All reviews ©2002 by Terry A. Heggy

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Movie Reviews, by Terry A. Heggy


Rating System  (NOTE: These ratings are absolutely subjective. Terry’s opinion only. Feel free to disagree with Terry’s opinion -- if you don't mind looking like an idiot.)
* I hated the film, and urge you to seek out the people who made it and spit upon them.
**  I felt it was pretty much a waste of my time and recommend that you skip it.
**½ I didn't particularly like it, but admit that some people might.
***  I thought it was OK, and that my time wasn’t necessarily wasted by watching it.
***½ I liked it, but realize that some people might not share my enthusiasm for it.
**** I enjoyed it, and think you should probably see it.
****½ I thought it was great, but understand that not everyone shares my sense of greatness.
***** I thought this was a great film that everyone should see, perhaps many times.
Note: if you need more info about directors, actors, etc. visit www.netflix.com.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Complete movie index (by title)

Recent reviews: The League of Extraordinary GentlemenBruce AlmightyThe Hudsucker ProxyPirates of the Caribbean; Curse of the Black PearlThe HulkMystery MenThe Adventures of Pluto NashJesus Christ, Vampire HunterThe Kid with the X-Ray EyesMen With Brooms


Batman (The Movie)  (1966)  *****

This is a GREAT movie!

No, I’m not talking about any of your lame-o Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney yawners. I’m talking about the real Batman -- Adam West. And the real Boy Wonder -- Burt Ward.

This movie was made back in the 60s to capitalize on the popularity of the Batman TV show. It had everything! A flame-powered car, a cave full of neatly labeled computer components, fabulous babes in skintight vinyl, and a telephone that glowed.

In my opinion, there’s simply no comparison between the original Adam West Batman and any who have followed. I actually liked Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney in the role, but West’s unique dialog delivery made for an unforgettable character. And his nuanced development of subtle relationship between himself, Robin, Aunt Harriet, and law enforcement officials was nothing less than brilliant. 

But Batman aside, the supporting cast of villains deserves discussion, too. Here’s a quick comparison of some of the major players.

Cesar Romero (Joker) Jack Nicholson (Joker)

No comparison here. Nicholson is creepy, and I suppose that’s what they were going for, but he’s not a joker. I mean, would you invite him to a party? No way -- he’s far too weird. Romero, though, sure...he’d be a hoot during a game of Twister or charades, doncha think?

Frank Gorshin (Riddler) Jim Carrey (Riddler)

This is probably a toss-up. Both are excellent all-around actors and comedians. Gorshin gets extra points for his uncanny impersonations, but Carrey probably gets the nod with his vast range. Carrey has had some truly extraordinary performances throughout his broad career. But still, I gotta go with Gorshin, cuz he did that Star Trek episode where he had his face painted black and white.

Burgess Meredith (Penguin) Danny DeVito (Penguin)

Another blowout. I like DeVito, and enjoy most of his movies. But his Penguin was just gross. Meredith nailed the part. Class, humor, and dastardliness all wrapped up in one dapper package. And without his acting genius, we probably would never have known that penguins quack just like ducks. (Too bad Clubber Lang killed him. Sigh.)

Lee Meriwether (Catwoman) Michelle Pfeifer (Catwoman)

Meriwether, the former Miss America, plays both the costumed villainess and her Russian babe alter-ego (Miss Kitka) with great feline charm. Still, though, given the choice of which Catwoman I'd share a litterbox with, I'd have to go with Julie Newmar, from the old TV series. Rrrrrooowww!

Perhaps I’d believe Pfeifer as Ferretwoman, or maybe Hampsterwoman, but she just didn’t have what it takes to compete with Newmar.

I could go on and on about the one and only, true, Batman movie, but I won’t. Just see the film yourself, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. (Personal note: I once shook hands with Burt Ward at a Safeway in Wichita, Kansas. I have not washed that hand since.)  [Back to Top]


A Beautiful Mind  (2001)  ***

I generally like Ron Howard’s stuff. (Like that one time when Opie got in trouble with Aunt Bee -- that cracked me up! And that whole Wellth Fargo Wagon thing is nothing leth than a clathic...) But I pretty much snoozed through this truth-based tale. I understand that they did change some of the facts in order to make the story more entertaining, but...not enough.

It’s the story of a brilliant mathematician who is, shall we say, socially challenged. Now, I could relate to that part -- some of the scenes of his failures with the ladies were eerily reminiscent of my own misguided and futile attempts to put the moves on college chicks. (See The Shy Man's Guide to Success with Women if you want the grisly details.) Of course, he only got slapped for his trouble, and didn't suffer any irate football-player boyfriend beatings, court-imposed restraining orders, flaming drinks thrown in the face, cannister-emptying Mace assaults, or...but, wait, I digress.

Anyway, this brilliant nerdball is adequately played by Russell Crowe, though his North Carolina accent seemed to come and go. (You’d think Opie could’ve helped him with that. Couldn’t they get an authentic language consultant? Maybe George “Goober” Lindsay, or Floyd the Barber?). The beautiful chick who falls in love with him is played by Jennifer Connelly, who looks way hotter here than she did in The Rocketeer so many years ago. But that whole love angle part was quite predictable...nerdish math geeks always get the best looking chicks, am I right?

The movie did show some promise at one point. Crowe and Ed Harris are being chased and shot at by Commie spies. I’m thinking, “Cool, now it gets interesting. He’ll be able to defeat the Rooskies by using the Awesome Power of Math. It’s gonna get bloody...”. I’m thinking we’re in for another Three or Four Days of the Condor. But, NO, it turns out he made the whole thing up. He’s not only a funny-walking nerd with a bad haircut, but he’s also totally insane.

Now, I’m the first to admit that insanity can be hilariously funny. Just look at any of the James Bond villains, after all. (Well, except that stupid Fantasy Island midget in “The Man With the Golden Gun”. He was just annoying.) Look at any Bill Murray movie. Look at The Shining. -- But “A Beautiful Mind” didn’t really go anywhere with it. OK, he’s crazy. So let’s have Captain Von Trapp poke needles in him, put a couple quarters in the vibro-bed, and he’ll be good as new in 20 or 30 years or so. Then he can win a Nobel Prize. Boring.

It took well over two hours to tell the story. Zzzzz. And come on, if he’s gonna make up invisible fantasy friends, couldn’t he do better than Art Garfunkel and a creepy little Winona Ryder clone? What about Xena, Warrior Princess, or Rambo or something? Heck, I’d even prefer Cheech and Chong...at least then he could claim that his hallucinations had a pharmacological origin. He could say “My imaginary friend Dave’s not here, man.”

I won’t complain about all of the movie’s problems (anachronistic computer technology, Crowe being obviously older than his supposed contemporaries, lack of gratuitous nudity, etc.) because you’ve already got the idea that I’m not recommending the film. But I will point out a couple of cool things: One is that the governor is played by Roy Thinnes, who was the star of the classic 1960’s SF show called “The Invaders”. It was good to see him, and it would’ve been even better if he’d have accused Crowe of having a defective pinky finger, like he did to all those nasty aliens he saved the world from back in the good ol’ days. 

Another cool thing is that the movie has lots of reminders of the past. One is the abundance of 1950’s Detroit iron. I enjoyed seeing cars that weigh as much as a freight train and have the general shape of a 4-wheeled loaf of bread. Another cool thing from the past is the spy radios that go weeee-ooooo-eeee when you tune them. Kids today are deprived of so many cool noises due to the advances of digital technologies (like the click-click-click-click that rotary phones made when you let go of the dial). And don't forget those cool hats that all tough guys used to wear, but are now only worn by pimps and theater majors.

My final comment is about the movie’s title. There was never really anything that justified calling this guy’s mind “beautiful”. A better title would’ve been “Even Nerdball Nutbags Can Win the Nobel Prize”, but that probably wouldn’t get nominated for an Academy Award. I can only hope that Ron Howard returns to his roots after this experience. I think it’s about time for “The Wells Fargo Wagon Can Eat My Dust”, don’t you?  [Back to Top]


Big Daddy  (1999)  ***

I’ll confess right up front that I’m not a big Adam Sandler fan. Nor do I typically appreciate movies that rely heavily on public urination, homeless people in careening shopping carts being slammed into lightpoles, or threatened violence against the elderly. But…that being said, I’ll also confess that I enjoyed this movie.

Is the plot believable? Not even close. A kid shows up on a slacker’s doorstep, so the guy more-or-less adopts the kid to impress his girlfriend, who has recently left him (in a scene stolen right out of “Stripes”, only without any references to Tito Puente , God rest his soul). Using unorthodox parenting methods (yes, we’re talking about the oft-utilized public urination element here), he makes the case that perhaps traditional parenting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And off course, we must have the obligatory custody fight battle where the evil minions of the American Legal System attempt to separate the boy from his slacker more-or-less adoptive parent. Thank goodness he has the support of his cartoonish gay college buddies, a hygienically challenged drunk with bad teeth, and the aforementioned shopping-basket-riding homeless guy.

The movie also contains an inordinate amount of blatant product placement, a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard singing kangaroo, and far too many scenes with inappropriately released bodily fluids.

So why the heck did I like it? Well, to start with, the product placements include McDonalds (supremely good fries, man) and the Hooters restaurant chain. Perhaps I’m admitting my own shallowness here, but I do not object to seeing the Hooters girls. (But this is supposed to be a kids’ movie, you say. Well, I respond: So what? Shut up!) And the film features a stellar supporting cast, including the lovely Kristi Swanson (the real Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jon Stewart, Joe Bologna, Josh Mostel, the inimitable Steve Buscemi (as the homeless guy), and Rob Schneider as a delivery man with an unidentifiably vague eastern European accent, who never seems to actually deliver anything.

Sandler’s ultimate love interest is played by Joey Lauren Adams, who I’ve never seen before, but look forward to seeing again. And I’m probably the only person who would think these elements add to the appeal of a movie, but it also had an impressively fashionable scuba diving outfit and a supporting character who really reminded me of political analyst and former Reform Party Presidential Candidate Dick Lamm. (The character ended up as a fry cook for Hooters. I’m not suggesting anything regarding Lamm’s career by that statement…just reporting what happened in the movie.)

There are some cute gags and some clever writing. But what really made the film work for me was its heart. There is genuine affection for the characters, and despite a tendency toward super-sappiness at the end, I found it touching. (OK, I’ll admit that my own experience as a parent influences me here. Especially when they point out that even though kids are a mess, a pain, an expense, and have a tendency to monumentally screw up your life…well, you still can’t help but love ‘em to death. I know this is true in my own case. And while the kid in this film isn’t anywhere near as cute, bright, and lovable as my own son, well…the movie still manages to remind me of how huge that parental love-bond is.

And did I mention the Hooters chicks?  [Back to Top]


The Big Hit  (1998)  ****½

05-22-2003 - About halfway through this movie, I had a truly frightening revelation. It was one of those totally unexpected head-slapping moments where you wake up and realize something that previously was beyond your ability to even conceive...I suddenly said to myself, “Good Lord, I'm starting to like Marky Mark!”

Yep, this movie has the former bad boy rapper turned movie actor. I thought I'd never be able to forgive him for the “Planet of the Apes” fiasco, but he was actually quite charming in this flick.

But he didn’t have to carry the load himself. The cast also includes Christina Applegate, Lainie Kazan, Elliott Gould, Avery Brooks, Lou Diamond Phillips, Antonio Sabato, Jr., loveable newcomer China Chow, and a raft of other memorable supporting characters.

OK, here's the disclaimer: this is an extremely violent and profane movie. (The opening scene involves a bathtub full of human body parts.) The kill count almost approaches Schwarzeneggerian proportions, and everybody cusses constantly. In most movies, such excesses are unnecessary and tend to work against the movie's enjoyability, but this one proved to be greatly entertaining.

Wahlberg and Phillips play mob hit men who talk about buying boats and paying off bills as they offhandedly slaughter people they don't know. Phillips is hilarious as the punk badass who wants to rise up through the organization with the least effort possible. His character creates endless misery for Wahlberg's long-suffering and hard-working Mel Smiley. Poor Mel does all the work while the rest of his team stay in the background...until it's time to claim the credit.

Mel develops ulcers while he struggles to support the two women in his life, while simultaneously worrying about the upcoming meeting with his fiancée's parents. In order to get some quick cash, he goes against his own better judgment and agrees to participate in a moonlighting job with Phillips. Unfortunately, the seemingly straightforward kidnapping they plan gets complicated fast, and Mel finds himself the target of the combined wrath of every other mob hitman; just as he's trying to cook a nice kosher dinner for his future in-laws.

I'm sure I've done it before, but I don't remember ever laughing out loud during a full-mob shootout in somebody's kitchen, but I sure did here. And I kept chuckling right up to the end of the movie. I won't give away the plot, but I will share that there's a sweet (if strange) romance, a cute subplot about a rental videotape, cars flying off cliffs, a video store display add that's, uh, unusual, and some sparkling dialog from Gould during a drunken dinner toast.

I feel odd calling a movie like this "cute" and "charming" and "sweet", especially considering the in-your-face body count, but, well, that's what I'm gonna call it. And lord help me, I'm actually going to start looking for movies with Marky Mark in them.*

*(Yes, "Planet of the Apes" was a total travesty, but it wasn't Wahlberg's fault. It was the crappiness of the writing, the stupidity of trying to re-make the movie in the first place, and the gaping hole where Roddy McDowell should've been. And whoever decided that the monkeys should be able to jump around like a Hong Kong kung fu movie should be banned from Hollywood forever.)   [Back to Top]


The Blair Witch Project  (1999)  **

One of my requirements for enjoying a horror film is that the people being terrorized must show a moderate level of intelligence. If the ax-wielding maniac is in the closet, DON’T open the closet door and stick your head in. I don’t automatically reject a movie just because the bad guy wins, but at least give the good guys a moderate IQ so they can have a fighting chance.

Perhaps my expectations for this film colored my enjoyment of it. I thought it was going to have more to do with the witch. I thought the supernatural element would build a bit more. I thought I’d learn a lesson about not messing with Black Water Hattie or something. Instead, I learned that I shouldn’t go deep into the woods with a trio of rude and crude pinheads who have no idea how to navigate in the wilderness. OK, lesson learned, except that I probably would’ve figured that out even without sitting through this movie. (For stories of my being lost in the woods, see the November 1, 2002 entry on www.heggy.blogspot.com.)

