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PIRANHA (3 outta 5 stars) If you are in the mood for a stupid movie but don't want to waste your time with total crap... then Piranha may be the movie for you. It is an early collaboration between director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles (who went on to much bigger and better movies) and, in spite of the obviously low budget, their talents shine through. The dialogue is much better than you tend to get in movies like this... even though the actual plot (government-bred fresh water piranha mistakenly get fed into the US river system) is quite silly. Bradford Dillman makes a good leading man... this is probably one of the best roles he ever had... a drunken recluse who rises to the challenge when his young daughter's life is threatened. The movie was obviously made to capitalize on the success of "Jaws" (just check out the original poster artwork) but it is by far the most entertaining of the countless rip-offs that came out after Spielberg's blockbuster. Even though the fish puppets are far from convincing there are some very gruesome special effects... it's very unnerving to see young children screaming in terror as the bloody water starts churning... you'd never see anything like this in a mainstream horror movie nowadays.
Neither Better Nor Worse Than The Original
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (3 outta 5 stars) A decent enough version of the classic children's story which was the basis for the beloved musical "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." I didn't find this movie any better or worse than the original version... just different. Johnny Depp's bizarre performance as Willy Wonka is definitely the best thing about this movie... just as Gene Wilder was the best thing about the original "Wonka". I was a bit puzzled as to why they decided not to use the original songs from the first movie... but then they went ahead and created new songs for the Oompa-Loompas anyway... I guess it was cheaper to make up new songs than to pay the original composer for the rights to re-record them. I like the character of Charlie more in this new version that the annoying little goody-goody in the first movie... but I think I prefer Jack Albertson as the original grandpa. The storyline basically is the same as the earlier flick... except for the conclusion (I'm not sure which ending is closer to what was written in Roald Dahl's novel... I guess I'll have to read it one day). I was a bit dismayed by the fact that the greedy, nasty kids in this movie don't seem to learn a lesson from their harrowing experiences in the chocolate factory... they seem just as selfish and ill-mannered when they leave as when they arrived... you'd think a near-death experience would shake them up a bit more...
King Kong (2005)
Best Remake of an Ape Movie Ever!
KING KONG (4 outta 5 stars) Of course this movie is not quite as good as the 1933 original movie... how could it possibly be? But for a remake of a certified film classic to be as good as this movie is... that's still a significant achievement. Sure, I could nitpick about little things here and there where this movie goes awry... I hated the fake CGI native pole-vaulting from rock to rock, I hated when they brought in the "celestial choir" to pump up emotion at the end when anyone who was going to be affected was *already* choked up, I hated when Naomi is climbing the ladder to get to Kong at the end and the ladders breaks away from the building... helloooooooo, does *every* ladder have to break in *every* movie whenever someone is climbing one... there was more than enough exciting stuff going on... did we really have to see Kong reach out and pull Naomi back to safety once again? These are all minor flaws, though... the bulk of the movie is truly awe-inspiring... some of the best CGI effects to date (and I am *really* picky about CGI), a decent script and better performances and characterizations than one tends to see in a "blockbuster" movie like this. The action on Skull Island might seem a little overdone at times (the brontosaurus stampede could probably have been cut without anyone feeling cheated) but the most exciting sequence for me was the most superfluous: Kong fighting off a bunch of hungry dinosaurs while tumbling through a thick tangle of jungle vines. Great stuff... much more fun than those dreary "Lord of the Rings" flicks.
Oh No! Not Down Into The Basement AGAIN???
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1 outta 5 stars) Dreadful piece of garbage. You will probably enjoy the movie if you are really into gruesome special effects... but if you are looking for an actual story... or real characters, forget it. A totally generic family (father, mother and annoying young child) move into a scary house so the father can do some research for a book. There's a little ghost girl that only the young boy can see. She hangs around and keeps warning the kid to stay out of the house... but will he listen? No! There is a weird babysitter who keeps popping up out of nowhere and a landlady who may as well walk around with a big sign saying "Next Victim" around her neck when she comes to visit. Some of the "going down into the basement" scenes are kind of suspenseful... but this is negated by the totally over-the-top blood and gore that is usually the next step. Plus there are about FIVE "going down into the basement" scenes... one right after the other. I was already rolling my eyes after the third one. Apparently some US copies of this film have a couple of reels mixed up... which would explain a lot of headshaking moments in this movie but by no means ALL of them.
