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Craig's Movie Club
Film/Video Reviews
Science-Fiction and Fantasy

Speculative films reviewed with a discerning eye.

Evolution (2001)

...or Alienbusters!

Director Ivan Reitman delivers another special-effects laden "humorfest," this time involving creatures from another world.

Perhaps they thought this film was funny. It was about as good as I had expected it to be, which wasn't much. When the "best" scenes in the trailer aren't funny, worry. Seann William Scott's character is actually funnier than the trailer gives him credit for; he's come a long (well, not too long, I actually liked him better in Final Destination) way since American Pie.

The funniest character is played by Orlando Jones, who, unfortunately is made the victim of a drawn-out (and recurring) anal probe joke. David Duchovny really looks like he doesn't want to be here, and delivers his humorous lines as if he is doubting anyone will find them funny. Julianne Moore is the token female, ostensibly around so the male characters can fantasize about her.

This film had all the proper ingredients for a blockbuster science-fiction comedy except two: a funny script and a heart.

Fisher King, The (1991)

I hadn't seen this film since it first came out on video. I remembered certain things about it: that I had enjoyed it, that the Holy Grail played prominently in it, and that Jeff Bridges was very good in it.

Those are all still true.

Jack Lucas (Bridges) is a radio "shock jock" who inadvertently causes a listener to go on a killing rampage. This affects him deeply and he quits the business, turns to alcohol, and moves in with Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), the owner of Video Spot!, a store which seems to carry as many porn titles as mainstream ones.

He is deeply depressed. One night, when he is about to end it, he gets attacked by thugs who mistake him for homeless. His life is saved by a group of homeless led by "Parry" (Robin Williams), a former history professor whose wife was killed in the aforementioned massacre. Parry has engulfed himself in the world of medieval knights (a "parry" is a type of sword thrust)--changing his name as well--and has received a mission from pixies to capture a trophy cup (which he believes is the Grail) located in a millionaire's castle-style home. Jack feels he must pay his penance by helping Parry retrieve the cup.

One thing that is holding Parry back is that he is continually besieged by the Red Knight (a hallucination that represents the trauma which with Parry is not yet ready to cope, that is, it only shows up whenever something reminds him of his past). Along the way, Parry falls in love with a publishing accountant and Jack and Anne do their best to get the ultra-shy couple together.

Terry Gilliam somehow brings this combination of Arthurian legend and modern New York together into a successful whole. Of course, the script by Richard LaGravanese is also first-rate. This is one of the most original films I have ever seen. Decisively top-rate entertainment.

Freaky Friday (1976)
Freaky Friday (2003)

I watched this again recently and was surprised by how well it has stood the test of time. But what really struck me (that I would have missed when watching it as a child) is the quality of the lead performances.

Jodie Foster (Annabelle) does a wonderful job of playing the adult-trapped-in-a-child's-body. She is especially insightful in the scene with the secretary. Barbara Harris (Ellen) is a delight as the daughter-in-the-body-of-an-adult. She is obviously having a ball dancing, blowing bubbles, and blaring rock music while trying (and failing) to do the "easy" household chores. The scene where the carpet cleaners, the drape cleaners, the housekeeper, and the auto mechanic all arrive at once is a classic in the farce mold.

Freaky Friday was released in 1976, and there are several moments that do not play well in a less innocent era. When Harris slips up and calls her "husband" "daddy" over the phone he reacts amorously. This was more than creepy, even when the father/husband is played by John Astin. Also, when Harris is trying to flirt with neighbor boy Boris (who Annabelle has a crush on), one tries to forget that this is a woman in her thirties (albeit with the personality of a teenager) coming on to a fourteen-year-old. But all in all, this was great fun and is one of the great Disney live-action films.

Remakes are generally given short shrift, but the 2003 version of Freaky Friday stands up well against its predecessor. Fast becoming the go-to girl for Disney remakes, Lindsey Lohan (The Parent Trap remake) tackles what is essentially another double role and shows that she is quite up to the challenge. Jamie Lee Curtis is the surprise, however, as the mother, game to exhibit her wild comedic side to full effect. Modernization is minimal (music, slang) here with the movie retaining much of the original--most dramatic being the change of the father figure to a soon-to-be-stepfather (Mark Harmon), adding to the mother-daughter conflict.

Summarily, whichever Freaky Friday you choose will deliver total entertainment.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters is one of the classic comedies of all time, so it's hard to give it an objective viewing. I've been watching it off and on since it came out, and, since it's one of my wife's favorite movies, I've been watching it more since we were married.