If there’s someone whapping the side of your tent in the middle of the night, fer gawshsakes, take your industrial strength camera light and shine it in their eyes. And then bash ‘em over the head with your backpack frame. (Side gripe: I happen to know that portable batteries for industrial strength camera lights wouldn’t last for 6 nights of pretty-much constant use, but I guess I’ll let that slide. Same with the 1/2 quart canteen that still had water in it after 6 days of hiking.) If you’re pretty sure that somebody’s going to attack you in the middle of the night, keep a nice pointed stick beside your pillow, OK? And if you need to get out of the woods, start walking at sunrise instead of standing around griping at each other. And if you think your lost buddy is inside the creepy broken down house, wait until your remaining partner gets there before blundering inside at a full run. Watch each other’s back -- even if you really don’t like each other.

Yeah, some of it was creepy. They did a good job with the unsettling night sounds and tent-bound paranoia. And I suppose the constant cursing was true-to-life for modern slacker teen-agers...but I think the movie would’ve been more effective without it. Am I just an old fuddy duddy? Probably. But why offend guys like me when there’s no cinematic reason to do so? I don’t expect them to mellow it out until it becomes “The Brady Bunch Goes to Witchville”, but it didn’t have to have four-letter words every half sentence.

But my main problem with the movie was that it just didn’t build the proper atmosphere for the supernatural. It needed more emphasis on the legend. And it needed at least one moderately functional brain among the three kids. Just one. Oh well.  [Back to Top]


Bruce Almighty  (2003)  ****

01-17-2004 - I laughed more in the first 40 minutes of this movie than I have in a long time. There's even a scene involving a news anchorman that brought back memories of the first time I saw the laughter scene in Enter Laughing -- very funny!

Of course, it gets serious after that. Oh, not without its remaining amusements, but...well, you know...it has to deliver a "message". I'm not objecting to this; in fact I thought the message was well-delivered -- I'm just saying that you shouldn't expect to laugh as much in the second half of the movie, OK?

I hope it isn't blasphemous to say this, but Morgan Freeman is a lot more of an appealing God than George Burns. I'll admit that there's a part of me that prefers the idea of a sonorous burning bush type of mysterious and commanding deity, but if I was gonna hang out with the guy and do his job for a few days, well, Morgan would be my man. (At least he'd do until Heather Locklear became available...)

Anyway, Jim Carrey's character, Bruce, suffers a series of disappointments, causing him to rant at God about what a crappy job he's doing. In essence, then, God says, "If you think you can do better, go for it."

Carrey assumes all of God's powers, and soon finds out that it's a tougher job than he thought. His career improves, but the general state of the world doesn't. And being all-powerful doesn't necessarily help him with his love life. Jennifer Anniston plays his suffering girl friend, who ultimately provides the motivation for him to learn his lesson.

As you'd expect from a Jim Carrey movie, there are some crude gags (boogers, butt jokes, etc.), and there's a bit of foul language...but there's also a healthy dose of sweetness. The supporting cast does a good job (it's always good to see Lisa Ann Walter again), and I think you'll have a good time watching it.  [Back to Top]


Charlie's Angels  (2000)  ***

My wife and I both expected to hate this movie, since it just looked SO stupid and had gotten abysmal reviews. And I am pretty sure that my wife felt that her expectations were met.

I was pleasantly surprised. I actually rather enjoyed it. Perhaps I was OD'd on guafenisen and dextromethorphan hydrobromide, but I smiled quite a bit throughout the film. It was stupid, no doubt, but it was stupid in a slightly amusing way. I still don't like Drew Barrymore, and I can't say that I'm a big fan of Cameron Diaz...and this movie did nothing to enhance my opinion of Lucy Liu, either. But I really enjoyed seeing Crispin Glover as the oily ninja-trained bad guy, and Bill Murray is always watchable. I also enjoyed Matt LeBlanc’s small part.

It was fluff, but it was better fluff than I’d been led to believe it would be. I was never able to suspend disbelief, but that was OK, cuz it was just a stupid movie about a stupid TV show. I wish I could come up with a better reason to say I liked it than “It didn't suck as bad as it should have”, but I can't. It was what it was. Take it or leave it, I guess. [Back to Top]


Chocolat  (2000)  **½

03-13-2003 - The story takes place in a small village in France. The town is suffering from religious repression, stifling leadership, and a complete lack of imagination and good sense -- oh, wait...I already said it was set in France, didn’t I?

It’s a bittersweet tale of one woman’s crusade to bring humanity and a spark of life to an otherwise drab existence. In other words, it’ BO-RING!

Now, don’t get me wrong...I’ve got nothing against chick flicks, after all, I really enjoyed, uh...well... um, I’ll think of one in a minute. But the point is that if they can’t even spell the name of the movie correctly, you really shouldn’t expect much return from the 2 hours you invest in slogging through it. (NOTE: both Hershey’s and Dan Quayle agree; the word should have an “e” on the end.)

I’d chosen the film because I heard it had Alfred Molina in it, and I had gotten him confused with Al Molinaro, who was the cop on the Odd Couple and took over Arnold’s Drive In when Mr. Miyagi left to go beat up high school kids. Oops. Anyway, in addition to the decidedly un-funny Molina, the cast also included Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Lena Olin, and Johnny Depp as a swingin’ guitar-playin’ hippie pirate. I’m usually not a Depp fan, but his was the only character in this film that I wouldn’t want to exile to Elba.

The plot centers around the havoc created when a female nonconformist opens a chocolate shop. (Or is it “shoppe”? Help me out, here...) She immediately upsets the local royalty (Molina), more-or-less kidnaps her landlady’s grandson (who I’m pretty sure is the same kid from Mary Poppins, somehow preserved as a youth after all these years), tempts everyone to break their solemn Lenten religious vows, and scandalizes the town by boinking the hippie pirate while the rest of the town is fighting an arson  fire. Very uplifting stuff.

You’ve also got subplots involving kleptomania, wife-beating, and (I swear I’m not making this up) a crippled, invisible kangaroo. And, as in most chick flicks, there are scenes of candy overdose, dead old ladies found slumped on the recliner in the living room, and opportunities to whomp males in the head with frying pans. (Men are pigs, after all.) You’ve got your canine aphrodisiacs, mystical north winds, and scenes with frantic application of cleaning fluids. What you don’t have is anything remotely resembling kung fu, high-tech weaponry, babes in bikinis, or anything else that a normal person would find the least bit entertaining.

If you think you might be getting the urge to see this movie, I’d recommend picking up its American counterpart instead. You know, the stuff with the label that says “Hershey”.     [Back to Top]


The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course  (2002)  ***

05-24-2003 - Summary: Satellite "black box" gets eaten by a crocodile. Disgruntled rancher wants to kill it, Steve wants to gently re-locate it, and various sinister government agents want to get the box back (no matter what it takes).

Steve, of course, is TV's famous "Croc Hunter", and along with his lovely wife Terri, he enjoys annoying dangerous critters in search of ratings. And while they're on the trail of the data-eating croc, Steve and Terri manage to chase lizards, capture giant, poisonous spiders, and wrangle giant, poisonous snakes (or "snikes", as they say down under).

In the DVD's bonus materials, the director talks about how much of the "sinister agent" plot they cut out before they released the film. They could've cut even more. The plot is a throwaway, as are the explosions and chase scenes. In fact, the bonus features that show how they set up the croc wrestling scenes are probably the most interesting parts.

But if you like Steve Irwin, you'll enjoy the show. It's rather odd that most of the movie plays like standard cinema, but when Steve is in the scene, it plays like his TV show, with actors talking directly to the camera. If you like Terri Irwin, there is a totally gratuitous scene where she uses her shirt to warm a baby kangaroo, totally ignoring the fact that Steve could've taken off his shirt with no trouble at all. Oh well.

It's fun to listen to the Aussies, and it's fun to speculate what specific type of brain damage makes a guy roll around in the mud with a beast that wants to eat him -- but don't expect much more than that.  [Back to Top]


Drumline  (2002)  ****

05-30-2003 - Start with your generic Army bootcamp movie, mix in a heaping bowl of generic sports movie, sprinkle on a dash of new millennium youth attitude, and set it within the high-stakes world of marching band competition, and you've got Drumline.

Ah, the memories this film brought back...it took me back to my marching band days. The fanaticism of the perfectionist band director, the iron-fist discipline applied by steely-eyed squad leaders, the raw animal sexuality we shoved into the faces of the cheering throngs who came to see us play...

No, wait a minute, my band wasn't like that at all. Well... maybe the perfectionist band director part. And there was a reasonable level of commitment and discipline. But our own parents were the only ones in the crowd who even watched (and to be honest, they were pretty far away, so we can't even be sure of that!). And the sexiest thing we ever did was make one of the baton twirlers shoot off a fire extinguisher to represent rocket exhaust as the stadium announcer said that the Class of '72 would "shoot for the stars", (whatever the hell that meant). We had formed a giant triangle, which was about the closest we could come to a "rocket" shape; and if I remember correctly, we were playing the theme to Hawaii Five-O. The tune might not have fit the formation, but it was better than our other song, "The Monkey Wrapped His Tail Around the Flagpole".

Sorry, kinda got off the subject there. Anyway, the bands in "Drumline" are WAY good. There is immense energy in the scenes where the kids get to play. The romance? Who cares? The "bad boy learns discipline" subplot? Well, it's kinda boring (though the cast, including Nick Cannon and Orlando Jones, does a good job). The "white boy gets rhythm" scenes? Nothing new there either. But the drumming will have you marching around the room. The music is tight, the dancing is joyful, and the tunes are fun. It's the band that makes the movie worth seeing.

I didn't buy into the romance. I didn't particularly feel like rooting for Cannon's disagreeable renegade character. The rival band director evoked images of Lucius Sweet for some reason, and during one marching cadence I even had a deja vú moment with a vision of Bill Murray asking "why did the chicken cross the road?". So, would I say that drumline is great cinema? No. But is it great fun? Yeah.     [Back to Top]


The Fast Runner  (2002)  **

03-29-2003 - I should know better than to watch a movie just because it won awards and was applauded by the critics (don’t even get me started on Out of Africa...). But I thought this one sounded good. About sibling Inuit hunters, it promised to have an interesting cultural angle, plenty of beautiful snow-covered landscape, and maybe even some fast running. How could you go wrong?

Well, for starters, let’s provide a small technical hint for the film’s production crew -- white-colored subtitles don’t work very well when all your backgrounds consist of nothing but freaking snow! Sheesh.

And it might be a tad unrealistic to expect me to quickly learn to tell the characters apart when they are all covered head-to-toe by identical sealskin parkas. I dunno, maybe they could have worn name tags, or something...

Also, 3 hours is a bit too long for a movie with a 20-minute plot. Sure, I’ll give you another 20 minutes or so to show me gratuitous seal butchering, dogsledding, and igloo building, but that still left far too many times when I wanted to fast-forward (but was afraid to, cuz I might miss one of those lovely white subtitles).

The plot sounds familiar; nice-guy brothers get the cutest girls and the majority of the prime blubber -- incompetent jerkface bully plots to kill them, but one brother (the Fast Runner, of course) escapes and hides out while planning what he’ll do to said bully upon his unexpected return to the group. There are Inuit-specific elements added, such as mystical spells that cause people to take short naps after eating spontaneously-appearing rabbits, an evil spirit (who resembles the convenience store owner from Tremors), and background music that sounds like James Earl Jones trying to dislodge a Tribble that got stuck in his throat.

With all the extra time left over after the plot elements were covered, they decided to spice it up with elements of polygamy, rape, dog-whipping, and Oedipal murder. There are also vague references to reincarnation (apparently the daughter is also the grandmother). You have dazzling dialog such as “Are there any caribou around here? - No. I think they are somewhere else. Maybe in a different direction.” and people who accept it without question when the bad guy says “Uh, he tripped on, uh, some snow...yeah, that’s it -- he tripped on some snow and fell on this humongous knife that he just happened to be carrying with the point aimed at his heart. Really, that’s exactly what happened.” I’ll concede that nomadic seal hunters probably haven’t seen enough Matlock re-runs to be aware of every criminal scam, but puh-leeze!

I did rather enjoy the scenes of the totally naked guy running for hours, barefoot, across the arctic ice. (I’d guess in real life, a guy could make a couple of hundred yards before he became a frozen dead corpsicle, but I’ll let it slide for the same reasons I don’t mind Jackie Chan beating up 72 guys with machine guns.) And I certainly would’ve enjoyed more insight into how these people lived on the ice. (There weren’t any trees at all. They seemed to eat nothing but seal, except for the magic rabbit, and there was no explanation at all about where they got those fabulous Liberace-style furs. I also was curious about the origin of the sunglasses they used -- they looked like the ones Khan wore on Ceti Alpha Five.)

But one other thing really bothered me... it’s possible that I’m simply too shallow to understand the subtle layering of meaning that the director build into the work...but you know what? The guy really wasn’t a very fast runner. Sorry, but I can’t forgive that one.    [Back to Top]


Ghost World  (2001)  ***½

03-28-2003 - Usually, I know whether I like a movie or not before it’s even over -- sometimes long before. But I had to think about this one a bit. And after a while, I decided that I liked it a lot.

Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson star as lifelong pals who share a vision of the world that’s not quite in line with that of “normal” people. The movie begins as they finish high school and try to decide what to do next. The girls are sharp observers of other people, imagining the horrible secrets that lurk behind their facades. Enid (Birch) draws sketches and cartoons to document the pair’s biting observations. When an opportunity arises to torment a lonely man (Steve Buscemi), the girls leap into it with enthusiasm. The rest of the film follows them as they pursue self-discovery following their prank.

(Heaven help me, I’m starting to sound like a friggin’ film critic -- or as they like to call themselves, aficionados of the cinema. “Pursue self-discovery” indeed. Gag me with Good ‘N’ Plentys!)

Let’s start over.

OK, this movie is based on a comic book, and it has Steve Buscemi in it -- he always improves any movie he’s in. It has 78-rpm blues records, a nunchuck-wielding convenience store patron, a Forrest Gump-alike, pretentious art snobs, latex headgear from a pornography shop, and a pair of pants apparently glued to the sidewalk. It also has Bob Balaban, Teri Garr, and absolutely the most wonderful and energetic 1960s Indian Big Band Masked-Hippie skirt-frill-shakin’ dance number you will ever see (--from Gumnaam--). Even if you don’t understand the language of the song (Hindi, I’m guessing), you’ll still want to sing along.