Land of the Dead (2005)
Yep, Romero Is Back!
LAND OF THE DEAD (4 outta 5 stars) George A Romero returns to the zombie genre to show that the old grandmaster hasn't lost his touch. Okay, right off the bat it has to be said that the movie isn't quite the groundbreaking work that the original "Night of the Living Dead" was... nor does it have the epic grandeur of "Dawn of the Dead"... but it definitely equals and/or surpasses "Day of the Dead" and 99% of the Romero-inspired ripoffs and homages that have been churned out in the last 20 years or so. The zombies in Romero's world continue to evolve from film to film... in this latest installment they seem to be developing better reasoning skills and learning how to communicate with one another. They still move slow but danged if they don't have the nastiest habit of suddenly popping out of nowhere. Unlike previous installments, this time Romero has put a few "name" actors in the lead roles: John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper and Asia Argento to name a few. While this means a goodbye to the almost documentary-like ambiance of the previous "Dead" movies... it was probably necessary in order to get this movie made in the first place. The actors do a good job of inhabiting this universe, though... they never seem out of place, like "stars" doing their "thing" sometimes do. This doesn't quite have the sweeping scope that I was looking for in a Romdeo-directed continuation... so here's hoping that he gets to do another final chapter in his decades-long "living dead" saga.
The Candy Snatchers (1973)
Thought "Devil's Rejects" Was Rough? You Ain't Seen Nothing' Yet...
THE CANDY SNATCHERS (3 outta 5 stars) Very nasty, ugly movie about a trio of luckless kidnappers who abduct a teenage girl and bury her alive. They call up her stepfather, a diamond merchant, and ask for a fortune in diamonds as ransom. Well, wouldn't you know it... the stepfather has been looking for a way to get rid of the bratty young teen anyway as he stands to make a lot of cash after her untimely demise. A young mute boy happens to see where the kidnappers bury the girl but, being mute, he can't make her whereabouts known to the police and his shrieking shrew of a mother won't listen to him anyway. The kidnappers get more and more desperate and the violence and depravity become more and more extreme... ending the movie in one of the most nihilistic and gutwrenching finales ever seen on film. Anyone who thought movies like "Natural Born Killers" or "The Devil's Rejects" were rough-going... well, you ain't seen nothing' yet.
The D.I. (1957)
The Toughest Dang Drill Instructor Ever!
THE D.I. (4 outta 5 stars) Wow, I certainly did not expect to be enjoying this movie as much as I did. I had never even heard of it until I saw it sitting in the discount video bin one day. I figured Jack Webb playing an army drill instructor might be good for a chuckle but figured the drama would pale in comparison to such recent movie D.I.s as portrayed in "Full Metal Jacket" or "An Officer and a Gentleman". Boy, was I wrong. This is probably the best work Webb has ever done... far and away better than his one-note "Dragnet" performances. The delivery of his tough guy dialogue is just brilliant... done in his patented deadpan monotone and yet you *know* that the guy means every word of it. The story might seem a little hokey compared to the grittier military movies that have followed but I still found the movie fascinating and compelling. Even a completely unnecessarily musical interlude in an army nightclub had me hooked. Anyone know where I can get a copy of that terrific Ray Coniff song "If'n You Don't, Somebody Else Will"? Webb plays the toughest dang drill instructor ever... and he's under pressure to kick out the deadbeat Private Owen but, by golly, he sees a man buried somewhere in that sissyboy and he's gonna drag him out kicking and screaming! Great stuff!
There's a Girl in My Soup (1970)
Gratuitous Nude Scene For Goldie... This Must Be The '70s!
