on Movies
Random Thoughts and Capsule Reviews

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I'm going to try to keep this page updated with capsule reviews for the movies I see this summer. Let me know how I'm doing!

I feel obligated to give you some feeling for how I'm rating these. I have to confess up front: I love movies. As long as I don't feel like I've wasted my money, or more important, my time, I'm liable to give a movie a 3. Any less than that, and I wouldn't recommend the movie. A 5 is an indication of an average movie. A 10 is nearly unheard of, as is a 1.

Below, listed most recently viewed back, are the movies I've seen this summer season.

    CPav's Movie Capsules
    Thursday, September 06, 2001
    Another late update
    Two horror movies in two weeks, and I'll probably make it three with Soul Survivor tomorrow. Last Friday, however, it was Jeepers Creepers. Darry and Trish are brother and sister, heading home from an unnamed college in Trish's car, through the back roads of an unnamed state. Along the way, they are nearly run down by a mysterious truck. Shortly thereafter, they see the truck pulled off the road by an abandoned building, and its driver throwing something that looks like a body (okay, it's a body) down a drainage tunell. Against Trish's judgement, Darry goes back to look, and hilarity ensues. No, not really. I was just checking if you were still reading. Soon, the duo become prey, as the driver of the truck begins stalking them, leaving a trail of bodies in his (its?) wake.

    Like The Others, a good portion of the tension in Jeepers Creepers comes from anticipation, suggestion and foreboding rather than gore. Oh, there are three or four scenes that are visceral enough to evoke squirms, and what the bad guy is doing, once it's revealed, qualifies as pretty gross. But, all in all, compared to the typical slasher movie, the bloodletting (at least on-screen) is fairly minimal, and the monster, when revealed, would not be out of place on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which is not to say that the movie is not ultimately satisfying, although some viewers may not feel enough is explained, or may not care for the ending. I, however, did. Seen: 8/31. Score: 7.

    Monday, August 27, 2001
    Another 4-movie weekend. One great, one good, one fair, one blecch.

    My kids loved Osmosis Jones. I didn't. I found the animation uninspired, and the live-action scenes had an entirely different vibe to them than the animated ones. There were a few minor laughs, but they were mostly on throwaway lines or sight gags. Seen: 8/26. Score: 2.

    Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the fifth (and supposedly final) movie in actor/writer/director Kevin Smith's New Jersey Cycle, following Clerks,Mallrats,Chasing Amy, and Dogma. While some of those movies shared actors, the unifying factor in all of them (besides a predominant Jersey locale) was the presence of two supporting characters, Jay (played by Jason Mewes), a motor-mouthed, trash talking pothead, and his mostly-non-speaking friend, Silent Bob (played by writer/director Smith). While their part in Dogma was considerably larger than in the previous films, Jay and Silent Bob is the first in which they truly are the stars.

    The film is basically a road trip movie, with the duo travelling from Jersey to Hollywood, to stop the making of a movie based on comic book characters based on them, in order to stop internet geeks from saying bad things about them. (Trust me, it makes sense. More or less.) Along the way (actually, pretty much before they leave), they run into just about every major character from Smith's first three films, including Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, and Ben Affleck. The movie also features cameo appearances by Matt Damon, Chris Rock and George Carlin, veterans of Smith's Dogma, and Carrie Fisher, Mark Hammill, and directors Gus Van Sant and Wes Craven, the major moneymakers for Miramax Pictures. Shannon Elizabeth has a larger part as a beautiful jewel thief with whom Jay falls in love.

    The first thing to say in reviewing this film is that it is definitely not for children. Jay speaks almost nonstop, and almost everything that comes out of his mouth is about either drugs or sex. He also uses some choice slang terms for homosexuals and is just generally politically incorrect. Which is not to say that the protests that have been launched against this film are justified; GLADD has attacked the film for gay-bashing, and while the dialogue is certainly questionable, I think it's fairly clear that the character is an idiot, and nearly clueless. The movie itself is extremely funny in spots, and extremely stupid in others, and I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment of it came from being familiar with the other films in the Jersey cycle. While I am a big Smith fan, this film doesn't do anything to displace Dogma and Chasing Amy as my favorite Kevin Smith movies. Seen: 8/24. Score: 5.

    I wasn't in a big hurry to see The Others when it came out, though the trailer was sufficiently creepy. I just didn't know enough about it. It was certainly on my list of movies to see, but just never bubbled up high enough to actually make the viewing cut. Until, that is, last Friday. Now I'm sorry that I didn't see it sooner, and sing its praises louder.