The film’s characters are wonderfully drawn and rich. Even those with very few lines provide memorable moments that remind you of people you know in your own life. Teri Garr expresses more with a little bit of eyebrow movement than Al Pacino can do in an entire script full of scenery chewing. (No, I’m not kidding. There are some damn fine performances here.) I’m quite certain that there will be moments from this movie that will pop back into my mind at some point in the future, much they way the urge to say “nee” to old women does. And though I’m still unable to really tell you how the movie made me feel, there’s no doubt it has made me spend time thinking about it. And there’s no doubt that I can recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind an interesting journey into the quirky world of intelligent outsiders.

Oh, and one more thing... despite the title, the movie doesn’t have a single ghost in it, nor anyone remotely resembling Patrick Swayze. Sorry.    [Back to Top]


Gumnaam  (1965)  ***½

04-01-2003 - I don’t usually review (or even watch, for that matter) foreign, subtitled, murder mysteries from the mid-60s, but this is the movie that gave us the masked hippie dance sequence that was so much fun in Ghost World. I couldn’t find it to rent, but it turns out that one of my ex-wife’s friends had a copy of it. (I’ll leave it to you to speculate about the mental health of someone who would actually own this...I’m not saying anything.)

The movie is an Indian adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” (no, I’m not doing the obvious Indian joke here...), though I suspect Dame Agatha would roll over in her grave if she saw what they did to it. (The theme music alone would be enough to start her spinning, I’m sure.) Here are some direct quotes from the DVD box:  

After a crash land the pilot Manoj Kumar and the other passengers find themselves on a marooned island. They find a deserted haveli but are surprised to meet a servant Mehmood who says that he was waiting for them. With no aid coming to their rescue they are trapped there and worse is that the killer is also there.

Despite the fact that I’m not sure what a “haveli” is, nor how an island can be marooned, I can certainly appreciate their creative disregard for punctuation.

Though I have no idea what “Gumnaam” is, I did enjoy the dancing and even the first 27 minutes of the theme song that is sung over and over again by some mysterious off-camera minstrel. (I don’t think I’m giving away too much to disclose that the mysterious singer turns out to be the butler’s mentally-challenged sister, who is also living in the “deserted” haveli. They don’t bother to explain what the hell she is doing there, why she creeps out into the woods to sing the song to the lost travelers, nor where she hides the band members who apparently accompany her on these stealthy outings.)

I also enjoyed the Annette Funicello-style beach blanket dance number that one of the women performs during a lull in the murdering. But I was a bit confused by the nonchalance with which the characters deal with the grizzly deaths of their companions. Sure, any one of us could be killed any second now, but let’s eat dinner, drink some whiskey, and smoke cigars!

In Christie’s book, the not-yet-killed people at least try to figure out who is killing them, and why. Perhaps the Hindu religion provides a more fatalistic view of the world, or more comfort about the possibility of passing from this mortal life. Even so, though, I’d think they’d at least be curious. But no, it’s off we go to make out in the dark caves down by the beach -- we’ll just ignore the guy stalking us with the bloody pickaxe.

Still, I thought it was a watchable film. You get a taste of 1960s Indian filmmaking, and some scenes of some very interesting British-influenced Asian architecture. The butler is a pretty funny guy; he has a Beatle haircut that’s even worse than the one my dad gave me when I was 12. He wears one of the most hideous T-shirts you’ve ever seen, as well as some sort of skirt that I suspect he made out of a leftover tablecloth, and does tricks with the serving trays. Everybody smokes constantly, and the token horny drunk guy swigs from his hip flask in every single scene (though he’d have obviously drained its contents before the plane even goes down). If you can just get over your oh-so-American expectation that the characters should be worried about the murderer among them, you might actually enjoy this.    [Back to Top]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  (2002)  ***

05-19-2003 - I'm a muggle, I'll admit it. And even if I were invited to attend Hogwart's, I doubt that I would. It seems to be a dreary place, with all sorts of ill-mannered flora and fauna lurking about, and not a single representative of the Fashion Police. (Somebody send them some shampoo, please!)

Oh well. I'm sure I'll be accused of blasphemy and end up being stoned by billions of J.K. Rowling fans, but I'm afraid I just don't get it. There's something wrong when the best use you can think of for John Cleese is to have him float by holding his head under his arm. Ho hum. C'mon, this is the Minister of Funny Walks we're talking about --

Sure, the kids are cute, the effects are well done, and the wizards' world is vividly brought to life. But I just have trouble caring. This plot had something to do with a giant snake in the sewer systems being activated by a guy who not only lives inside a book, but has a name that sounds like something that would grow on stale cheese. There's nonstop action, including giant spiders (WAY bigger than the ones collected by the Croc Hunter), flying cars, pile-driving trees, and a crappy knockoff of Gollum who whines a lot. But I did wonder why the school administration knew about the snake for hundreds of years and never once bothered to call an exterminator. (They were probably confident that one of the ten-year-olds would take care of it after it ate a few of his friends. Maybe they're right, but that's not an attitude that works toward boosting your enrollment, now, is it?)

If you're already a rabid Potter fan, then hey, go ahead and lose yourself in this fantabulous display of the mystic arts. But if you aren't part of that crowd, you'll probably find yourself thinking that while these folks claim to be the greatest wizards ever, Obi Wan Kenobe could lick the whole lot of 'em with one light saber tied behind his back.   [Back to Top]


Holes  (2003)  ****

04-20-2003 - My son tells me that the book was better than the movie, but since I haven’t read it, I’ve got to take the movie for what it was...and I liked it a lot. The publicity calls it a kids’ movie, but as I often do with kids’ movies, I found it to be quite moving on a number of levels.

Let’s start with the silly stuff: Stanley Yelnats IV is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. (Stanley is played by Shia La Beouf. As horrid of a name as Stanley Yelnats is, I think I’d prefer it to Shia La Beouf...by a wide margin.) Stanley III (Henry Winkler) is constantly cooking shoes in order to find a cure for stinky feet. The entire family believes that there is a curse on the family as a result of an ancestor’s broken promise to a voodoo priestess (or gypsy or something), played by Eartha Kitt, my third favorite Catwoman.

If having a shoe cook for a father isn’t bad enough, young Stanley gets sent to a child labor camp, where each day he must dig one large hole in order to “build character”. The camp is run by Sigourney Weaver and discipline is enforced by Jon Voight. (Even when she’s unrelentingly evil, I still can’t help but like Weaver. Sigh.) Voight’s character is having a bad hair decade, as are most of the kids imprisoned in the camp. And of course, they all exert plenty of energy into tormenting Stanley upon his arrival.

From there, the movie does a great job of weaving in multiple storylines. There’s the story of Stanley’s alleged crime, the story of the family curse, and a historical tale of love, racial prejudice, and the consequences of greed. There’s even a little bit of mysticism thrown in, along with deadly spotted lizards and lots and lots of hot, sweaty, dirt shoveling. By the end of the movie, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a Cool Hand Luke-style prison drama, an adaptation of a Shakespeare morality play, or a mutant stepchild of Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter -- but I certainly knew that I enjoyed it, and was touched by its emotions.

Now I guess I need to read the book — it’s even better, ya know...    [Back to Top]


The Hudsucker Proxy  (1994)  ***½

12-08-2003 - Yeah, there's a title that was designed to attract people into the theater...

Here's the lowdown: The Hudsucker Corporation is a gigantic manufacturing concern, named for its founder and President, who gets the plot rolling by dying shortly after the movie opens. What the company manufactured to become gigantic is never made clear, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that the big guy's stock will go on the open market soon, and the company will be under uncontrolled ownership -- unless the Board can find some way to drive the stock price down to a level at which they, themselves, can afford to buy it.

Led by Paul Newman's character, the selfish Board comes up with a surefire plan to drive public confidence into the toilet. They pick a sure-fire loser to perform as their "proxy"; the interim President. But there wouldn't be much of a movie if the plan ran smoothly, now, would there?

In addition to Newman, the cast includes Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Mahoney, Charles Durning, Bruce Campbell, Bill Cobbs, and Jim True. There are also cameos by Peter Gallagher, Noble Willingham, Anna Nicole Smith, Steve Buscemi, and co-writer Sam Raimi. The producer and director are Ethan and Joel Coen, which leads you to expect something a bit unusual.

Despite the fact that I haven't liked much of Tim Robbins' work, and am baffled by his pinhead politics, I had a great time watching this movie. Though it's set in the late 1950s, it has a much earlier feel -- with set design reminiscent of the 20s, dialog reminiscent of the 40s, and product fad plot elements from the 60s. No matter, its obvious affection for the work of these eras is evident, and should delight any serious fan of old-tyme stuff.

There are moments that pay homage to "The Front Page", "It's a Wonderful Life", "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", and even "Metropolis". And I don't think I'd be giving anything away by mentioning that the closing credits pay tribute to the Wham-O company as a true American Success story.

The performances of Leigh and Mahoney as hard-boiled newspaper folk are memorable. You know they did their homework before they came on the set. And you should keep your eyes open for other little nods to the past within the set design, signage, and supporting cast performances.

If you have a genuine affection for "classic" cinema, and don't mind stylized acting and quirkiness, then you should definitely see this movie. If you are one of those folks who can only stomach creativity from the last couple of decades, then you'll probably find it a bit annoying. It wasn't quite quirky enough to be great, but I certainly did enjoy it.   [Back to Top]


The Hulk  (2003)  ***½

06-27-2003 - You know, I like him a lot better when he's angry...

You know the plot -- Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a loner scientist studying cell regeneration, when a lab accident soaks him in Gamma Rays. He seems to be OK, but every now and then he swells up, turns green, and starts smashing stuff.

There are some new twists here -- the movie's Banner is a much darker character than Bill Bixby's affable & heroic underdog; and as big as Lou Ferrigno is, this Hulk is, like, WAY bigger. (Ferrigno appears, by the way, in a rather distracting cameo with Marvel genius Stan Lee.) They also introduce Bruce's scientist father, and we find out how Bruce's early family life contributed to his tendency to, uh, shall we say, expand.

It takes a while, though, before we even get to witness the first Hulkalization. We are allowed to explore the depth of the characters for quite some time before the action and special effects take over. (Translation: don't take young kids to see this film. During the show, several bored pre-teens were wandering around the theatre and talking since they didn't care about the drama on the screen. Why their parents didn't tell them to sit down and shut up is a question for another forum...)

Though I did look at my watch a couple of times during the first hour, I rather enjoyed the relationship interplay. But let's face it, what we really want to see is the big guy smashing stuff. And he does...my goodness, he does.

The previews made the CG special effects look rather cheesy, but for the most part, they were quite impressive. The Hulk's face was fantastically well-done, and his muscles and movements looked real to me. OK, there were a couple of instances (hint: mutant irradiated poodle) where I was reminded that this was not a documentary, but there were other times when I was right there in the action. The tank battle was great fun, and Hulk's interaction with his girlfriend was... well, it was beautiful.

Girlfriend, you ask? Well, sort of. Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) used to date Bruce, you see, and still cares for him, even when he's in his gamma-mutated form. Of course, she also happens to be the daughter of the blood n' guts Army general (Sam Elliott) who's in charge of handling hulk-related problems -- so naturally there's some tension within that family relationship. And guess what? We also get to spend some time thinking about Bruce's relationship with his ol' daddy. Really makes you think about your own family dynamics.

Well, except for the fact that your family issues probably don't center around a tank-tossing behemoth who's the color of a cumcumber. Probably.

There were a couple of scenes that could've been cut. For example, the Nick Nolte factor was way too high -- and the entire electro-rock-monster-puddle creature fight toward the end could've been left out without hurting anything. And if you are squeamish about things like exploding frogs, well, you might want to skip this film.

Don't expect a whole lot of realistic science, either. Sure, they use a lot of current, hip, genetic research terminology, but they never even try to explain the magic stretch fiber that allows his underwear to expand to 50 times its regular size without breaking. Maybe those're special scientist pants that allow for the redneck jocks to perform Atomic Wedgies on the poindexters without causing permanent damage...I don't know.

They also don't bother to explain how no one seems to be hurt when the Army base goes up in a green mushroom cloud. Nor why the 40,000 cops surrounding Nolte allow him to rant and rave for so long without putting a few explosive rounds into his really, really bad hair-do. Or why Connelly's bullyish ex-boyfriend thinks its a good idea to lock himself in a room with a guy who's been known to throw really LARGE tantrums. Oh well. All the high-quality smashing, bashing, and jumping around easily make up for these oversights.

Eric Bana plays the Bruce Banner part well, though I had a couple of moments where he reminded me of Flashdance's Michael Nouri -- but of course, that's not his fault. And I enjoyed Elliott's performance as General Ross. And as I said in my review of A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly just keeps getting better and better. When she's on the screen, I swear the ambient temperature in the theater goes up. I know I promised Heather Locklear that I would adore her forever, but I'm afraid that she'll now have to settle for second place in my "favorite actress" category.

Some folks will be put off by the split screen techniques, and by fact that regardless of strength, some of those jumps seem to defy the laws of physics -- but you gotta remember, this is a comic book. A thoughtful, sometimes brooding and introspective comic book, but a comic book nonetheless. I'm not sure I'd use the word "fun" to describe the movie, but I did come out of the theater feeling pretty good about the experience. If you're over 14, you probably ought to check it out.     [Back to Top]


Iron Monkey  (1993)  ****

In the TV series “Kung Fu”, David Carradine played a Shaolin priest who moved to California to beat up rednecks while ostensibly looking for his long-lost brother. Iron Monkey is set in the same general time frame, and may explain the real story behind Carradine’s flight to America...he’d have gotten his butt kicked if he’d have stayed in China.

Oh, yeah, this movie has plenty of Shaolin priests flying all over the place. The least competent one of them could totally kung the fu out of 25 or 30 David Carradines. But guess what? These super-fighting priests are rank amateurs compared to the Iron Monkey. This guy has some serious skills. Sure, Kwai Chang Caine could kick a pistol out of a sullen cowboy’s hand, all right, but the Iron Monkey can jump over a building, kick 37 guys in the face, pick the governor’s pocket, comfort a crying baby, and then eat a tuna sandwich... all before landing on the ground after his original leap.