THERE'S A GIRL IN MY SOUP (3 outta 5 stars) This movie has always had a bad reputation and I could never figure out why. Sure, Peter Sellers has been in much better movies than this... but he's been in lots worse, too. He plays the smarmy, self-absorbed star of a TV gourmet show who enjoys the swinging bachelor life, even as he hits his mid-40s. He meets up with Goldie Hawn, a hip, sexually-liberated young gal of less-than-20 and the sparks, as they say, fly. There are some really funny lines but a lot of missed comedic opportunities as well. To this day I still wonder why there is no big payoff to the wine-tasting scene... after all the time spent trying to teach Goldie that one is supposed to "spit" and not "swallow" I wonder why she doesn't wind up spitting up during a fancy dinner scene. This may not be one of Sellers' best but Goldie Hawn does a fine job... breaking free of the one-dimensional blonde ditz character that she was known for at the time. (She even gets a totally gratuitous nude scene... wow, this must be the '70s!)
A Kinder and Gentler Peeping Tom Movie
JUNK MAIL (3+ outta 5 stars) Offbeat but sincere comedy-thriller about a lonely postman who comes across a set of keys accidentally left in the mailbox by a cute young girl on his route. He makes a copy of her keys and secretly checks out her apartment while she is at work. He also has a habit of disposing of junk mail in an out of the way train tunnel (whether this is out of sheer laziness or to spare the people on his route the bother is never really explained). One day he accidentally falls asleep and is trapped inside the girl's bedroom when she comes home from work and then... well, to give any more away would definitely ruin your enjoyment so I'll stop there. Suffice to say that things get a little more complicated. This quirky little Norwegian film didn't get a whole lot of attention on its US release. Too bad... it's well-written and well-acted and definitely worth checking out. Sort of a kinder and gentler version of "Blue Velvet".
Professione: reporter (1975)
Art With a Capital A
THE PASSENGER (3+ outta 5 stars) Most viewers will be put off by the extremely slow pace of of this fascinating movie. I tried to watch it a few times many years ago but just couldn't get "into" it. The plot is intriguing enough: a TV reporter, bored and disenchanted with his life, gets the opportunity to trade passports with a dead man while traveling abroad. After assuming his new identity he discovers that he is an illegal arms dealer... with some very serious clients. It sounds like it would be an adrenalin-pumping thriller but Michaelangelo Antonioni paces it like a slow funeral procession. That is not necessarily a bad thing... but I can certainly see why the movie didn't click with a big audience when it first came out. Jack Nicholson (in his prime) stars in one of his most subtle and low-key performances ever as the reporter. Though the plot may be somewhat Hitchcockian this is an Art Movie with a capital A, make no mistake. Topping things off is a seven or eight finale, done in one take, which manages to circle entirely around the climax without ever showing it on screen. I'm still unclear about what exactly happens at the end (thanks to a bad video transfer) but, from what I understand, it's all open to interpretation anyway. Like I said, Art.
Bizarre Visual Feast
GOZU (3 outta 5 stars) This is a typically extreme and bizarre visual feast from the mind of director Takashi Miike... marred only by the lack of any forward momentum of the storyline. One weird scene follows another until... they just ran out of ideas for weird scenes, I guess. Basically, the movie deals with a Yakuza gangster who is ordered to kill a colleague while on a road trip. The colleague dies by accident and, when the gangster stops in a small village to phone in his report, the corpse disappears from the front seat of the car. The movie is certainly not boring and a lot of fun to watch but if you are familiar with other Miike films you may find that this movie is nothing but a hodge-podge of elements from his more memorable movies. If you are a Miike novice and you enjoy this movie at all you will definitely be thrilled by his other works ("Audition", "Izo", "Ichi the Killer") but I don't really think this would be the best intro to his stylish oeuvre.
