forget any previous portrayal. For most of the film he is as he should be, the carefree rascal who sees fighting Hook and his crew as the ultimate in playground merriment. Late in the film, as he discovers the darker side of his emotions, he handles the transition as well if not better than many adult actors.
For Wendy, Hogan chose English Actress Rachael Hurd-Wood. As far as I can discover, this is her first film role of any kind, yet one would hardly believe that would be possible from watching this film. When she discovers she is on the verge of entering womanhood, she is able to portray both the fear and loathing of the prospect, but yet she depicts a wide eyed curiosity of what is to take place. Later, her anger and frustration in dealing with Peter's vow of perpetual childhood, has the same believability of someone twice her age dealing with the same conflicting feelings.
Most of the adult actors are no slouches either. Jason Isaacs does a duo role as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. How good is he? I didn't realize he was playing both roles until referencing the credits on IMDb. As Mr. Darling, the timid banker, he reminded me a lot of David Tomlinson's Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins. His Hook is as dastardly a hook that has ever taken the screen. Let's just say that when this Hook does away with someone, they pretty much stay dead and you won't see that kind of ruthless in the Disney animated film. Olivia Williams as Mrs. Darling is perhaps the weakest link in the film. She seems not to be able to portray the deep sadness that comes when one's children are missing, and likewise her joy at their return home is equally unimpressive. She is clearly overshadowed by Lynn Redgrave as Aunt Millicent.
And what about Tinkerbelle? I certainly can't leave her out. She is played with a lot of panache by an actress named Ludivine Sagnier. She does it with a lot of spunk, a little sass, and a ton of energy. She will quickly make you completely forget the fact that Julia Roberts made a mockery of the same role in Spielberg's Hook.
And most importantly there's the biggest surprise of all. Having seen the trailer several times before the film's release last years, I was under the assumption that as it always seems to be the case these days, most of the really good stuff was shown in those few minutes of advertising. I couldn't have been more wrong. Let's just say that if you saw the previews in the theater or on the internet, what you saw is just the tip of the iceberg of the discoveries waiting for you within this film.
One may come to the conclusion that perhaps I am going overboard in my praise. Yet, whether you are young or just young at heart, or wish you could fly away from your troubles to the wonderful place called Neverland, there is something in Peter Pan for even the most cynical film-goer. For an hour and fifty three minutes, it certainly made me feel younger than my years, and when a film does that I have no choice but to give it my grade and it's an A sprinkled with a healthy dose of fairy dust.
Night of the Comet (1984)
Girls just want to have fun....even when surrounded by walking dead
If you've seen any film such as The Day After, The Stand, Armageddon, Independence Day, or even the recent extravaganza The Day After Tomorrow, the end of the world would seem to be pretty serious business for us to have to deal with sometime down the road. Film directors one and all want us to believe it's all doom and gloom what with asteroids zooming around haphazardly in space, aliens needing to ravage us and the planet, global warming screwing up the weather or some deadly virus escaping some government lab infecting mankind with a super flu. Thom Eberhardt doesn't quite find it such a dreary proposition, and in fact finds quite a bit of humor in the situation by way of telling the story of two of the survivors, teenagers Reggie Belmont (Catherine Mary Stuart) and her sister Sam (Kelli Maroney).
Somewhere out there in the final frontier where no man has gone before, is a comet zipping around with nothing better to do but to pay all of us here on earth a quick friendly visit. No, it doesn't exactly have earth's name on it, but it does want to take a cue from Top Gun and do a major fly by just so it can get up close and personal. Of course since we're a partying kind of planet, we decide to have one big planet wide comet festival just to welcome it into our solar system. There are comet tee shirts, comet hats, people have comet barbecues, and everything is just one big comet celebration. One of these comet parties is being held by Doris Belmont, wicked step monster to Reggie and Sam. Reggie and Sam's father is off doing army duty, and it's left up to Doris to keep the two girls safe and out of trouble, or as in Doris's case be a first class bitch while screwing the next door neighbor on the side. After an argument with Doris, Reggie ends up in a projection room at a local theater, and Sam ends up .well more about that in a moment. Eventually the comet does pass overhead, and being the grateful kind of comet that knows how to treat its host, it leaves us all a present by turning the vast majority of the human population into orange pixie dust.