I guess I’d better explain his name. He isn’t really a monkey, and he isn’t made out of iron. He’s actually a mild-mannered herbologist who dispenses ginseng root among the impoverished locals by day, and then beats the snot out of corrupt government officials by night. And, of course, he’s doing it to help the oppressed and downtrodden. In other words, he’s the Robin Hood of mid-1800s southern China.

Why call himself “Iron Monkey”? Dunno. Why choose the name “Robin Hood” or “Zorro” or the “Scarlet Pumpernickle”? Maybe he was thinking along the same lines as Batman in choosing a symbol that strikes terror into the hearts of his enemy. Except since there aren’t any bats in that part of China, he had to go with a more recognizable local symbol. Or maybe he was drunk when he thought up the name. Who knows?

Don’t get the idea that he dresses like a monkey, throws a “banana-rang”, or wears a cape with a monkey symbol on it. Nor does the local equivalent of Commissioner Gordon use a giant spotlight to illuminate the clouds with a stylized Monkey Signal. No, his costume consists of a simple bandana wrapped around the lower half of his face. A simple and elegant solution to keeping his identity secret...much like Clark Kent’s brilliant “glasses” disguise.

His assistant, the beautiful Miss Orchid, also fights like a demon and disguises herself well. At one point, she tapes a scraggly moustache on her upper lip, and none of the government officials suspect she’s anything but another one of the guys.

There’s plenty to like here. I won’t go into detail, but there’s a young boy who beats up about 27 adults, a guy whose empty shirtsleeves can knock down concrete pillars, use of the secret and deadly Poison Buddha Palm technique, and numerous references to delightful food such as shark fin soup and fresh monkey brains. And the fight scene on top of the 30-foot-high burning tent poles is sure to delight any martial arts fan.

If you liked “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, you’ll appreciate the nonstop flying, spinning, and chopping action. And if you like guys who shave the front half of their head and let the back hair grow long, you’ll appreciate the film’s fashion sense as well. And if you’re Kwai Chang Caine, you’ll just be glad you got the hell out of China when you did.   [Back to Top]


Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter  (2001)  **

06-05-2003 - Man, with a killer title like that, how could you go wrong? The material writes itself. Take a resurrected Savior, arm him with wooden stakes and kung fu skills, lend him the assistance of Mexico's favorite masked wresting star, then set the two heroes on the trail of ex-clerics and lesbians who've turned vamp, and you've got box office gold, right?

Wrong. Sorry, but this movie is a piece of crap, and is not worth seeing. Now, don't get me wrong...I purely love the concept of Christ whupping ass on some of the evil un-dead, but this cast and crew are not the ones to pull it off.

I have two major criticisms:

1) The fight scenes are abysmal. I made better kung fu films when I was in high school in the 1970's. Seriously. The camera angles were wrong (clearly showing how far the punches missed), and the editing left in far too many frames of people standing still waiting for the shot to begin. Heck, my 13-year-old son could easily choreograph more interesting combat footage. I've seen some horrid kung fu garbage, but this is the worst.

 2) They completely wasted the rich and fertile subject of the protagonist's divinity. Oh, there were a few references to the subject (the Virgin Mary speaking to Jesus through a glowing plastic figurine, for example), but they were lame and lifeless. The fun promised by the film's title simply fails to come to life.

Those are just the main flaws. The acting reeks (yes, I did better in high school, etc etc.), the dialog is tedious, and the lesbians aren't even lesbi-licious. I suppose the vampire fang makeup is passable, and there's a wild-eyed narrator who puts an awful lot of apocalyptic fervor into his rambling incoherence, but Jesus himself is a lackluster dud. If fact, I found it rather disturbing that the first thing he did following the opening shot that established his return to the mortal coil was to go get a haircut and a shave. The result is that for the rest of the movie, the Son of God looks like a shorter and dorkier version of the guy who plays "Jack" on "Will and Grace".

If somebody wants to put up the funding, I'll get my old high school crew together, hire my son to block the fight scenes, and we'll remake this into the classic epic it should have been. Just send me a check and we'll be all over it, OK?  [Back to Top]


The Kid With X-Ray Eyes  (1999)  **½

05-31-2003 - If you were expecting a Haley Joel Osment remake of the chilling Ray Milland classic, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, well, forget it. That movie dealt with heavy themes such as the lure of power, the curse of greed, and the question of man's place in the universe. This movie deals with beach bums, incompetent law enforcement, and a lifeguard who keeps 24-hour vigil over a stretch of rocky shoreline that couldn't possibly be used for swimming. Sigh.

Aimed squarely at six-year olds, this film probably hits its target. Seven-year-olds and their elders will be scratching their heads in puzzlement trying to figure out why the writers didn't put any more effort into their effort.

Robert Carradine (the head geek from "Revenge of the Nerds") stars as Uncle Chuck, a Special Ops war hero who made a fortune from software, and then retired to annoy the locals as a beach bum. Justin Berfield ("Reese" from TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") does a pretty good job of playing the boy who wants to be a spy, but trust me, he's gotten better as he's gotten older. The rest of the parts are oddly cast, which could've been charming under the influence of a decent script, but here only serve to add to the viewer's general puzzlement.

For example, the local cop is played by a guy that would be perfectly cast as a burnt-out wino, the "beautiful" spy chick is played by somebody's mother, and the federal agent is played by a cut-rate Bob Saget wannabe. But the one that bothered me the most was Griffin Drew as the lifeguard, who I figure had to be the director's girlfriend, cuz she sure wasn't the Baywatch material they acted like she ought to be.

Anyway, don't bother writing to tell me I'm too harsh...after all, it's a kid's movie. OK, fine, but let's tick off some fine points.

  1. The kid doesn't have X-Ray eyes at all. He finds a pair of top-secret X-ray vision goggles. The fate of the Free World rests upon which side possesses these powerful weapons, so the government sends one incompetent doofus to retrieve them. (Actually considering the incompetent doofuses, er, doofi, working for the forces of evil, maybe additional agents weren't really considered necessary.) The kid and his uncle use the goggles to see peoples' underwear, and neither the Free World, nor the Forces of Evil can stand for that sort of abuse of power.
  2. The goggles apparently have a focal length adjustment that you fiddle with until you can see through precisely the right number of clothing layers. When the kid first puts them on, he sees his uncle's skeleton (which happens to be the kind you buy at the dimestore on Halloween), but by the time he's ogling middle-aged waitresses, he has it set to see her undies, by golly. (If you had 'em set to "undies", wouldn't you tweak that knob just a little bit? Wouldn't you?) Later, he uses them to see through walls so he can rescue his uncle, but isn't quite smart enough to realize that he could navigate the hallways better if he took 'em off for just a sec as he wandered around bumping into stuff.
  3. The agents of Evil are an overacting ham female and a near-catatonic southerner. (Actually, I kinda liked the touch of giving him an accent. That was OK.) They try numerous times to kill everybody, and are supposed to be utterly ruthless, yet can't quite seem to get the job done. But all that's pretty standard for kid spy movies...what puzzled me was that the Evil Lord was trying so hard to imitate Kurt Jurgens, and his supposedly Arab Terrorist buddy was played by a guy who looked like the closest he'd ever come to the Middle East was when he put on a turban for a wrestling match at the Fargo Corn-Dome.

Of course, everything comes out OK in the end. (No, I'm not giving it away...you already knew that; admit it.) The beach bum winds up with the lifeguard bimbette, the Sheriff bags the baddies, and the G-Man goes off to try out for host of "America's Most Moderately Amusing Home Videos". The goggles are returned to the NSA, And the kid promises to visit Uncle Chuck every single year. Awwww.   [Back to Top]


A Knight’s Tale  (2001)  ****

Warning: if you require your medieval movies to faithfully conform to accepted notions of how people behaved back then (e.g., saying “prithee” and “zounds” while playing fifes and lutes and stuff), you’re going to be disappointed. This movie has jousting-match spectators chanting “We will, we will...Rock You!” and fair damsels dancing to David Bowie. Not everyone will feel comfortable with this mutated take on the time-honored tradition of upstart peasant punks kicking the crap out of stuffy nobles. But I really enjoyed it.

And before I get deeply into the required reviewer role of describing plot elements and acting performances, let me say that the “bonus scenes” on the DVD were actually worth watching for once. Helps put it all in perspective, and answers the age-old question of “How the heck would you stage a joust without killing any of your stunt people?”

The plot is pretty standard. A young squire dons the armor of a knight who isn’t able to finish a jousting competition (because he has begun to decompose from the unfortunate situation of being dead). The squire kid gets a rush from competing, cuz, after all, he’s always wanted to be a knight. So what if no one of peasant origins has ever been allowed to become a helmet-headed sword swinger? His poor dying pappy told him that he could be a knight if he wanted, so to hell with the law of the land and hundreds of years of tradition. He finds Geoffrey Chaucer (yeah, that Canterbury tales guy), gets him to forge up some noble ancestry papers, and presto, lowly Mr. Squire has suddenly become Good Sir Knight.

Though he’s English and his name is William, he calls himself Sir Ulrich Von Rastafarian (or something like that), and tells everybody he’s from Gelderland (which I think is the same place Andre the Giant was from in “The Princess Bride”). The kid is played by Heath Ledger, and while I’m normally quite suspicious of anyone named after a toffee candy bar and an accounting workbook, I actually thought he did a pretty good job. He was not as memorable as the supporting cast, though, led by a rabble-rousing Chaucer (Paul Bettany from “A Beautiful Mind”), who whips the spectators into a frenzy with his All Star Wrestling approach to competitor introductions. The two squires who don’t get to dress up as knights (but instead have to take care of their former peer’s wardrobe, etc.) are also charming. They’re played by Mark Addy (the chubby guy from “The Full Monty”) and Alan Tudyk.

Even the bad guy is appealing. And so’s the Prince, and the bad guy’s herald, too. For me, the least appealing character in the film is William’s love interest, the mysterious and bitchy Jocelyn. I personally thought that both her maidservant and (if you can believe it) the blacksmith were more attractive than she was. In fact, the whole romance plotline was rather silly. William wants her, as far as we can tell, only because she is pretty. (Did I mention that she’s a bit of a bitch?) Now, I like pretty women a lot, and I think being beautiful is definitely a good thing for a woman to do... but if I’m going to trot out at her bidding and get bloody whomped by a 12-foot pole at 20 mph on the back of a stinking horse while wearing a cast-iron jock strap...well, she’d better have something else going for her than her looks. And she’d better be nice to me.

Anyway, he likes her because she’s beautiful (and possibly because he is amused by her abominably stupid hats and a wardrobe that no one else on earth will possess until the 1920s in Hollywood). She likes him because...well, hell, I have no idea. Because he’s cute, in a Y2K kind of way? Because he’s good with a 12-foot stick, and she’s easily swayed by Freudian imagery? I dunno.

It’s OK, though. The use of BTO on the soundtrack makes up for a lame romance. And you can never get enough slo-mo shots of shards of shattered lance fluttering in the air while the blow’s recipient wobbles in the saddle like Foster Brooks on New Year’s eve. Sure, the movie could’ve used some knights who say “nee”, or maybe a couple of light saber duels, but still, it ended up providing a couple of hours of fun. It might even be the best Chaucer-based rock ‘n’ roll jousting movie ever made.   [Back to Top]


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen  (2003)  **

02-25-2004 - I love ideas like this; take a bunch of oddball characters from Victorian Literature and team them up to fight the forces of Evil. You've got manly men like Allan Quatermain and a grown-up Tom Sawyer, the transportation genius of Captain Nemo, the sneakiness of the Invisible Man, the brute strength of Mr. Hyde, the magical invulnerability of Dorian Gray, and to keep the men interested, an icily attractive female vampire. Throw in Sean Connery as Quatermain, and lots of special effects, and you should have a real winner on your hands, right?

Sadly, no. I've got no complaints with the idea, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Here are my hints to you future action film directors:

1. Pay attention to the characters. These are some interesting people you're working with, here. Give us something more than clichés. (For an example of how eclectic characters, should be done, see Mystery Men.)

2. Back off on the special effects. Hyde was interesting, if a bit cheesy, and flying girl vampires are seldom boring, but when there are too many explosions to even tell what's blowing up, you've gone too far. (And what makes you think we're going to believe a submarine the size of the Cleveland sneaking unnoticed through the canals of Venice? C'mon.)

3. Get the editor some decaf. When it feels like the fight scenes are being cut two or three times within a single frame, well, you're just chopping it up too much. Oh, sure, I understand that frenetic cutting adds to the viewer's sense of tension, but in this case he's likely to be tense because he has NO IDEA what the hell is going on.

Now, I'm the first to admit that the experience might have been quite different in a big-screen theatre, rather than watching it on my tiny little TV screen. But I suspect I still would've had trouble understanding the muddled dialog and one-dimensional plot. I suspect that no matter how large the screen, I still wouldn't care about these wooden characters and their passionless pursuit of a boring cardboard villain. Yawn.

And in case no one noticed, they weren't even all gentlemen.  [Back to Top]


Little Voice  (1998)  **½

04-03-2003 - In my English Literature classes in college, I learned that there are specific definitions for the genres of literature. A tragedy is a work in which the main character dies in a horrible and depressing way, and a comedy is, well... anything else. As long as somebody survives, well, laugh it up, man. While these definitions might be just peachy for describing crap like Shakespeare and Tolstoy, I think we need different definitions for works of today’s popular culture.

Little Voice is described as a “musical comedy”. OK, I’ll admit that there is some music, and I might have laughed at something, but that’s not enough in my book. I don’t think I should feel depressed at the end of a comedy.

I rather liked the idea of the movie. A painfully shy girl (Jane Horrocks) doesn’t talk much, but instead listens to old Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey records. When a nightclub promoter (Michael Caine) learns that she can flawlessly imitate the performances from these records, he sinks every penny he has (and some that he doesn’t) into promoting her. The only problem is that she doesn’t want to perform -- did I mention that she’s painfully shy? -- and in fact, can only sing when her dead father makes an appearance to watch.

A young telephone repairman (Ewan McGregor) meets her, and decides he likes her almost as much as he likes pigeons. Though taunted by the girl’s mother, he tries to get her to come out of her shell. (His name is Bill, so Mom calls him “Phone Bill”, get it? Ha ha. Oops, I just gave away the one joke in the movie. Sorry.)