What's Up, Doc? (1972)
They Don't Make Retro Movies Like This Anymore
WHAT'S UP, DOC? (3+ outta 5 stars) A very funny homage to the classic screwball comedies of the '30s. This is a *true* homage... that is to say it's not merely a ripoff of a specific film but a distillation of the essential elements of the entire genre. Usually these attempts to copy a long-ago style are unbearably awful but director Peter Bogdanovich understands what made those movies work in the old days as well as what works for modern audiences (at least he did in 1972). Ryan O'Neal takes a lot of flack for being somewhat of a wooden actor... but when called upon to play a certain type of role he was extremely good. This is one of those times. He has to play the straight man while everyone else gets to overact wildly. To do this and not get totally lost amidst the lunacy is extremely hard to do. Also, to make fun of his famous role in "Love Story" in the final moments of this movie shows that he was a lot more grounded and self-aware than most '70s stars. Barbara Streisand plays her goofiest and probably her most likable character... basically a female Bugs Bunny... deflating the pompous and encouraging everyone to loosen up and have a good time. Lots of great slapstick gags, especially the chase finale. (My favorite moment is the guy who gets chased down a hilly street by a pair of rolling trash cans. My least favorite moment is when Madeline Khan is erroneously send to a seedy part of town and comes across a vicious beating... the tension seems a little too *real* for a lark of a movie such as this.)
Funny, Absurd Melancholy
SIDEWAYS (4 outta 5 stars) Excellent character study, comedy/drama about two lifelong friends who go off on a weeklong wine-tasting trip/bachelor party. Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is the groom-to-be and he desperately wants to have one last affair before he settles down to marriage. His best friend Miles just wants to hang with his friend and drink some wine and forget about his own disastrous romantic life. Jack and Miles meet a couple of female wine aficionados and the four of them seem to hit it off. They proceed to spend a great deal of time together... keeping the girls in the dark about Jack's impending marriage. Miles begins to develop some real feelings for his date (Virginia Madsen), feelings he hasn't had since his divorce... but how are his lies going to affect his chances for a meaningful relationship? All four lead actors are outstanding. the dialogue is very original and very funny at times. There is also a pervading aura of melancholy... as amusing as it all sounds on paper, Jack and Miles are very sad individuals and they have a lot of growing up to do before the movie reaches its conclusion.
In the Cut (2003)
Clichéd, Pretentious Tripe
IN THE CUT (1+ outta stars) Pretentious twaddle about a teacher (Meg Ryan) with a few odd sexual kinks who witnesses a man and woman having sex in the basement of a seedy neighborhood bar. She is questioned by a police detective (Mark Ruffalo) after the woman turns up dead in the alley behind her building. Ryan is strangely attracted to this cop... even after she realizes that the tattoo on his forearm is exactly the same as the one on the arm of the man she saw having sex with the dead girl. It's all supposed to be "edgy" and "raw" and "erotic" but it all just starts to seem silly after awhile. The plot is a terribly contrived compilation of practically every thriller cliché since the genre was invented. But, because it was written by a "literary" author (Susanna Moody wrote the novel on which the film is based) it is all supposed to be "deep" and "meaningful", I guess. Meg Ryan does a good job with a role about as far removed from her usual perky persona as it was possible to go. Mark Ruffalo seems to have patterned his role after Vincent D'Onofrio from Law and Order: Criminal Intent but doesn't have the same intensity... he's just obnoxious and it's anybody's guess why Ryan's character becomes infatuated with him. Jennifer Jason Leigh is totally wasted in the role of the best friend whose ultimate fate is ridiculously obvious from the get-go.
Code 46 (2003)
Futuristic Love Story Has Great Atmosphere But A Muddled Plot
CODE 46 (2+ outta 5 stars) Nicely-done "star-crossed lovers" tale that takes place in a near-future where the widespread use of cloning has complicated matters of sex and marriage. To insure that two persons with the same genetic make-up don't procreate both potential mates need to be tested and if they are too close a match they are forbidden to have a sexual relationship. Also, this overpopulated world is heavily regulated as to who may travel where. ID cards known as "patels" allow people to travel from one city zone to another for a limited amount of time. People who live in between the zones have little or no hope of receiving one of these cards. Therefor there is a huge demand for fake "patels" on the black market. Tim Robbins plays a government agent whose job it is to track down the people producing fake "patels" using with the aid of a "virus" that virtually allows him to read minds. He discovers a quirky young girl (Samantha Morton) who has been handing out fake cards but decides not to turn her in. He has an affair with her instead and finds himself falling in love. The depiction of this future world is extremely well thought out (I especially like how the language has evolved into a multicultural mixture of English, Spanish, French, etc.) The storyline is intriguing but the movie does proceed at a very leisurely pace which may put some viewers off. Also, by the end, some details of the plot don't seem to be fully explained and the entire finale is a bit of a let-down. Still, the movie is worth a look for its ideas and the great work by the two leads.