Of course, if you happen to be one of the very lucky few, like Reggie and Sam, you may have survived. It turns out if you were in a dwelling of some sort completely encased by steel, then you also woke up the next morning to see the dawn's early light. Reggie, having spent the night in the theater projection room which just happens to be steel lined, does survive. Sam, who found herself somehow spending the night in a trash dumpster survives also. However, if you were only partially protected by a steel enclosure, then you only get to survive temporarily which also means you get to play zombie for a while before you disintegrate into a pile of dust bunnies. Then there are those scientists who were aware of the danger but instead of warning us all to momentarily hop into our Kenmore refrigerators, they built themselves a huge enclosure to protect themselves with. So not only are they extremely selfish scientists, they are also straight out of the Fred MacMurray School of Absent Minded Professors because although I'm sure they wear their seat belts and lock their car doors, they somehow forget to close the vents on their Comet Proof Bomb Shelter. What that means is they need to track down Sam, Reggie and other survivors who may pop up here and there in order to find a cure before they have to begin their own auditions for George Romero.
If it all sounds kind of goofy and wacky it certainly is all of that. Early in the film, you may have a bit of trouble buying into the proceedings but you'll eventually be seduced by the perkiness and charm of Stuart and Mulroney, and the witty dialog that inhabits Eberhardt's script. For instance, when Reggie returns with an arsenal to fight off zombies, Reggie complains that, `Dad would have gotten us Uzis'. And what are two teenage girls to do when faced with the apocalypse? They play D.J. on the only radio station still broadcasting, they vie for the affection of the only guy available, and they lift their spirits by going shopping at the mall to the music of Girls Just Want to Have Fun. As for special effects, they aren't much to speak of but we don't care because it's the script carrying the film anyway. It's obvious that Eberhardt was working from a somewhat miniscule budget, and although there are a few scary moments when Zombies pop out of nowhere, it's the whole premise of two Valley Girls trying to survive in a desolate Los Angels while being chase around by monsters and evil scientists that will win you over. It's obvious from the narration in the opening moments that this is a B movie, but Eberhardt keeps things on track by never taking himself seriously or asking us to which is a major requirement in a film of this nature.
Night of the Comet is not currently available on VHS or DVD. You may catch it on Cable at some point if you don't own it. Your only other alternative is to purchase it on Ebay at your own risk. I was lucky enough to have taped it some years ago, and am glad of having done so.
It takes an offbeat sense of humor to make a film like Night of the Comets and have it succeed as well as it does. It takes a quirky sense of humor for someone watching it to appreciate the film for what it is: a cheesy plot-hole ridden B movie, with a lot of odd but good natured humor and with two lead actresses that are good enough to take us along for the ride. I bought it, hook, line, sinker, cheap special effects and everything else that went with it. And if I can buy into all this I have no choice but to give you my grade which for Night of the Comet is a B. Now excuse me for a second while I go check out the vents on my comet shelter.
The Exorcist (1973)
The Devil Made Her Do It
In late 1973 and early 1974, women and men were lined up for blocks. People were known to become ill watching it. Some fainted. Some ran out of the theater in tears. There were reports of people having to be institutionalized, and at least one miscarriage was attributed to viewing it. No, it wasn't a Rolling Stones Concert. It was a film called The Exorcist.
The first time I had heard of something called The Exorcist was on late night television when the author, William Peter Blatty, was a guest on The Tonight Show. The conversation centered around how horrible some of the things in the book were. I had also seen the novel listed on The New York Times Bestseller List, and it seemed as if it would remain there forever. After having been on the waiting list for what seemed like an eternity at the local library, I was finally able to obtain a copy. It was the first book I had read in one sitting since probably Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase quite a few years earlier. And yes, for it's time it was filled with gut wrenching details of what happens when for some unexplained reason; an innocent girl is possessed by Satan. While reading the book I was sure that if it ever made its way to film, most of the details would certainly be either `cleaned up' or omitted altogether. As you know the film was made and it spared the movie going public absolutely nothing in the way of details.