Well, so far so good. And the scenes where she does sing are quite enjoyable. (Horrocks performs the superstar impersonations with excellence.) I also found her character (they call her Little Voice) to be cute and likeable. So why didn’t I like the movie? Well, because everyone else in the movie is overly mean and nasty, the house (and her record collection) burns up, they curse too much, nobody is better off at the end than they were at the start, and nothing gets resolved. She does get to hang out at McGregor’s pigeon pen, but is that really a good thing? I’ve been around pigeons and I don’t think so.

I am looking forward to seeing more of Jane Horrocks, but I’m going to be very suspicious of anything labeled as a comedy (unless it has Leslie Nielsen in it).     [Back to Top]


Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers  (2002)  **½

I read Tolkien’s trilogy during the final days of college life. Hopelessly shy and unable to get a date, I had nothing better to do than spend hours and hours reading about Middle Earth and its heroic denizens. In fact, I actually finished “The Two Towers” while on the bus en route to my Army induction physical (see my 1/7/03 blog for details).

I proudly admit that I am a nerd of the highest magnitude. I even own a vinyl copy of Leonard Nimoy’s album that contains “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” (which has one of the finest folk bassoon solos ever recorded). And I know I’m risking wrath (or should I say “wraiths”) from myriad Tolkien fans when I say this, but…in my opinion, Tolkien’s books pretty much suck. Too many weird names, too much extraneous detail, and not nearly enough seductive elfin women.

To really create an epic struggle between good and evil, you need a good villain. Darth Vader, for example, or Oddjob, or even Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. The Two Towers has… an eyeball. Oooh, I’m so scared. (All right, I’ll admit that the eyeball is made out of flames, which should make it more scary. But every time I saw it I just wanted to shout, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”) I like Christopher Lee, but in this film he looked more like Jesus than a mad wizard. Besides, there were just too many people whose names sound alike: Sauron, Sarumon, Sally Struthers, etc.

Most of the makeup ideas were taken straight out of old “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes, the same way Buck Rogers used those old Battlestar Gallactica models. The one exception was Gollum, who represents the most spectacular computer animation I’ve seen up to this point. He was pretty cool.

And, yes, I did like the anthropomorphic trees (though they made me think of FAO Schwartz for some reason). And I again found myself wondering just how tall John Rhys-Davies really is. But the orcs were boring, and the knightlike human warriors even more so. Not a single one of them had a razor-edged bowler hat they could fling at the enemy.

I actually fell asleep during a couple of the long battle sequences. When we left the theatre, I mentioned my boredom to my wife. Her jaw dropped and she said, “What are you talking about? That was a GREAT movie!”

Over the next hour, she worked hard to convince me of the film’s quality, with partial success. Yes, the dwarf did provide comic relief (though not nearly enough). And yes, the mountains were pretty – but hell, I live in Colorado and can just look out the window and see that sort of beauty. We disagreed on the romance…she thought it was sweet, and I thought “Huh? There was romance?”

Bottom line is this: great special effects supporting a rather dull story featuring lackluster characters and wooden acting. Hobbits that don’t look like what hobbits are supposed to look like (no fur on the feet), and wizards who don’t do much wizzing. (I’d put Charleton Heston’s staff up against Gandalf’s any day, if you’d like to make a sporting wager.) If you’re a Tolkien fan, you’ll probably love it. If you’re indifferent about Tolkien, then I guess it’ll depend on how much rest you got the night before. If you hate Tolkien, then spend your money on “Star Wars” movies, instead.

(This has nothing to do with the movie, but I’m thinking that the Fox network might be interested…how about a Celebrity Animated Characters boxing match– Gollum vs. Jar Jar Binks? Hey, it’s gotta be better than “Survivor – Washed Up Losers Edition”, doncha think?) [Back to Top]


Men With Brooms  (2002)  ***

06-01-2003 - You may have seen Paul Gross on his short TV series "Due South". He played a Canadian, and gosh, here he is doing it again. (What? He actually is Canadian? How 'bout that?)

I probably saw that show once or twice, and had pretty much forgotten anything I had known about Gross. All through this movie, I kept saying to myself, "Gosh, he looks familiar", but I couldn't catalog what was ringing my bell. Finally, it hit me -- he was a perfect cross between Patrick Wayne and Larry Hagman. I'm more or less ambivalent about Hagman, but Wayne has been in two of my favorite movies (he's good in Big Jake, and he's perfect in Rustler's Rhapsody).

Anyway, this movie was promoted as being a spoof of sports movies, featuring Leslie Nielsen and the uproarious sport of curling. Well, it's got curling, and it's got Nielsen, but it's much more serious than the previews made it look.

OK, the plot sounds like perfect spoof material. Dead curling coach wants his ashes embedded in a "stone", so that his former team can re-unite and use his remains as an inspiration to win the "Golden Broom" championship. The team consists of a drug-addled womanizer, a guy desperate to father a child, a henpecked cuckold, and the captain who has never recovered from having cheated in a previous championship attempt. And Nielsen is their coach, who also happens to be a mind-altering illegal mushroom farmer.

Yes, there are some amusing moments, but this is not slapstick or farce. You've also got subplots with an estranged father and son, a jilted female astronaut and her jealous sister, a "Lloyd Bridges in Airplane" rink announcer, a lesbian cop, and mob enforcer on the rampage, and true love with a pretty lady of minimal intellectual talents. And then there's the curling match itself.

I was hoping to learn something about the sport of curling. It certainly inspires passion from our brothers across the northern border, but very few Yanks have a clue what goes on in a match. Unfortunately, this movie does little to enlighten us. Yes, the music builds at the appropriate moments within the competition, and there are plenty of shots of determined faces and sliding hunks of granite, but the rules of the game remain a mystery.

Still, I liked the movie. It was entertaining. I liked Molly Parker, who plays the jealous sister, and I liked Polly Shannon as the dimwitted beauty. And it was a nice reminder that Leslie Nielsen was a highly regarded dramatic actor before his comedy took off. In fact, I'd say the entire cast evoked memorable characters. I'd have preferred a little lighter tone, and a bit more sports education, a bit less of the unnecessary adult themes, etc., but I'll still say it was a good flick.

But the main thing it did was make me want to pull out Rustler's Rhapsody.  [Back to Top]


Monsters, Inc.  (2001)  *****

I'm not generally a fan of movies that depend on a cute child to capture your heart and provide lots of “ahhh” moments. In fact, if there’s going to be a baby in a movie, I’d usually prefer that a major plot element centers around when the Dingo eats it. But I really enjoyed Monsters, Inc., despite the fact that no babies get eaten at all.

The graphics are spectacular. You know, the kind that make your jaw drop today, but that you’ll be able to do on your home PC in about 2 years. I am especially impressed by how lifelike the monsters’ fur is. And they did a delightful job in rendering the characters’ facial expressions. (Check out how they use one eyebrow to simulate a two-eyebrow expression. Fantastic!)

But what makes the movie is its heart. I try not to admit in public that I’m such a sentimental sap, but...I am. These are characters that you can care about. And each one has a distinct and sharply drawn personality. This is outstanding writing, and an outstanding effort by the actors and animators to breathe real life into their creations. And the entire premise is fresh and, well, delightful.

You’ll want to see this more than once.   [Back to Top]


Mumford  (1999)  ***

Here’s a twist...the hero of this movie is a former IRS agent. I’ve always personally admired IRS agents and wondered when they were going to make a film where one is the star. There could be many exciting scenes involving account balancing and auditing and research into tax codes, and ZZZzzzz.

Oh, sorry, lost it there for a sec. Anyway, the sad fact is that Mumford has very few IRS-oriented scenes, dang it. Turns out that this dude has given up the awesome respect and prestige of IRS work and is pretending to be (gulp!) a psychologist. Played by Loren Dean (a sort of Charles Grodin clone), he’s a charming guy who makes friends easily and is highly trusted by his clients. Problem is, he doesn’t have any training in psychology at all. He’s just faking it.

Unhampered by the ethical concerns that burden real psychologists, he’s free to buy dirty magazines for one client, talk another one (Jason Lee) into seducing the local restaurant owner (Alfre Woodard), and to fall in love with the daughter of the guy who used to work for Squad 51 (Kevin Tighe*). He gets to see a secret laboratory where Lee is trying to create an anatomically correct mechanical love doll, play matchmaker for a couple of slacker gothic teens, and convince a pervert pharmacist to pursue a woman who is obsessive about buying useless crap from upscale catalog stores.

Yes, the story is quirky, and yes, it’s rather charming. It’s one of those films that I felt rather ambivalent about as the final credits rolled...but after a couple of days have come to appreciate. I liked it. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy a little quirkiness now and then, you might want to give this one a try.

*Remember when Gage and DeSoto talked with Rampart Base, they were always told to administer 50cc’s of D-5-W? I always assumed that D-5-W was some sort of mysterious miracle drug, like acetylsalicylic acid or dilithium crystals. Turns out that it’s simply a 5% solution of dextrose in water -- sugar water. They could’ve just as easily said, “Squad 51, like, give the dude a Coke, man.”

Thought you'd like to know.
   [Back to Top]


Mystery Men  (1999)  *****

06-01-2003 - This movie contains several of the greatest lines every written, including the classic "When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your opponents with a balanced attack." Good stuff.

Yes, this is one of the greatest films ever made. Well, it is if you have the sort of sense of humor that I do. You'll either love it, or you'll scratch your head wondering what's wrong with me, and anyone else who liked it. If it's the latter, well, I feel sorry for you that you weren't able to soak up the joy in this delightful movie.

In addition to the sharp and clever writing, this epic features excellent performances from an all-star cast. William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, and Ben Stiller play a trio of superheroes who, quite frankly, have been struggling a little in their ongoing battles against evil. They try, but their powers just don't seem to measure up to the those of the town's most popular hero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear).

What's he got that our trio does not, you ask? Well, he can fly, kick, and punch with power and competence. Macy's power is extraordinary skill in manipulating a shovel, Azaria flings silverware, and Stiller's "Mr. Furious" basically just gets angry.

When the beloved Captain Amazing is held hostage by supervillain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), the friends seek other heroes to help in their rescue operation. They recruit Janene Garofolo (who wields a bowling ball containing the skull and spirit of her dead father), Paul Reubens (who can issue potent flatulence upon command), and Kel Mitchell (who claims that he can become invisible, as long as no one is watching). They all join together under the tutelage of the mysterious Sphinx (Wes Studi) to train for their dangerous mission.

Every single character in this film is memorable, including the mad scientist (Tom Waits, who runs a chicken rental business on the side), and the lovely waitress (Claire Forlani, yum!) who is the unenthusiastic object of Stiller's desire. There are disco, mafia, ninja, and frat boy hoodlums, supportive (or not-so-supportive) family members, high-tech weaponry, intra-squad bickering, and even a brilliant mealtime discussion that ranges from secret identities to the effectiveness of public relations.

The only other films I'd place in this particular genre are "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze" and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Tenth Dimension", but as good as those films are, they don't hold a candle to "Mystery Men". There are dozens of dialog snippets that will pop into my mind at random times and start me laughing. The cleverness is SO rich that you really need to see this one multiple times.     [Back to Top]


The Nutt House  (1992)  ***½

05-11-2003 - Gosh, you’ve been wanting another movie about mistaken identity of twins separated at birth, right? Well, you’re in luck -- here it is. An it’s an extraordinarily stupid one, too! You’ve got every slapstick classic from a genital-cactus collision to a bitchin’ pie fight among stuffy aristocrats. Cool.

One twin (played by Stephen Kearney) is running for President; the other (played by Stephen Kearney) is locked up in an insane asylum. When the crazy one escapes to search for his brother, zaniness ensues. Supported by Traci Lords as (what else?) a lusty maid, and Amy Yasbeck as the candidate’s wife, the movie actually features some appealing performances, including the still-luscious Stella Stevens being hurled through a window and the still large Peter Lupus playing, well, a large guy.

Kearney chews scenery as the multiple-personality-afflicted brother. His personalities include a kung-fu fighter, a cowboy, a clown, a disturbingly attired acrobat, a bad lounge singer (I’ve always wanted to play one of those...), and a blind French chef. Each time he gets hit in the head, he switches to another personality -- and he gets hit in the head a-plenty.

I’d explain more of the plot (written by both Alan Smithee, Sr. and Alan Smithee, Jr.), but it doesn’t really matter. You either like this type of drivel or you don’t -- and if you’ve read this far, you already know which camp you belong to. While the pie fight (with its excellent surprise ending) is the only part that really made me laugh out loud, I have to admit that I chuckled at some of the other gags. Decent scenes include one with a runaway hospital gurney, another concerning coconuts & watermelons, and one of the better recurring spit-take gags in recent memory. I had fun watching it.   [Back to Top]


Ocean's 11  (1960 & 2001)  ****

05-05-2003 - The 1960 version stars the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Cesar Romero & Angie Dickinson, to name a few). The 2001 version has George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner, and...Angie Dickinson. The story is about a guy named Danny Ocean and his ten friends (see - that adds up to eleven, golly!) who plot to rob a bunch of Las Vegas casinos. OK, so I get how they came up with the title, but I still think it’s a pretty dumb name for a movie. Oh well.

So what’s the difference between the two films? Uh, pretty much everything. The sentence I used in the previous paragraph to describe the film contains virtually every element that the two films have in common. The Rat Pack group is a bunch of lazy, misogynistic, drunken Army buddies who want to pull the heist so that Lawford won’t have to live off of his mommy’s trust fund. The Clooney group are all professional crooks who are in it for the challenge of overcoming the seemingly-impossible challenges. (Well, OK, Clooney also wants to get back at Andy Garcia for stealing his wife, but no one else -- including the audience -- cares about that.)

In my opinion, the 2001 film is vastly more entertaining, primarily because of the more-intricate details of the heist itself. It's a good Mission-Impossible-style caper, with split-second timing and a few surprise twists. The 60’s version is basically a “stick-em-up, punk, we’re takin’ your dough,” sort of job. And it’s interesting to see how the definition of “charm” has changed in the last 40 years; the macho and un-subtle attitudes displayed by Frank and Deano, et al, seem rather sad and pathetic today.