An Imaginative and Evocative Epic
A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (3+ outta 5 stars) A more melancholy (dare I say, mature?) movie than earlier efforts from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie", "Delicatessen"). The storyline isn't quite as fanciful this time around, giving a harsher, more harrowing (but also romantic) account of the world. This visually stunning movie has a lot of memorable scenes. Unfortunately, I didn't find that the quiet climax fully satisfied me after the bombast and unabashed romanticism of the previous two hours. Jeunet is a stylist who never holds back his imagination and suddenly he is being... subtle? I still enjoyed the movie tremendously... even though the storyline can get a little murky at times, with all those French names and the dizzying chain of events to keep track of. A pair of young lovers are split up when the young Manech (Gaspard Ulliel)is sent off to fight during World War I. Through a misunderstanding he is ordered executed but there is some doubt as to whether he actually died or not. Mathilde (Audrey Tatou), his fiancée back home, knows that he is still alive and she does everything in her power to discover his true fate over the next three years.
BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (1 outta 5 stars) You'd think that it would have occurred to the filmmakers at *some* point during production: hey, there's no story! All this movie is is a sad rehashing of practically every single scene from the first movie. Whatever was funny the first time, they tried to re-do... with disastrous results. Watching this movie is sort of like watching a dull co-worker trying to act out something funny that you'd both seen on TV the night before. You really feel bad for him because you know the material *used to be* funny. That's kind of how you feel about the actors in this movie. After about an hour of this un-amusing drivel I started to think, "Uh, isn't it about time that something HAPPENS?" Bridget's voice-over babbles on non-stop, telling us that she's happy... that she's not happy... that she's happy... that she's not happy... the same thing over and over. She thinks her boyfriend's cheating... then she finds out he's not and she feels silly. Then, she thinks that her boyfriend is cheating AGAIN... and she finds out that he's not and feels silly AGAIN. They break up (probably because the poor, dull boob hasn't cracked a smile ONCE since the movie started... kind of like the audience at this point) just so that Bridget can *almost* have an affair with her lecherous ex (Hugh Grant, of course). Then, in the only interesting sequence in the movie, Bridget is arrested in a foreign airport for drug smuggling and tossed into prison a la "Midnight Express". If only the whole movie had been about Bridget in prison... then it might have been worth making! There is one good scene with Bridget whining about how her boyfriend treats her bad... and all the other women prisoners start in with their stories of actual abuse... which makes Bridget feel silly yet again (but who's keeping score?) Grant and Colin Firth re-stage the climactic sissy-fight from the first movie... for no good reason. It's poorly done but probably the funniest moment in the film. Faint praise, indeed.
The Grudge (2004)
One More Visit To Re-Make Hell...
THE GRUDGE (2 outta 5 stars) Okay, maybe if I hadn't seen "The Ring", "The Eye", "A Tale of Two Sisters" or a zillion other similar Asian horror flicks I might have liked this one a little more. There are a few scary moments... but, for the most part, this movie is not gripping or compelling at all. We barely get a chance to care about the characters. Heck, Bill Pullman throws himself off a balcony in the first two minutes. A pity that Sarah Michelle Geller has to stick around for the full 90 minutes to show off her non-acting talent. Hey, I loved her as Buffy but some actors only have one good role in them. I fear that Ms. Gellar's talents have about run their course. None of the other actors are able to garner any audience empathy either. We know is that something bad is going to happen... over and over and over... but we don't really care about the people that it's happening to. I'm sure the original Japanese movie was much better than this. I should have known better than to try watching the inferior American remake first... even if it did have the same director. How is it that the WORST remakes are made by the original foreign directors themselves? (See also "The Vanishing"... the Dutch film, not the American.)