    The Others is a scary movie, the way they used to make scary movies. Deep with atmosphere and mystery, with past events about which little is spoken but which have a definite effect on the present. Nicole Kidman stars as Grace, the mother of two children, living in a deserted manor house on the Isle of Jersey shortly after World War I. Her husband has gone off to the war, and her servants have disappeared in the middle of the night, so she is relieved when the three strangers appear on her doorstep, looking for work and saying that they used to work in this very house.

    Grace's children suffer from photosensitivity, an allergy to light that could result in death, causing the curtains in the house to be drawn and the house to remain moodily dark. Things take a more sinister turn as Grace's daughter, Anne, reports seeing a strange boy in their bedroom, and other people in other rooms. The requisite strange noises, self-playing pianos, and opening doors follow, and things accelerate to a marvelously chilling conclusion.

    Writer/director Alejandro Amenabar, whose Spanish film Open Your Eyes received a ton of acclaim last year (and is being remade this year by Cameron Crowe, starring Kidman's ex) keeps things moving along nicely, and holds the suspense taut. Though there is only one legitimate jump-out-of-your-seat scare in the movie, you'll be on the edge of your seat throughout. Seen: 8/24. Score: 8.

    Woody Allen's latest, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, attempts to be a 1940s screwball comedy, but isn't funny enough. Part of the stumbling block is the casting of the too-old Allen opposite Helen Hunt in a film that should be driven by sexual tension but isn't. Another is that the jokes just aren't funny enough, the situations amusing, but nothing more. I think there's a good movie somewhere in here. This just isn't it. Seen: 8/24. Score: 4.

    Thursday, August 16, 2001
    Did you know that Jesse and Frank James were farmers who, following the Civil War, fell afoul of the evil Union army and its cohorts, the Railroad Men? Did you know that Jesse just wanted to plant corn and didn't turn to robbing banks until the Railroad Men (in the form of Pinkerton Agents) destroyed his farm and killed his mother? And, did you know that, following a daring rescue while he was being transported to Washington D.C. for a kangaroo court and summary execution, he retired to Tennessee with his beautiful and spunky young wife?

    Neither did I. But that's the Jesse James story as American Outlaws would have us (and, more importantly, the nation's history-illiterate teens) believe.

    American Outlaws makes an interesting bookend to the summer's early surprise, A Knight's Tale. Both take history and repackage it for today's MTV generation. While Outlaws doesn't go quite so far as Tale in injecting modern elements into olden times (there are no possees riding to the tune of "Every Breath You Take", for instance, and the obligatory barn dance scene uses more-or-less realistic music), it makes a far more jarring blunder by purporting to tell the story of the James/Younger gang, without being too much troubled by actual history. I suppose, however, it's simply following the long-standing tradition (going all the way back to their actual era) of romanticizing the James legend.

    The movie itself is good, though its reliance on firearms for its fights makes some of the daring escapes all that more improbable; it's one thing for Jackie Chan to dodge bad guys using their fists and household objects to fight, but it's quite another to believe that, as he runs across a bank counter, Jesse can blow away 20 stationary Pinkerton agents without one of them landing a shot.

    Be that as it may, the movie is enjoyable enough, and the cast, including James Caan's son Scott and the lovely Ali Larter (she of the whipped cream bikini in varsity Blues) are attractive and amiable. Irish actor Colin Farrell plays a charismatic Jesse, and this could be the last movie in which reviewers have to explain who Farrell is; coming off critical acclaim for last year's little-seen Vietnam War drama Tigerland, Farrell is poised to star next year in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report with Tom Cruise, the World War II courtroom drama Hart's War with Bruce Willis, and director/producer Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth, in which Farrell replaced Jim Carrey. But those are in the future. For now, I give American Outlaws (seen on 8/14) a 5.

    Monday, August 13, 2001
    It was a busy weekend. Four movies in two days, and probably three more coming this week, including a preview of American Outlaws.

    Rush Hour 2 is a follow up to the surprisingly successful Rush Hour. Whereas that movie gave its focus to Jackie Chan's flying fists, this one concentrates more on Chris Tucker's flapping gums. It's strictly summer movie eye (and ear) candy, with a moderate amount of great action from Chan and some pretty funny lines from Tucker. There are plot holes galore as the mismatched duo attempts to stop an international smuggling ring led (or is it) by the man responsible for the death of Chan's father. The action shifts from Hong Kong to Vegas, and sets up a sequel in which the pair will undoubtedly take New York by storm. There's nothing of consequence here, but there's nothing particularly bad about it either. Seen: 8/10. Score: 5.

    I have to confess something that most guys won't: I was never overly enamoured of the original Planet of the Apes. I'm sure I saw it as a kid, probably even watched one or two of the sequels, but none of them stuck with me to any great degree. So I was able to watch Tim Burton's "reimagination" of the classic without any real baggage. And, twenty years from now, when someone makes another version of it, I'll be able to watch that in a similar mode.