Both Dickinson and Roberts are totally wasted -- if you took their parts out of the movies, it wouldn’t hurt a thing. As far as characters go, I’d have to say that Cheadle’s incomprehensible Englishman was the most interesting, followed by a tie between Carl Reiner and Cesar Romero. Overall, I’d have to say that unless you’re a big Rat Pack fan, you’ll be better off just watching the newer flick.  [Back to Top]


October Sky  (1999)  ***

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Homer Hickum, a kid growing up in a coal-mining town. His dad is a highly-respected supervisor at the mine, and everyone expects young Homer to become a miner when he’s no longer a, ahem, minor (sorry, couldn’t resist). The problem is that Homer doesn’t want to work in the mine. (I’d consider being named “Homer” a problem, too, but compared to the whole black-lung and cave-in thing, I guess that’s not a big deal.)

When the Russians launch Sputnik, Homer decides that he wants to study rocketry. Enlisting the help of a few friends, he succeeds in creating some pretty decent explosions, but nothing that flies. Desperate, he stoops to unthinkably low behavior – he consults the school’s nerdiest science dweeb. With the help of the science teacher (Laura Dern), Homer, the poindexter and the other two guys are finally able to start making launchable rockets.

Based on a true story, the plot is nonetheless formulaic in nearly every aspect. You’ve got the stern, authoritarian father who wants his son to work in the mines instead of wasting his time with foolish science – the hard-ass principal who continually tells the rocket boys that they’ll never amount to anything – and the minority metal shop workers who risk their careers to help the boys succeed. You’ve got slapstick scenes of football jocks diving out of the way of renegade rockets, stereotypical scenes of stuck-up girls who’ll date you only if your missile goes up, and tear-jerking scenes of scientific triumph arm-in-arm with tender family bonding.

The DVD does include a brief interview with the real Homer Hickum, who ended up achieving his dream of working for NASA. That’s pretty far out.

I expected to like the movie, since I think rockets are cool and coal mines are to be avoided. I almost always enjoy seeing grit and vision and brains victorious over small minds and inertia. And there’s always something riveting about rockets blowing up on the launch pad. Still…I didn’t really enjoy the film. There’s too much family strife and not enough rocket science. Too much coal and not enough calculus.

And if I remember it correctly, Sputnik did NOT cross the entire night sky in 2.7 seconds like they showed in the film. It’s little things like that – and the fact that the nerd boy is pretty much exactly the same as the science geek in “Revenge of the Nerds” – that kept me from becoming more deeply involved with the movie. It was too “Hollywood” for a story like this. Even the fact that the producers changed the name from Hickum’s original title: “Rocket Boys”…well, it just kept the thing from seeming “true”. It’s not a horrible film, but it certainly could’ve been done better.  [Back to Top]


The Others  (2001)  **

With Nicole Kidman and Fionulla Flanagan. This seemed to be a pretty straightforward entry in the “creepy old house full fulla odd and possibly brain-damaged English people” genre. Though I can't recall the circumstances, I had at some point in the past decided that I really disliked Kidman, but she wasn't too bad in this flick. It was creepy, though nothing to cause nightmares. And I was taken by surprise by the big “twist” toward the end. But it was more of the “hmpfh” variety of surprise, rather than the “Oh my God!” type.

A movie like that should at least make an attempt to have one or more characters who are a little bit likeable. And I'm wondering why it always has to be a creepy old Victorian type house. Has there ever been a creepy horror/ghost film set in an ultra-modern apartment? (OK, maybe Ghostbusters, but I can't think of any others.)

Anyway, I rather enjoyed the film, even though I really didn't care who got eaten by ghosts or buried under the leaves in the back yard. And I guess I still don't. I won't recommend it... but if you got nothing better to do, you could probably sit through it. [Back to Top]


Pirates of the Caribbean; Curse of the Black Pearl  (2003)  ****

There are lots of ways to make money. Pirates steal it from other people. And at least one profit-minded guy bought stock in a company that provides gnarly rotted teeth for the movies – and boy, he must be sitting pretty right now.

Oh yeah, there are lots of rotten teeth in this movie. Lots of matted & greasy hair, too. And skin blemishes a-plenty...I tell you, these pirates were, as they say, a scurvy lot indeed.

Except for Johnny Depp. As Captain Jack Sparrow, he somehow manages to keep his mustache groomed and his mascara run-free. And though he wears a bandana on his head like a hygienically challenged rapper, he somehow manages to appear quite elegant throughout the film. Oh, sure, the other characters shy away from his alcohol-tainted breath, but on the whole, he's a pirate with style and charm.

And that's what makes this movie so enjoyable. Until now, I've never seen a Johnny Depp movie that I've really enjoyed, but his performance here is remarkable. He somehow manages to act a little swishy, a bit loopy, and just possibly a tad insane – and yet there's no doubt that he's the guy you want to be with when things get sticky. I'd even go so far as to say he's the most appealing new film hero since Indiana Jones.

Without going into too much detail, the plot is about the cursed crew of a pirate ship (The Black Pearl) who kidnap the Governor's daughter (Keira Knightley) as part of their effort to break the spell they're under. She, of course, is being wooed by the staunch Navy Captain and by the blacksmith's apprentice (Orlando Bloom), who happens to also be the son of the pirate who launched the curse in the first place. Captain Jack Sparrow has ties to all of them, and ends up jumping right into the middle of the whole mess.

The curse is pretty cool...the pirates of the Black Pearl cannot be killed, and appear as skeletons when seen under moonlight. That by itself would probably be a blessing for someone in the piratical professions, but the bad part is that they cannot experience any sensation (taste, emotion, etc.) -- which makes their immortality a very dull thing.

I've always loved animated skeletons; they enhance any movie they're a part of. And these are state-of-the art animated skeletons. The coolest part is when they walk between shade and moonlight, their flesh appears and disappears depending on the lighting. Neat stuff. The effects are excellent, but I did find it a bit interesting that they all made crinkly bone-rattling sounds whenever they were in skeleton form, yet made only standard human sounds when seen as flesh. The sound effects added to the creepiness, I suppose. And the music was very good at enhancing the mood, too.

Do they swashbuckle? Sure do. There are dandy swordfights, leaps from the yardarms, swinging from ship to ship, and flying bodies galore. As long as you don't ask too many questions (such as "How did he get his manacled wrists over the top of that rope, and then off again?" or "Why was that boat sitting right below her window?" for example), you'll be entertained by the action.

The pirate crew was cast right out of Cliché Central... the big, muscular black guy, the dwarf, the spunky brown female, the Capuchin monkey mascot, the guy with a parrot on his shoulder, and the comedy relief dork pals (including some decent recurring glass eye gags). Other than the spunky brown female, they all had bad teeth, of course, and they all talked like they'd stayed up way too late the night before, smoking cigars and playing rowdy poker. Clichés, perhaps, but that's exactly what you need for a movie like this. Good stuff. And it's nice to know that every now and then, there are jobs for actors who aren't quite so handsome.

(Hmmm. I wonder if their portfolio cover letters say something like "Non-traditional appearance; can play hunchback, pirate, or Klingon with ease. Have own set of bad teeth."?)

Geoffrey Rush is good as the head evil pirate -- almost as good as he was in Mystery Men. Bloom is adequate, I suppose, and the British soldiers are also cast well. The girl struck me as just another J-Lo clone – I'd much prefer a Karen Allen type, or Jodie Foster, or maybe Linda Hamilton or something. The romance didn't really sparkle...but then again, it didn't need to; there was more than enough sparkle in Depp's performance.

There is a brief tribute to the Disneyland ride. Some of the background scenes in the town of Tortuga were pulled from it as an obvious homage. Otherwise, the movie owes little to its namesake, and stands well on its own. You'll definitely want to see it.      [Back to Top]


The Adventures of Pluto Nash  (2002)  ***

06-05-2003 - This movie is pretty high up on the list of "Great Bombs of All Time", after losing zillions of dollars and ruining the careers of several studio executives. I was almost afraid to watch it for fear of the suicidal urges that mainstream critics assured me I would feel. So what did I think?

This movie wasn't so bad. It was certainly nothing fabulous, and it grossly under-used the talents of its cast, but it wasn't horrible by any stretch of the imagination. I had a decent time watching it.

Eddie Murphy plays a popular lunar folk hero -- a reformed smuggler who wants to be the owner of a nightclub on the moon. Rosario Dawson plays a wannabe crooner who applies for a job at his establishment. And Randy Quaid has some fun hamming it up as an outdated robot bodyguard. It's also got the delicious Pam Grier, Joe Pantoliano, John Cleese, Peter Boyles, and Jay Mohr as a kilt-wearing accordion player who makes it big when he decides to imitate Sinatra instead. And believe it or not, there's actually a good part for Burt Young, who I've never liked in anything before.

Sure, the plot has holes. The realities of space science are completely ignored. The costumes and sets are cheesy, and the resolution to the climactic fight scene was obviously created without the assistance of anything resembling a professional writer...but that's OK. Sure, the movie could've been better, but that doesn't mean it wasn't entertaining.

I particularly enjoyed Quaid's performance as the loyal, but occasionally uppity robot. He looks great with the goofy eyebrows they painted on him. And Cleese's role as a luxury car autopilot easily surpasses his role in the Harry Potter films. And there's this weird guy who follows Pantoliano around in a backup henchman role -- I never could figure out what was going on with his face, but it was certainly...interesting.

James Rebhorn plays the part that would normally go to Ronny Cox, except that he doesn't get to explode in vacuum, darn it. And the identity of the mysterious boss bad guy is not nearly the mystery they play it up to be, but still...

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking of more and more flaws in the movie. That's OK, I still enjoyed it as I watched it. Sure, it was constructed out of  discarded and tattered leftovers from "Total Recall", "The Fifth Element", and "Blade Runner", but it didn't deserve the pounding it got from the industry. I'm not really recommending it, since any one of these other three flicks is infinitely superior, but if you've seen them and want to spend a mindless 90 minutes among their flotsam, go for it.    [Back to Top]


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert  (1994)  ***

WARNING: This review is tainted by the fact that I saw the movie on Thanksgiving Day, immediately after consuming massive amounts of delicious turkey, stuffing, green beans, and pumpkin pie. How this skews my objectivity, I am not certain, but I felt you at least deserved the warning. Onward...

After hearing rumors about this movie for a few years now, I expected to enjoy it immensely. After all, the plot synopsis seems like a sure-fire formula for success: Three drag queens drive a purple bus across the Australian Outback, rehearsing scenes from their upcoming musical tribute to ABBA. How could you expect anything less than an all-out laugh riot?

Maybe it was the turkey I’d eaten, or maybe the movie was simply more serious than I’d been led to believe, but I didn't think it was very funny. Oh, sure, there were some memorable images, such as when Mitzi sat atop the bus a la Granny Clampett on the truck -- lip-synching show tunes while colored smoke and a shiny billowing cape trailed the bus in the wind. The Outback’s stark beauty is entrancing, and there’s something sweet about seeing people in fabulous costumes singing disco tunes around an aborigine campfire, accompanied by a didgeridoo.

Terence Stamp (General Zod from Superman, and Chancellor Valorum from Phantom Menace) was very good as the transexual Bernadette. Guy Pearce actually looked pretty good in a dress and a wig, but Hugo Weaving never quite convinced me that anyone would pay to see him perform. He was a little too creepy.

The supporting cast was fine, especially Bill Hunter as “Bob” -- the guy who gets a crush on General Zod, er, I mean, Bernadette; though I wasn’t sure why he dumped his exotic bar-dancing stripper/hooker wife. She seemed like everything a man could want in a woman -- after all, she could do this really cool trick with ping pong balls...

Uh, I guess I should mention that parental discretion is advised.

I will admit that the movie had my toes tapping during some of the songs, even the ABBA numbers (which I find vaguely disturbing, for some reason). And the wardrobe these guys took with them for the trip was almost as extensive as what the Gilligan’s Island castaways took on their 3-hour tour. You had your obligatory references to Vegemite and the requisite charming Aussie accents, but somehow I had expected more.

Priscilla is no Rocky Horror, I’m afraid, but I suppose it is quite a bit better than that Wesley Snipes/Patrick Swayze piece of junk “Thanks for Julie Newmar, Kung Fu”, or whatever the hell it was called. Julie Newmar was a great Catwoman, but when it comes to wearing women’s clothing, Patrick Swayze is no General Zod.     [Back to Top]


Rat Race  (2001)  ***½

03-12-2003 - I feel guilty saying this, but... I laughed out loud several times during this stupid movie. It’s got a good cast, including Rowan Atkinson, Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Vince Vieluf, Kathy Najimi, Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Smart, Dave Thomas (the SCTV/Mackenzie brothers guy, not the Wendy’s hamburger dude), Cuba Gooding, Jr., and John Cleese with oversize gleaming white teeth. There are also bit parts by Wayne Night, Paul Rodriguez, Dean Cain, and Kathy Bates.

You don’t really need to know much about the plot – it’s contrived nonsense about a race from Las Vegas to Silver City, New Mexico. What is important is that it contains scenes of hot-air-ballooning cows, Hitler’s car, a narcoleptic Italian tourist, a busload of Lucille Ball impersonators, and a hooker willing to immerse herself in Pepto Bismol. There’s also an appearance by the rock group Smashmouth, a roadside squirrel vendor, and some dandy helicopter stunts.

Comments on the actors: I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen them before, but Amy Smart and Vince Vieluf are worth noticing...him because of his expressive face, and her because she’s really cute. The kids who played Lovitz & Najimi’s kids actually reminded me of National Lampoon’s vacation (which is pretty high praise). Cleese didn’t really have a lot to do, and Goldberg was wasted altogether, but overall I’d say the cast was darn good. They made me laugh at some pretty juvenile humor. If your tolerance for stupidity is low, stay away from this one, but otherwise -- have a good time.  [Back to Top]


The Royal Tenenbaums  (2001)  ***½

Quirky.

I enjoyed this movie, but I can’t say I’m confident it would be universally appealing. Boasting an all-star cast, it would seem to have broad appeal, but it might just be too...odd. I didn’t laugh much, wasn’t greatly moved or anything...but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. There was always something interesting to watch.

Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Gwenyth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, and Bill Murray are the stars. Good start, eh? But the plot doesn’t sound very exciting: Distant father attempts to re-connect with his psychologically disturbed wife and children after a 17-year absence. He shows up one day, tells them he’s dying (a lie, of course), and starts to shoehorn his way back into their lives.