Certainly many of the people who lined up to see The Exorcist did so to watch some of the more gruesome scenes, the worst of which involved Regan's masturbation with a crucifix. Yet, the hysteria went well beyond the fact that such scenes were so vividly depicted. I think one needs to look no further than Mel Gibson's The Passion to find the answer as to why. I'm sure most of you have read the story of people leaving Mel's film in tears, some to the point of being hysterical. From most articles I have read, it seems that the majority of the audience that was moved were those people of strong religious beliefs. For many others, the depiction of the brutality in The Passion may have been uncomfortable to sit through, but weren't emotionally effected to any degree. Much of this same feeling can explain the hysteria surrounding The Exorcist. Those who had a definitive belief in Heaven and Hell, of Good and Evil, of Jesus as The Savior and Satan as the epitome of pure evil were affected by The Exorcist far more than those who were agnostic or just never had a strong belief in spiritual matters. There is no doubt though that much in the way The Passion did, The Exorcist caused many to reconsider how they felt about their faith. The Exorcist made the prospect of Satan being alive and well and a life of eternal damnation a very uncomfortable prospect. The fact that Blatty claims his book and screenplay were based on a true story seemed to give the film even more credibility.
For me, The Exorcist has always been more about the never ending conflict between pure evil and pure innocence than about being an average horror story. There are many more levels to this film than what initially meets the eye. There is no doubt that while the main story revolves around an innocent young girl, Regan McNeil (Linda Blair), being inhabited by Satan himself, Blatty enhances it greatly by adding different characters in various stages of conflict. Regan's mother, Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) obviously cares deeply for her daughter. Yet she is not beyond reproach. In one scene when Reagan's father hasn't called on Regan's birthday, we see her desperately on the phone doing battle with an overseas operator. The problem is not how vicious the phone call is, but that she does it within ear shot of her daughter as if to drive the point home to Regan how worthless her father is. When, she finally does seek the aid of Father Damian Karras, we don't feel that she believes in exorcism anymore than he does, but is desperate enough to accept the fact that it is possible and will take any and all measures to save her daughter.
Father Karras (Jason Miller) is a priest torn by conflict. He is ridden by overwhelming guilt for having abandoned his mother to enter the priesthood. He is torn spiritually by the confessions of those priests who seek his help as a psychiatrist, so much so that he now questions his own faith. When he states to the Bishop that `Regan's case meets all the criteria,' we know that even more than Chris, he doesn't really believe in the power of Satan to inhabit a living being in the manner that it has taken over Regan. Yet, he will do what is required of him as a priest concerned about the health of a child.
Jack McGowran gives a terrific performance as the alcoholic director filming Chris's latest film in Georgetown. Kitty Winn is Sharon Spencer, the secretary who works for Chris and always seems to be in the line of fire when Chris is angry. She is always there but for all the horror she witnesses, Winn appears too bland and emotionless and her performance is probably the weakest in the film.
Max Von Sydow as Father Lancester Merrin is a no nonsense aging priest. He has done battle with evil before and he shows us its effect in every scene he occupies. One could pass it off to being just good make-up but it is so much more than that as Sydow demonstrates all the nuances that brings to life a man who has faced Satan and lived to tell about it. He knows what he is up against, understands he must do it again and the consequences of what that battle may be.
If I have a small complaint with The Exorcist it is in regards to the character of Lt. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb). I have never been able to buy into the character. It is not the fault of Cobb who is his usual stalwart self in the role. The whole character should at best have only been necessary for a few brief scenes yet; he has several that go on way too long and do not add anything to the story. Even in his scenes with Chris or Damian, Kinderman is so odd that he distracts us too much from their characters and it is Chris and Damian's reactions that are more important to us, not his investigation. For all you trivia buffs out there, Blatty once sued the producers of Columbo, stating they based Peter Falk's character on Kinderman. If memory serves me correctly Blatty lost that one.
As for Director William Friedken, although he won the best director award for The French Connection, for me The Exorcist will always remain his defining film. The Final half hour of The Exorcist are still as dynamic today as they were 31 years ago, French Connection car chase be damned.