    The film stars Mark Wahlberg as an astronaut and chimp-lover who finds himself marooned on an alien planet (that's right, movie buffs, this one is NOT Earth) in which simians are the dominant species and humans are hunted and enslaved. And of course, he can't stand for that. So he leads a growing band of humans (and some apes, willingly and not) in a revolt against the status quo. Except that I never for a moment bought Wahlberg as a leader. He just doesn't have the presence. What he does best is play the average joe, just one of the guys, and here that demeanor works against him. Co-starring with him are the lovely Helena Bonham-Carter, buried in a chimp suit but acting her guts out, and the also lovely Estella Warren, whose main job seems to be to look dewily at Wahlberg and not let him give up. Michael Clarke Duncan and Tim Roth are along as the main opponents, but one would expect an actor of Roth's reputation to give some depth or dimension to the evil General Thade, but all he does is grimace and rant. Charlton Heston, star of the original, has an ape-suit cameo, and Kris Kristofferson shows up early on but is taken out of the action fairly quickly, something that seems to be true of his career nowadays.

    Much has been made of the surprise ending (which I accidently read about quite some time ago), and the fact that it may set up a sequel. Here's hoping they learn from history and don't stretch it out to 5, the way the original series did. Or at least that Wahlberg's smart enough to make sure he gets killed in the second, the way Heston did thirty years ago.
    Seen: 8/10. Score: 4.

    And now for two much better reviews:
    Rat Race doesn't open until this Friday, but there were previews this past Saturday. In fact, the studio took the unusual step of having two previews showings on each screen on Saturday, obviously hoping to double the word of mouth. Normally, I would take this as a bad sign, but after seeing the film, I can say with fair certainty that this isn't the case.

    Rat Race borrows loosely from 1963's It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which starred Spencer Tracy and almost every American comedian alive, in a cross-country chase for a hidden treasure. Here, it's a group of people brought together by a casino owner (John Cleese, with really bad dentures), to provide betting fodder for a group of ultra-rich gamers who will bet (literally) on anything. Whereas the earlier film included a number of a-listers (Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, and Jonathan Winters), this one focuses mainly on second-stringers and young actors. Arguably the biggest names in the cast (besides Cleese) are Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and John Lovitz. And I was a bit worried when two of the funniest bits from the trailer took place in the first five minutes of the film.

    But you've got to respect a movie that brings together so many diverse elements and makes them all work, including but not limited to: a flying cow, Hitler's touring car, monster trucks, and a busload of Lucille Ball impersonators. And I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard at a movie that my ribs ached. See this one. I'm going to, again on Friday with the kids. Seen: 8/11. Score: 7.

    American Pie 2 is made for the folks who enjoyed American Pie, of whom I am one. You can write down scenes from the first movie and scenes from the second, and draw lines to scenes which correspond. Let's see, Jim's dad walks in on him during a sexual moment? Check. A sexual encounter is broadcast to a broader audience than expected? Check. Jim is subject to humiliation during a solo sexual act? Got it. A band geek shows surprising depth? Yep.

    If you get the feeling from the above that American Pie 2 is primarily concerned with sex, then you'd be right on. And if you saw the first movie, you wont' be surprised. It's more of the same, although there is an interesting subtext in one of the scenes which comments on the young American male's fascination with female homosexuality and simultaneous revulsion at male homosexuality.

    The review of this movie starts and stops with "if you enjoyed the first one, you'll like this one, though it won't give you anything particularly new." If you didn't see the first movie, rent it and watch it first, before deciding whether or not to see this one. Seen: 8/11. Score: 6.

    Wednesday, August 08, 2001
    I'm running late again.
    Let's get the bare facts out in the open. The Princess Diaries is G-Rated. It is directed by Gary Marshall. It is put out by Disney. And, if you're still reading, it's a damned --oops. sorry. darned-- funny movie. Marshall's movies are good-hearted and fun, and don't have the least bearing on reality, but they have an edge (granted, not a particularly sharp edge), and some good lines.

    This particular Marshall offering stars Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopolis, a high school student whose life is thrown into a frenzy with the appearance of her paternal grandmother, Clarisse (Julie Andrews), following the death of her father, who she has only known through letters, tuition at a ritzy private school, and extravagant birthday gifts. Clarisse, it seems, is the Queen of Genovia, which makes Mia Princess Amelia. The movie focuses on Mia's training in the social graces required for her new regal station, and her decision whether or not to ditch her Bohemian San Francisco lifestyle to become the next in line for the throne of a small country.