But what works, works. The screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis is a good place to start. While they all give letter-perfect performances, the script is where it's at. To begin, the idea of crossing science-fiction with comedy was one that was relatively new for the time. And just the name "ghostbusters" is for some reason hilarious.

The characters Aykroyd and Ramis created are ideal for this scenario, and are drawn from personality types. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is the cocky-yet-vulnerable leader of the group (watch and see how many times he takes charge of situations, giving orders to the others). Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) is the bumbling, childlike electronics wizard, the designer of the concept (appropriate, since the movie came from Aykroyd's original idea). And Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) is the bookworm/computer wizard who, for fun, collects various forms of lower plant-life; he is also the unwitting recipient of affection from the group's receptionist Nadine (Annie Potts). Added later is Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), there mostly to tell a religion story and make cracks about his blackness, and how, in the science-fiction canon, this would make him the first to die.

Each character in Ghostbusters is played to the hilt by the actors, including Rick Moranis as Louis Tully, accountant to Dana (Sigourney Weaver). He plays his nerdiness up through actions, voice inflections, and costume. Meanwhile Weaver, cashing in on her lanky sexiness (first seen in Alien and brought to full effect here) is the perfect foil/love interest for Murray's Venkman (Margaret Dumont to his Groucho, so to speak). He has to eschew his normal wisecracking in favor of action in order to win her.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The (2001)

I'm just going to start right off, and I know I'm going to get a lot of flak for this, but I DID NOT ENJOY THIS FILM. There, I said it. I had never read the books by Tolkien, but didn't feel I should have to in order to enjoy the film.

Apparently I was wrong. It appears that the vast majority of those who voted it in the top 10 on the IMDB are those who have read and reread the books ad infinitum.

And I like the work of Peter Jackson. Bad Taste, Dead-Alive, The Frighteners, and Heavenly Creatures. I was even able to look past the ultra-offensiveness of Meet the Feebles (a film that disturbs me even as I remember it) to see that there was a level of imagination within to admire.

Fellowship is, however, technically brilliant. I found that I had difficulty telling what was CGI sometimes (and Gollum was breathtaking in that sense), but the story did not hook me, I didn't care about any of these people, and I just kept wondering when Cate Blanchett was going to show up. Her scene was my favorite, only in part because of her lime-green breakdown.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf is brilliant as always, and Ian Holm is incredibly charming as Bilbo, but these are great actors and can overcome the tedious material. My favorite character of all, though, was Christopher Lee's evil wizard Saruman. He apparently reads the trilogy every year, and is the only cast member to have actually met Tolkien (and even I know that's cool).

All in all, I considered a complete waste of time, and I doubt if I will spend the money to watch the other two in the projected (and already filmed) trilogy. Sorry, Peter. Make another gorefest and I'll be right there, man. But I can't support you on this one.

All Good Things... (1995)--The Final Episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

I had brought out an old video of things I had taped off television, and this was on it. I was never really a fan of Star Trek, although I did watch the first few seasons of Next Generation, so I was a little skeptical going in. (I had only taped it to begin with because this last episode was hyped so much.)

Patrick Stewart really gets a chance to flex his acting muscles here. He is surely doing better acting in this than he's been allowed to do lately. He has to play the same character in three different time periods, all the time trying to not let on to anyone else (because they wouldn't understand) that he is time-traveling. Plus, he never knows when a "jump" will take place, and so is having to explain himself saying out loud something he said in the previous time period. It's pretty complicated, but done so well that it becomes easy to follow.

This was obviously written to end the series with a bang. Q is here and he's "putting mankind on trial" again, as he apparently has done before. (Like I said, I haven't seen one of these in years, so Q was new to me.) There is a spatial anomaly involved that destroys humanity and it's up to Jean-Luc (Stewart) to stop it...because he started it! Things unfold at an alarming rate, meanwhile the time-shifting becomes more erratic, not allowing Picard to stay in one place for very long.

It was fun to see the old crew members again, especially Denise Crosby's Lt. Yar (I stopped watching the show soon after her demise). It was also fun to learn what happens to them in the future (some surprising discoveries are made). On the downside, I've never liked Captain Riker (he always come across as a--how can I say this?--a real phallus), although he does resemble Orson Welles (especially aged) so that's a point in his favor. Fortunately, he is not around much. Unfortunately, when he is around, he's doing noble things, so I can't hate him.

John de Lancie is Q and he overacts as expected (what else can you do when you spend all your screen time on a floating throne?), but as a whole, this was a very entertaining experience and I would even recommend it to non-fans like myself.

  • ...more to come...