Suspect Zero (2004)
SUSPECT ZERO (2 outta 5 stars) Intriguing movie about a serial killer (Ben Kingsley) who is stalking OTHER serial killers starts out well... but soon gets way too confusing and hard-to-swallow as it goes on. At a certain point you'll start thinking that this movie was based on a rejected X-Files script. On the killer's trail are a pair of FBI agents with some romantic tension between them. (Doesn't the FBI have policies against people in a relationship working together? Heck, they must be the only place of business that *doesn't* these days.) One of them (Aaron Eckhart) develops a mental link to the killer they are hunting but, of course, no one believes that the agent's "visions" can possibly be worth investigating. The only thing that keeps this movie at all interesting is Ben Kingsley's attempt at doing a Hannibal Lector kind of role. I admire Kingsley for taking on a role so far from his usual "serious" parts and for giving it his all... but what in the world made him choose this script? His performance really belongs in a much better movie than this.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Do I Look Like An Ichtyologist To You?
BUBBA HO-TEP (4 outta 5 stars) A very funny movie with a truly ridiculous premise that also winds up being quite touching at times. Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) is alive and living out his final days in a nursing home (where everyone thinks he is just another impersonator). He and another resident (Ossie Davis), who believes himself to be John F Kennedy, cross paths with an Egyptian mummy who is stealing the souls of the elderly to prolong its own life. Buried beneath the humor is some very real and sad observations on the lives of the elderly and the slow death of hope that can come with aging. Bruce Campbell (known mostly for his role in the "Evil Dead" movies) does a fantastic job as Elvis and Ossie Davis brings a dignified solemnity to some extremely outrageous dialogue. The movie was done on a very small budget... there wasn't a lot of money put into action sequences and special effects. Luckily, it has a great script and wonderful performances to make up for it. Director Don Coscarelli is best known for his "Phantasm" movies. For added fun, check out the DVD for Bruce Campbell's commentary track as the REAL Elvis watching this movie about mummy-fighting Elvis.
Haute tension (2003)
Psycho Killer... qu'est-ce que c'est?
HIGH TENSION (3+ outta 5 stars) An effective little thriller... marred a bit by a muddled ending which raises more questions than it answers. A pair of young female students drive out to the secluded country home where one's family lives. During the night a mysterious truck arrives and over an hour of bloody mayhem ensues. Trust me, the less you know about the plot from this point on, the better you'll enjoy the film. It's very suspenseful and very gory... the movie is heavily influenced by many screen horror classics, from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to "Friday the 13th" to "Scream". It definitely makes up for with style what it lacks in originality. Cecile De France makes an appealing heroine with her butch haircut and attitude. Her strong, unrequited feelings for her girlfriend give the drama an extra edge. I definitely would have liked the movie more if not for the weird plot turns in the final act. The movie was working so well up to that point... it didn't need to strain so hard for such a "clever" twist.
Hide and Seek (2005)
DeNiro, Wherefor Art Thou, DeNiro?
HIDE AND SEEK (2+ outta 5 stars) Another in a long string of misguided attempts by Robert DeNiro to star in a box office hit. As great an actor as he is, why does he have such a hard time picking out decent scripts? Good lord, the man must KNOW what good dialogue sounds like... and I can't imagine what he could have possibly seen in this script that made him go, "Yeah! I need to play this!" He's even out-acted by little Dakota Fanning. (Note to Dakota's parents: I know you must love the money and all, but don't you think the kid needs a holiday? Most people don't have time to *watch* all the movies she's been in lately, much less *act* in them. Give the kid, and US, a break! Thanks.) This may not be his worst movie ever (that would be "Rocky and Bullwinkle") but it's a terribly pedestrian thriller... with another lame "twist" ending. The only reason it came as a surprise to me was that I didn't think they would pick a twist that *obvious*. DeNiro plays a psychologist whose wife's apparent suicide traumatizes their young daughter. He moves them to a remote country house and, faster than you can say "Redrum" creepy things begin to happen. Okay, there was a good scare or two... a creepy, atmospheric build-up to a lame, stupid finale. There are any number of similar movies that are better written or directed than this ("The Sixth Sense", "The Others", "The Innocents") and if I were you I would try and find of them before wasting my time with this.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Charming, yeah... but kind of bland
WEDDING CRASHERS (3 outta 5 stars) Not nearly as hilarious a movie as I was expecting... not particularly well-written but it's not the first movie for Vince Vaughn OR Owen Wilson where they had to breeze through on charm alone for two hours. Being as how the entire PLOT of this movie concerns two guys who breeze through life on charm alone, attending weddings to which they are not invited, it's not hard to see why they got they got the leads. The movie is not hard to sit through but neither is it particularly memorable once it's all over. Personally, I would have liked to get a little more information on HOW these two con artists always manage to get a seat at the dinner tables? Do they forge place cards or what? It can't just be as simple as showing up in a suit and pretending to be related to someone who isn't there. Ah well, it's a comedy... we're not meant to be concerned about how realistic it all is. We're only meant to judge how *funny* it is. Unfortunately, one week later and I hard-pressed to come up with one memorably-funny line or gag from the flick. I'm sure I was smiling amiably throughout (did I mention how dang *charming* the two leads are?) but the hilarity I was expecting just did not occur. Christopher Walken plays a Kennedy-esquire politician but it's a nothing role and it doesn't have much of the old Walken zing to it. It's like he's playing a part in a Saturday Night Live sketch that sounded promising on paper but just didn't hit the mark.