It seems that to many of the younger movie audiences of today, The Exorcist has become more of a joke than anything else. That's not surprising considering how many times it has been lampooned, even by Linda Blair herself in Repossessed. Yet, if they were to view the film in a more serious vein, not as just another creature feature, they may just find that there really is more to this film than a little girl spewing pea soup and spinning her head around 360 degrees. It is the ultimate battle between Heaven and Hell and Good and Evil. It is the story of the complete and total degradation of innocence. It is a study in character, and whether a man torn by the forces surrounding him, can regain his faith and his belief in God and mankind to save the life of a little girl, caught up in forces beyond her control.
Call it a horror film, call it a religious film, call it what you want. For me, The Exorcist is and will always remain a classic in every sense of the word. And if I regard you as a classic of any kind I have no choice but to leave you with my grade, which for The Exorcist is an A.
The Time Machine (1960)
The blueprint for time traveling
Films and books dealing with man's desire to travel through time seem to have been around forever. Ever since I was very young, I have always had a certain kind of affection for films that dealt with man wanting to revisit the historic past or zoom off into the unknown and unseen future. My fondness for time travel goes back a long way and can be directly attributed to the first time I ran across this wonderful film by George Pal based on the H.G. Wells novel.
Rod Taylor plays George (H.G.Wells), an inventor who has invented a machine capable of traveling through what he calls the fourth dimension better known as time. He explains this to his friends over dinner who understandably scoffs at the possibilities. `If time travel were possible,' one of them asks, `what would one do with the machine? It's not like there are any commercial uses for it.' I guess some things aren't that much different now than they were over a hundred years ago after all. George's best friend David Filby (Alan Young) warns him, `that if indeed George has invented such a machine he should destroy it before the machine destroys him'. I don't know what Filby meant by that and apparently George didn't either or just didn't care because he decides to take a little trip anyway just as we knew he would.
And what kind of a journey is time travel as imagined by George Pal in 1960. With a budget of about $850,000 dollars, it's a pretty good one. As George travels, he continually narrates his journey so that we know what his thoughts are as he travels from one moment to the next. With the simple use of time-lapse photography, we see the world changing around George as the years go by first slowly than at a rapid relentless pace. We see the sun and moon rise and set at a breakneck speed. Through the window of his lab, George can see a department store mannequin whose outfit changes from season to season and from year to year. He watches with a bemused look as the fashions change and women's dresses get shorter and shorter. In one amusing moment while considering the situation, George pushes further into the future just to see how far women would go with these newfangled styles. We see dust and cobwebs amass around the empty lab George has left behind. Buildings outside George's now deserted home rise and fall with uncanny precision. It's a memorable trip, and one done without one bit of excessively done fancy showboating special effects. It certainly lends credence to the fact that it's still the story that counts.
Since the film was made in 1960, some of what occurs does seem dated. In 1966, a war involving nuclear satellite breaks out that is the beginning of man's downfall. The effects used to show the resulting volcanic explosions and lava that flows through the streets certainly show their age, but one can expect such things when watching a film made more than forty years ago and you just have to overlook them.
Much more successful is the sequence where George ends up in the distant future discovering exactly what happened when the wars and man's self destruction finally did subside. It is here that we meet Weena (Yvette Mimeaux) of the Iloi and the Morlocks. The Iloi are a peace loving tribe who bask in the sun all day, and the Morlocks being a vicious tribe of underground inhabitants whom prey on the Iloi for reasons that quickly become evident. The very young and very beautiful Mimeaux is an excellent choice for Weena, as she has an endearing charm about her in the way she relates to George. It also helps that the role doesn't require a great deal of emotional depth, since this was a quality that Mimeaux seemed to lack in many of her later films. Taylor was a great pick for George also. In one of his best roles he portrays George as a man passionate about his ideas and steadfast in his desire to see them through. Yet, when needed, Taylor depicts a George that is every bit a man who is passionate not only about his friends but about the human race and the destiny that awaits us.
Just as George Pal has shown us that it's the characters and the story that count, Nicholas Meyers achieved the same type of success years later with the film Time After Time. (See Flack's review). That is what makes great time travel films and no amount of grandiose CGI can compensate for that. And if you make a film about time travel that I can still write about and praise forty-four years later, I have no choice but to give you my grade which for The Time Machine is an A.