What makes it quirky (and for me, riveting) are the richness of the characters, their relationships, and the movie’s clever little incidentals. You have an elevator operator pretending to be a doctor (and delivering medicine bottles full of Tic-Tac®s), an ornately decorated mansion with the head of some sort of capybara-like animal incongruously displayed next to the children’s paintings, a tennis star and former falconer (Luke Wilson) who is in love with his chain-smoking adopted sister (Paltrow), and a trio of Type-A guys who don’t wear anything but sweat suits (Stiller and his kids). Danny Glover proposes to Huston by talking about tax benefits (and then falls in an archeological  hole), Bill Murray is constantly shadowed by some sort of dweeb-boy he’s studying, an Indian manservant with the unlikely name of  “Pagoda” stabs people he likes, and there are plenty of spotted Dalmatian-mice running around among the scenery.

There’s a bit of a dark edge (a plane crash, an Indiana wood-chopping accident, some minor suicidal wrist-slashing, and a drug-fueled car wreck involving a dog who had survived the plane crash, etc.), but I found myself smiling at the end. Not with the kind of smile you’d have after a good Henny Youngman joke or pie-in-the-face gag, but the kind of smile you get when you realize that life is really OK, after all.  [Back to Top]


The Santa Clause 2  (2002)  *****

A few years have gone by since Scott Calvin took on the job of red-suited worldwide Christmas toy delivery. He’s still fat and happy at the North Pole, makin’ toys, goofin’ off with the elves, and chowin’ down on cookies. But then he discovers two disturbing pieces of information; one -- his son has moved from the “nice” to the “naughty” list...and two -- he has less than a month to find a wife. If he doesn’t help his son, well, the boy will get a lump of coal for Christmas, and nobody wants that. And if he doesn’t get married, then the “de-Santification” process will become irreversible, leaving the world toyless on Christmas morn, and NOBODY wants that!

The plot is predictable. The animatronic reindeer are just as bad as they were in the first film. Some of the flying elf special effects are jarringly bad. And Judge Reinhold’s haircut looks like an ad for Fantastic Sam’s. But who cares? This is a delightfully fun movie.

The entire cast is superb, especially Tim Allen. Elizabeth Mitchell is delicious, and there are some top-notch supporting performances from other magical entities -- notably Art LaFleur as the Tooth Fairy, and Michael Dorn (Star Trek’s Worf) as a sweet and dreamy Sandman. I especially loved the numerous pop-culture references (including homages to Home Improvement and Toy Story); really cute.

There’s a subplot involving a renegade Santa-bot who enslaves the elves, and some cutesy reindeer stunt flying. (My son described the reindeer as “4-legged Ewoks”, to give you an idea.) But none of these elements will keep you on the edge of your seat. What makes the movie work is the same thing that worked in the first film -- plain old Holiday Sentimentality. And man, does it work. Like the first film, I think The Santa Clause 2 is destined to be one of those classics that we’ll look forward to seeing every year.  [Back to Top]


Serendipity  (2001)  ****

During their last-minute Christmas shopping, both John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale want the last pair of gloves the store has to offer. Rather than using the Michael Jackson solution, (each just taking one glove and learning to deal with the other hand being cold all the time) they agree to fall in love and live happily ever after. Of course, in a romantic comedy, this can’t happen immediately, so they spend the next seven years apart from each other, thinking that they should go on with their separate lives.

The film’s cleverness revolves around Beckinsale’s character’s belief that if they are meant to be together, Fate will make it obvious to them. During their one post-glove-shopping afternoon together, they share ideas and “signs” that they can each recognize later, if Fate does indeed favor them. The plot is reasonably predictable, but because the two stars are so charming, you don’t mind following along on their journey toward the serendipitous ending. (Thank you, oh movie gods, for allowing me to use “serendipitous” in a sentence. Now if I can just find a way to work in “Zoroastrian”...)

There are great supporting characters, notably Lars (John Corbett), the Nordic hippie musician who plays some sort of Oboe-thing in a truly bizarre Viking-themed MTV video -- Cusack’s wise-cracking best friend (Jeremy Piven), who writes obituaries for the NY Times -- and Eugene Levy as an obnoxious retail sales clerk who scams Cusack into buying a purple crushed-velour suit. Other cute moments include some golfing slapstick and an all-tuba band playing Christmas carols while suspended from a giant evergreen tree. Don’t expect belly-laughs here, but the movie is packed full of smiles. If you like simple and charming romantic comedies (such as “Sleepless in Seattle”, etc.) you’ll definitely enjoy this.  [Back to Top]


Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th  (2000)  ***

05-16-2003 - Well, it's been a week since I saw this movie, and... well, I've already forgotten just about everything about it. I have a vague memory of being mildly amused by this parody of teen horror flicks, but other than the gag about the hockey mask melting into the Scream face, I can't retrieve anything.

Still, I gave it three stars, didn't I. Must not be all bad.  [Back to Top]


Signs  (2002)  ****

03-11-2003 - Nothing is more frightening than being surrounded by the sounds of alien chittering while you're lost deep in a Pennsylvania cornfield at night  -- except for being subjected to one of those creepy Culkin kids. Well, this movie’s got both, as well as lots of other scary images (like Mel Gibson in a priest's collar, an Army recruiting office, and a root cellar asthma attack).

While watching the movie, I was totally absorbed in its atmosphere...wondering what would happen, and anticipating those delicious moments when I'd be scared enough to jump a little bit. (During one scene, my wife was unknowingly squeezing my hand so hard that it turned purple, but she didn't even realize it. That’s a sign of a good scary movie!) It wasn’t until later that I realized how much this film has borrowed from other classics.

First, there’s the little girl who acts like she wants to grow up to be Linda Blair. And, come to think of it, Gibson’s loss of faith is reminiscent of Father Karras -- there’s just no Max von Sydow running around with a puke-covered shawl to lend a counterpoint. Instead, you get to see a drug store used as a lame excuse for a confessional, and a baby monitor that seems to be speaking in tongues.

In other movie scene tributes (or rip-offs, depending on how you look at it), you have Joaquin Phoenix doing a segment from Field of Dreams, and M. Night Shyamalan paying homage to Hitchcock. There’s a Fargo-style lady cop, boarded over windows straight from Night of the Living Dead, and a couple of veiled Stephen King references, as well as flavors from Independence Day, War of the Worlds, and Schwarzenegger’s Predator. I thought there was going to be an E.T. Reese’s scene with the Culkin kid, but instead, the boy finds a creative use for a barbecue fork. (Hmm, come to think of it, they never did show what happened to the meat he was grilling in that scene...)

I thought the sub-plot about faith, religion, and prescient dead spouses enhanced the somber atmosphere of the flick, but my wife found the whole thing disturbing in a way that transcended the scary parts of the movie. I think she was mostly disappointed at how little was said about crop circles, which can be kinda pretty, after all. She was looking for some “E.T. phone home” sweetness, and the warmth of some grand-scale farm-style agricultural artwork, but instead got a night full of lying awake wondering what was outside the window.

It wasn’t quite what either one of us was expecting, but I’ll take it.   [Back to Top]


Spider Baby  (1964)  ***

Picture yourself in this situation; you’re the patriarch of a wealthy family cursed with a genetic disease that causes adults to regress through stages of youth, childhood, and finally a “pre-fetal” condition, which apparently means they become hairy, mindless cannibals. As proud father, you love your ever-more-infantile offspring, but dadgumit, you’re dying. What are you gonna do?

If you’re the dad in Spider Baby, you ask your dim-witted chauffer (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to take a solemn oath to take care of your siblings & children, which he does. After you’re dead, of course, you’re in no condition to realize that your instructions probably should’ve also included something about basic housekeeping -- such as picking up any dead bodies that happen to be lying about, and perhaps a reminder to not eat the pets. Oh, well.

Other than those frisky kids occasionally murdering a mailman or two, things are going along pretty smoothly. Until a slimy little lawyer realizes that with poppa dead, he might see a profit by working with some distant relatives on a plan which would see them inherit the family fortune. Well, when the lawyer, his sexy secretary, the heiress and her brother all show up for dinner, you can imagine that there might well be some tension.

The film’s title comes from the fact that one of the little girls keeps tarantulas as pets, and likes to pretend that she is a spider. No harm in a little pretend game, except that she uses a couple of big old butcher knives as her pretend fangs...and she tends to forget she’s pretending when the time comes to plunge the fangs into her victim. That would be bad enough, but her older (and therefore more highly-regressed) brother (Sid Haig) tends to kinda creep people out with his Shel Silverstein haircut and his tendency to enjoy groping adult women.

I won’t give any more of it away, but I will say that Chaney does his usual acting job (take that as you may). There are some brief glimpses of Chuds, blonds in negligees, the standard 1960s “hilarious drunk driver” scene, and before it is all over, a stereotypical low-budget off-camera flash of light that represents a huge dynamite explosion.

The DVD includes bonus clips of a 30-year cast & crew reunion, complete with the somewhat disturbing appearance of the movie’s adoring fans(??). I do not think this is a cinema classic to rank up there with “Plan 9 From Outer Space” or anything (although they did use the same “let’s film in broad daylight and just pretend it’s night” lighting technique). But if you like cheesy black & white camp horror films with cute girls, bad acting, and a set design budget spent entirely on cobwebs...well, you might want to check this one out.    [Back to Top]


Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron  (2001)  **

05-12-2003 - I generally like animated movies, but within the first 45 seconds of this flick, I could tell this would not be one of them. Oh, sure, the opening sequence with the eagle flying through a beautiful canyon is visually impressive; but I’ve seen impressive animation before. The good ones also bother to have something interesting happen.

OK, maybe I’d feel different if I’d have seen it on a big screen instead of my economy model Sanyo TV, but I doubt it. The story, the acting, and the music were all snoozerific. And besides, I thought the horse was, well... creepy-looking.

The “innovative” technique that was introduced with this movie was the complexity of intertwining traditional 2-D animation (the horse and the humans) with fancy new 3-D computer-generated bits (backgrounds, water, and anything that blows up or gets smashed). It may be innovative, but it’s also highly distracting. I found myself scratching my head at the obvious difference between the two techniques. Sure the drowning scene had good-looking and realistic water, but...there’s still that damn creepy cartoon horse in the scene.

And they never did explain what the Cimarron was. Nor why the “stallion” appeared to be a gelding when shown from a particularly revealing camera angle. And to be honest with you, that “phbbbphhbbt” Bronx cheer sound that horses make start to annoy me after 30 minutes or so. (Though I did sorta enjoy the mental image I got of the Foley artist flinging spittle all over the recording studio as he made all those horsey sound effects. I also wondered if they had tried to get Ned Beatty to make the “weee” sounds. I guess I’ll never know. Oh well.)

I didn’t know until the closing credits that the cast boasted the talents of Matt Damon, Charles Napier, and James Cromwell. I normally really enjoy those actors, but here, the characters and dialog were so flat and dull that any high school drama class hack could’ve done the parts without being any more boring. And the plot was an uninspired cliché in the standard “nature is good, Indians are OK, and white men are 100% vile and evil” mode. No one (human or animal) had any personality outside the stereotype, and absolutely nothing interesting happened -- unless you count the obvious BS, like when the Indian lad puts the horse in a cross-chest carry and pulls him across the river...or when the railroaders decide to use 58 horses to pull a locomotive over a mountain on skis for some unexplained reason. And I don’t even want to talk about why the female horse was wearing rouge and eye-liner.

Actually, the DVD Bonus Feature on how to draw the horse was pretty good, but not good enough to bother with picking up this flick. Watch some old QuickDraw McGraw episodes or something, instead -- now there’s a cool animated horse.    [Back to Top]


Spy Kids 2  (2002)  ***

04-20-2003 - Hey, it’s got Ricardo Montalban in a heavily armed, rich Corinthian leather-upholstered, flying wheelchair...what else does it need? Well, how about Steve Buscemi as a mad scientist? Not enough? Well then, let’s throw in some Harryhausen-style sword-fighting skeletons, magnetically-chapeaued cocktail waiters wearing leftover uniforms from Star Trek - the Movie, pin-wheeling pigtails, and a Jurassic Park-load of mutant monster animals. That should do it.

All things considered, though, the movie isn’t as good as it sounds. It does have a good cast, including Mike Judge, Antonio Banderas, Cheech Marin, and Bill Paxton as the President -- but the majority of the movie is taken up by special effects gadgetry. The kids are OK, I suppose, but I never really felt like I had to root for them with any real enthusiasm. And all the gee-whiz high tech stuff just isn’t as interesting as it was a few years ago.

(The DVD features a 10-minute primer on how to save money during movie production. It is interesting in its own right, but I was more impressed with the frequently repeated adage that CG effects are so much cheaper to produce than building a cardboard set. Man, things have really changed in the last few years.)

The opening sequence does show some cleverness with its inventive amusement park rides. And there are a couple of decent laughs tucked in among the action. But overall, it’s a pretty average kiddy-adventure film. I didn’t hate it, but I probably won’t feel compelled to ever see it again. Now if Ricardo Montalban were to exile them to Ceti-Alpha Five...  [Back to Top]


Twin Dragons  (1999)  **½

One baby moves with his parents to America and becomes a revered orchestra conductor. The other is raised by a drunk in a Chinese ghetto and becomes a smart-mouthed, hard-fisted street punk. From there on, the movie is the same such movie you’ve seen a thousand times before – mistaken identity leads to violence, confusion, and an occasional joke. The only difference is…this is Jackie Chan.

Chan plays both roles with his usual charm and charisma. Since it’s all dubbed, it seems a bit contrived that his street punk character is named “Boomer”, and his wisecracking best pal is named “Tyson”. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any of the other names, though it seems that the love interests were named Betty and Veronica or something like that.

There’s a rudimentary plot concerning the Mafia race-car circuit, and a little bit about orchestra conducting, but these really don’t matter. The major elements are the mistaken identity confusion, and, of course, the martial arts. My favorite fight segment took place in an automobile assembly line test area, where robots are opening and closing the car doors. Chan is the master of using such environmental activities to highlight his amazing physical skills. Good stuff.