One of the Best TV Series Finales of Recent Times
SERENITY (3+ outta 5 stars) Yes, the filmmakers would like everyone to believe that this movie can be enjoyed without having seen the short-lived TV series "Firefly" (of which this is a continuation) but now that the movie has had it's chance to score at the box office the truth needs to come out: there is very little point to seeing this movie if you haven't seen the original 13 episodes (or at least *some* of them). It's kind of like watching the last episode of M*A*S*H or The Fugitive or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer without any basic knowledge of the show's history: you are just not going to get maximum enjoyment out of it. As I was watching the movie I was trying to look at it from the perspective of someone who had never seen the show before and who had no idea who these characters were. Frankly, I think the movie tries so hard to tie up loose ends from the series that the story doesn't really become fully realized. Series characters seem to be shoe-horned in (even when they have no real function in the story) just because fans of the show will expect them to be there. Compare the cast of "Serenity" to the cast of the first "Alien" movie: everything you need to know about the ship's crew of "Alien" is explained through their dialogue and actions as the movie progresses... in "Serenity" the crew's back story is too complex to be conveyed simply to a potentially new audience. But... enough complaining! While I don't think the movie really works as a stand-alone film... I think it is among one of the finest wrap-ups to a TV series I have ever seen. It is much better crafted and satisfying than director Joss Whedon's "Buffy" and "Angel" finales. The new character of the "The Operative" (Chiwetel Ejiofor) steals the movie with his quiet intensity... a memorable and more-cerebral-than-usual movie villain. The final confrontation turns into too much of a by-the-numbers movie climax (hero and villain meet on a high catwalk as the clock counts down to zero hour/ hero drops his gun, forcing a hand to hand confrontation/ villain beats crap out of hero until all seems lost) but by the end it manages to confound all modern-day action movie expectations.
Jigoku Kôshien (2003)
How Can You Not Love This Stuff?
BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL (3 outta 5 stars) Okay, this is a low budget movie... they didn't have a lot of money to spend on big action scenes (or realistic-looking gore)... but, dang, it was still a lot of fun! How can you not love a movie about a high school baseball team that has to fight an evil team that slaughters everyone they play against... and takes time out for a few musical ballads along the way? I'm not generally a fan of these "funny" Asian action movies... I prefer the more serious ones... but this movie was too outrageous for me not to enjoy. A sullen young teen who has sworn off baseball due to a childhood tragedy is the only one who can help Seido High defeat the ultra-violent psychos... but come game time he is locked away in a prison cell... will he get out in time? Don't worry about the movie making too much sense... it doesn't... but I loved the team of bad guys, particularly the head coach who is one of the coolest looking villains ever. He looks something like Jim Carrey in "The Mask"... but dressed like Marlon Brando in "The Missouri Breaks". The extremely round-eyed Bancho that we meet at the start of the movie is pretty funny, too. The movie plays out like a feature length Monty Python sketch... so if absurdity is not your thing you should probably see something else.