But it didn’t save the movie for me. Compared to most other Jackie Chan movies I’ve seen, this one was boring. Maybe it was the dubbing, or maybe it was the tired “which one are you” jokes…but it just didn’t keep my interest. I’m not saying this is a bad movie, and I’m not recommending that you avoid it. But I am saying that if you want to see a Jackie Chan movie, there are a whole bunch of better ones to choose from.  [Back to Top]


Tomb Raider  (2001)  ***

Watching this movie leaves the viewer repeating three words over and over...“Are those real?”

Of course, I’m talking about the bungee jumping stunts performed by Lara Croft as she defeats an army of machine-gun toting mercenaries in her underwear. (No, the mercenaries weren’t in her underwear, though some of them may have wanted to be...). Bungee jumping stunts. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

I’m at a disadvantage, since I’ve never played the Tomb Raider computer game, but I understand that the movie was reasonably faithful to the game’s premise: Physically gifted archaeologist whales on bad guys in order to recover a specific artifact and thus, save the world. It’s as if Indiana Jones converted all his charm and charisma into hooter tissue, armed himself with Robocop pistols, and psychically channeled the spirit of Bruce Lee. Lots of action...not much brain.

That’s about what I expected. It may simply be a personal problem, but Angelina Jolie kinda creeps me out for some reason. Too much non-biological material in her lips, maybe? I dunno, but despite the fact that she’s not my favorite actress, I thought she was fine as Croft. And the previously mentioned bungee-fight sequence was very exciting. But the movie still managed to avoid creating an avid desire for a sequel.

I’ve already forgotten the bad guy. And I’m really tired of the whole idea of artifacts that give the holder Unlimited Power. Why can’t we have a movie where the two sides fight over good old fashioned gold bullion, or maybe a really good meatball sandwich? Why couldn’t we return to those halcyon days when memorable villains like Joe Flynn and Keenan Wynn tried to steal that oh-so-cute anthropomorphic Volkswagen?

The artifact in question here was a plastic knock-off of the Ten Commandment tablets, only triangular and about the size of a catcher’s mitt. In order to understand its Awesome Power, we’re subjected to flashback sequences of Jon Voight trying to act like a Venerable Wise Man, but instead coming off as the guy who bit Kramer and went canoeing with Ned Beatty. And he didn’t explain it very well, cuz it still looked like a cheesy plastic prop to me.

 The one prop that was cool was the Almost Life Size Solar System Model of Science, where the final fight scene took place. It had the sun and the planets suspended on metal arms rotating around just exactly like the real solar system works (except for the horrendous liberties taken with the concept of ‘scale’.) It looked like something from The Wild Wild West. And I did enjoy watching Lara climb around on these rotating limbs, whacking bad guys the whole time. But when it was all over, I found that I had two questions that I’d really like to ask:

1. Couldn’t we have a movie with the same amount of action without wasting all that money on special effects that don’t add anything to our enjoyment of the film? And...

2. Seriously, are those real[Back to Top]


Tower of Terror  (1997)  ***

05-23-2003 - Despite the machinations of the Stonecutters, I like Steve Guttenberg. And even though this movie has a standard Disney plot, I liked it, too.

You know how it goes; Dorky failure guy enlists the help of orphan child to solve a 50-year-old mystery. The obvious and scary villain turns out not to be the villain at all, and ends up helping the protagonists foil the sweet little old lady who is really trying to kill them all and ruin everything in the universe. Because the orphan child is so much wiser than any of the adults, the evil plot is foiled, all the correct adults fall in love with each other, the dweeb gets a dream job, the handyman gets the entire mansion, and Disneyland gets a new ride based on the movie. Then Steve Guttenberg goes back to his job cooking french fries until the next Disney movie opportunity comes along.

Hmmm, the previous paragraph sounds a tad disparaging, but really, I liked the movie. It's good clean entertainment with a modest dash of charm thrown in. No high drama or breakthrough performances. No dazzling special effects (although it did have a few ghosts and a couple of crackling and sparking circuit boxes). No moments of audience enlightenment. Just an hour and a half of mild family amusement. It would've been better with the Olsen twins, but what're ya gonna do?  [Back to Top]


Where the Money Is  (2000)  ***

Paul Newman plays a geriatric bank robber who is transferred into a backwoods old folks home after suffering a stroke. For some reason that the movie never even tries to explain, his nurse (the foxy Linda Fiorentino, who played the coroner in Men in Black) thinks he’s faking. She tries various methods to pierce his deception (including some that your children probably shouldn’t watch), but nothing works…until she tosses him into a lake.

Newman does a good job convincing her that he has the willpower to fake being in a coma, and for the purposes of enjoying the movie, I decided to accept his arguments. But in real life, I gotta tell you I’d be a little skeptical. If he was truly incapacitated, he’d have to pee (and, ahem, worse) in his own diapers, remain absolutely motionless while some clammy-handed civil servant changes his clothes every day, become a pincushion from getting fed through IVs, and... be bored as hell. He’d probably have to sing songs or create his own little movies inside his head to keep from going completely crazy…and at some point would have to either suffer having “It’s a Small World” stuck in his noggin or shout out “Nee” without realizing he’d done it. Too tough to believe.

It’s OK, though -- I don’t have stringent requirements on my suspension of disbelief. Well, maybe I’m a little put off by the assertion that a hot babe like Fiorentino is attracted to an incontinent and catatonic old geezer. But then again, he was Butch Cassidy so what the hell do I know?

Anyway, once he gets thrown in the lake he sorta has to give up the vegetable act -- either that or drown, which would not further his intricately masterminded plot to…

...you know, they never did say what the hell he was planning that required the whole stroke victim act. Hmmm. Oh well. Onward...

Fiorentino thinks that her life is dull, so she gets Newman to help her plan an armored car robbery. Her husband is played by an actor with the unfortunate name of Dermott Mulroney, who ends up inserting himself into the heist planning. (What kind of parents call their kid “Dermott”? Seriously.) The actual robbery sequence is decently done, as is the obligatory police-with-bullhorns, “We gotcha surrounded–come out wit yer hands up” scene toward the end.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m tempted to blast this movie for its lack of common sense and plausibility. But I won’t. It was moderately enjoyable, with a couple of charismatic performances. And the extras aren’t bad -- a convertible 1964 Mustang, a nursing supervisor with a facial tic (always a knee-slapper), a brake line cut by pilfered garden shears resulting in a bloody motorcycle crash, and a shiny-new toaster oven that gets tossed off a bridge into a river. Nobody eats 50 eggs or has a failure to communicate, but I’d be willing to bet that we’ve all had days where we’ve felt like throwing somebody in the river or robbing a bank. Right?   [Back to Top]


Windtalkers  (2002)  **½

03-17-2003 - It’s a fascinating subject -- how the Navajo people used their native language for “code talking” to keep American WWII communications secret from the Japanese. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much about it from this movie.

My son’s 7th grade Reading teacher taught him that “good literature is any story where everybody dies and no one is happy”. By those standards, Windtalkers could probably be considered good literature. It’s also not a bad action movie, in the 'Private Ryan, let’s see lots of severed limbs' kind of way. And, of course, there is the obligatory (and utterly predictable) 'white bigot learns his lesson from the noble Native American' sequence. But I wanted to learn about the code talkers, and maybe even a little bit more about how the Navajo and other native peoples participated in the war effort.

Directed by the bloody John Woo, and starring a nearly catatonic Nicholas Cage, the movie flirts around the outside edges of an interesting story, but never quite dives in. Adam Beach and Roger Willie are charming as the code talkers, but everyone else is pretty one-dimensional. I did enjoy the scenes of Christian Slater jamming on the harmonica with Willie playing the flute, but that sort of charm is buried by all the decapitations, spewing blood, and body part explosions.

It is never made clear why radio communication from the field needed to be kept secret from the Japanese. The only messages that were sent by the Windtalkers were along the lines of “Augggh! The Nips are shooting at us!” Surely the enemy already had a grasp of that particular bit of intelligence.

And then there is the unexplained (and unfathomable) attraction that a cute nurse has for the rude and unlikable character played by Cage. I’m sure that the filmmakers were trying to make a point with this sub-plot, but I didn’t get it. Or, maybe they just needed some excuse to sneak a cute girl into the script. I don’t know, but whatever their reasoning, it didn’t work for me. I still think there’s a good movie to be made about the Navajo code talkers, but don’t expect to see it here.  [Back to Top]


XXX  (2002)  **½

01-23-2003 - I’ve reached a milestone in movie viewing -- I no longer care whether I watch all the DVD “bonus features” or not. Sure, XXX had some grandiose stunts, charismatic stars (Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson), and the biggest damn Van de Graff generators I’ve ever seen -- but still, when it was over, I just wanted to go to bed. Maybe I’ve learned that the term “bonus features” usually translates into “crap that nobody wants to see or it would’ve been included in the movie”. Or maybe I’ve already seen enough behind the scenes explanations that they did it all with wires and computer graphics. I dunno.

Maybe I’d watch if they had a feature called “Girls who now wish they’d have gone out with Vin Diesel in high school, instead of calling him ‘dogface’”, or “It looks OK in a movie, but if you had tattoos like that in real life, you’d wish like hell you’d never have gotten drunk in the ‘tattoo parlor’ section of town.”

Anyway, back to the Van de Graff generators: one of the opening scenes is in a European techno dance club. The live band is shooting flamethrowers at the crowd, and gigantic electrical arcs are dancing back and forth between impossibly large silver balls. (Hmm, maybe that’s why Diesel’s character is bald -- not only does the chrome-dome look cool, but it’s impervious to the bride-of-Frankenstein effects of static electricity. Bwahh haa haa ha.) If they were trying to re-create the look of King Kong’s science lab run amuck, well, they achieved it. (If, on the other hand, they were going for a dance club that would seem fun to go to...WAY off.)

Distracted by flamethrowers, I had a bit of trouble following the plot -- but it seems as if the hygienically-challenged slacker goth dance punks not only run a thriving auto theft business, but in their spare time have built a remote-controlled hydrofoil craft designed to deliver biological weapons of death to every major city in Europe. Naturally, these slacker punks are too smart for the tuxedoed Bond-like agents and their double-naught spy tricks, so Samuel L. Jackson decides that an untrained snowboarder with a long criminal record should be the one to infiltrate the bad guys’ gang.

Sure, why not? Take about 50 overt CIA types, armed to the teeth with the latest Q-developed weaponry. Raid the local 2002-version of a Frankie and Annette beach party. Kidnap the head surfer dude and send him to a drug plantation in Columbia that’s about to be raided by the Columbian Army. (Are you keeping up with me, here?)

(I don’t want to nit-pick, but those same 50 CIA guys they used to subdue Xander (Diesel) easily had enough firepower to stomp the Nazi-Commie anarchist bastards that they then turned around and sent Xander after. I fail to see the economies in this strategy.)

Of course, while in Columbia, Xander (known as “X” to his friends) manages to whup the drug lord, drive a motorcycle over a building and several hundred feet into the air (multiple times, no less), survive 27 kiloton explosions, and land softly enough that the poor little dirtbike is no worse for wear. At one point, he even catapults himself (on the bike) sideways between the strands of a barbed wire fence. It’s a great idea for a stunt, but by the time they get to it, my mind was already dulled by all the explosions and 200-foot high motorcycle flights. I yawned.

(Why is it that I can accept the flying Chinamen of “Crouching Tiger” as they levitate into the sky without mechanical aid...but I just won’t buy a guy jumping his Yamaha over a barn and clearing it by the length of an arena football field?)

Anyway, X does manage to infiltrate the Nazi-Commies, falls in lust with the head bimbo (who happens to be another secret agent), and wipes out communications by starting an avalanche (which he then outruns on his snowboard). He causes more explosions, jumps over more things on conveniently-discovered motorcycles, and ultimately wrecks the toxic-death speedboat.

There is a lot of action, and I did enjoy Diesel’s performance. I consider one of his lines to be an instant classic. During a standoff, he tells a fellow combatant, “Don’t think cop; think Play-Station. Blow shit up!” But even with those things going for it, the movie never managed to get me excited. Maybe snowboarders/skateboarders will be able to relate to this guy more than I did (though I’ve never ever seen a guy that old or that big on a skateboard in real life.) Maybe people who don’t gag at techno-punk tunes (which I consider to be just bad warmed-over Disco) will find it believable that a drug- and alcohol-addled anarchist dropout could effectively manage an organization of scientists, technicians, and manufacturers in building a complex, state-of-the-art weapons delivery system -- but I didn’t.

I didn’t find the boy-girl chemistry appealing. I wasn’t dazzled by any gadgets. The villains fell far short of Bond-like scariness. And there were just too darn many explosions.

I think Diesel has what it takes to become a major action star, but this wasn’t the right film to make that happen.  [Back to Top]


Alphabetical Index of All Reviews

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A  [back to index]

The Adventures of Pluto Nash***

B  [back to index]

Batman*****
A Beautiful Mind***
Big Daddy***
The Big Hit ****½
The Blair Witch Project**
Bruce Almighty****

C  [back to index]

Charlie's Angels***
Chocolat**½
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course ***

D  [back to index]

Drumline ****

E  [back to index]

F  [back to index]

The Fast Runner***½

G  [back to index]

Ghost World***½
Gumnaam***½

H  [back to index]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ***
Holes****
The Hudsucker Proxy***½
The Hulk***½

I  [back to index]

Iron Monkey****

J  [back to index]

Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter**

K  [back to index]

The Kid With X-Ray Eyes**½
A Knight’s Tale****

L  [back to index]

Little Voice**½
Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers**½

M  [back to index]

Men With Brooms***
Monsters, Inc.*****
Mumford***
Mystery Men*****

N  [back to index]

The Nutt House***½
 

O  [back to index]

Ocean's 11****
October Sky***
The Others**

P  [back to index]

Pirates of the Caribbean; Curse of the Black Pearl****
Pluto Nash, The Adventures of***
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert***

Q  [back to index]

R  [back to index]

Rat Race***½
The Royal Tenenbaums***½

S  [back to index]

The Santa Clause 2*****
Serendipity****
Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th ***
Signs****
Spider Baby***
Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron**
Spy Kids 2***

T  [back to index]

Tomb Raider***
Tower of Terror ***
Twin Dragons**½

U  [back to index]

V  [back to index]

W  [back to index]

Where the Money Is ***
Windtalkers **½

X  [back to index]

XXX **½

Y  [back to index]

Z  [back to index]