    Hathaway is an unknown, unless you remember Fox's 1999 family comedy/drama Get Real, which I do, fondly, but she holds her own with everyone in the cast. She is believable both as the gawky, awkward high school student and as the newly-refined, radiantly beautiful princess-to-be. Andrews is regal and refined, learning how to be a grandmother as well as a queen. The cast also includes Marshall regulars Hector Elizondo, as the Queen's chief of security, and Larry Miller, as a the Italian hairdresser brought in to beautify the gawky, frumpy Mia. Heather Matarazzo and pop princess Mandy Moore are on hand, as Mia's best friend and rival, as well.

    This is a movie that was enjoyed thoroughly by our entire family, 5 year-old to 35. (Okay, okay. I'm 36.) Seen: 8/3. Score: 7.

    Saturday, July 21, 2001
    Tonight was a double feature again, screening movies that the boys want to see, but we weren't sure were appropriate.
    I wasn't as down on Jurassic Park II: The Lost World as a lot of other people were, but the fact that it wasn't the kind of movie that really makes an impression was clear in the fact that the only things that I could remember about it were that Julianne Moore was in it and the T-Rex got loose in a mainland city, looking for its baby. Jurassic Park III will probably stick around a little longer in my memory, thanks to the presence of William H. Macy, one of my favorite actors, and Tea Leoni, one of my favorite actresses to look at.

    The story is pretty much recycled, with a group of folks dumped on an island populated by dinosaurs, and trying to get off alive. This time the island is "Site B", which wasn't seen in the first two movies, allowing the filmmakers to introduce some new dinos. The raptors are back, this time as supporting characters, and the dinosaur effects are even better than before. I will probably invoke what we call at our house the "Jurassic Park rule" (named after the first movie, which was the occasion for which the rule was created) with regard to the boys, which means I think that there is nothing in the movie itself which I would find objectionable for them to see, but that the effects of seeing it on a big screen might not be in their best interest (i.e. it's too intense.) They will eagerly await its arrival on DVD. Seen: 7/20. Score: 5.

    When I reviewed Tomb Raider a few weeks ago, I mentioned that it was the first of the summer movies to feature a strong female hero, and the first to be adapted from a popular video game. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the second. Again, at the time I reviewed Tomb Raider, I said I hoped that Final Fantasy would be the better of the two. It isn't.

    Final Fantasy is getting a lot of press as the first movie to be both entirely computer-animated and still be photo-realistic (i.e. the people look like real people, not cartoons). And on that level, it succeeds quite nicely, though the characters still don't look entirely real; there's a flatness of expression that can't be overcome even with minute manipulation of the eyes or brows or lips. And it's interesting to hear familiar voices coming out of characters that look nothing like them. Steve Buscemi as a good looking guy? James Woods with dark hair and muscles? Who'da thunk it?

    What Final Fantasy has in visuals, however, it lacks in story. Or, rather, as much as it does with visuals, it tries to do that much more with story, and ends up overly long, and extremely confusing. The setting is the future, when Earth has been overrun by aliens called phantoms, and humans are huddled in "barrier cities", trying to find a way to reclaim their planet. To that end, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) and Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-na) are trying to uncover 8 spirits (found in all manner of living material) that they hope will lead to a way of getting rid of the phantoms, while the sinister General Hein (James Woods) just wants to bomb the heck out of them.

    Into this the writers also introduce metaphysical concepts of a great spirit Gaea, from which all spirits come, and to which they all return on the death of the body. Aki is also having dreams in which she's on the aliens' home planet, and all sorts of other stuff is going on. Much of the conflict between the military and the metaphysical reminded me of the much superior Atlantis. Now if you'd have told me at the beginning of the summer that I'd use the phrases "much superior" and "Atlantis" in a sentence, I'd have told you you were crazy. Just goes to show you. Seen: 7/20. Score: 4.

    And if you care, no, I'm going to recommed that the boys don't see this one either. When the phantoms kill people (and that happens a lot), they sort of rip the souls out of them, which I found a bit disconcerting, so I don't really want my 9 year-old to see it, and I think it's just plain too convoluted for them to truly enjoy. Again, though, I'll probably let them see it on video when it comes out.

    Friday, July 20, 2001
    I'm way late on my review of The Anniversary Party, which I saw last Saturday (7/14). It's a small film, one that probably falls into the category of "art house film", and takes place over the course of a single day in the lives of Sally Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Joe Thierran (Alan Cumming). She's an actress and he's a novelist who's just made the deal that will bring his most recent novel to the screen, with him as the director. It is also their sixth wedding anniversary, though they spent a good portion of the previous year seperated. What transpires over the course of the party makes up the majority of the movie.

    Jason Leigh and Cumming co-wrote and co-directed the movie, and it features a number of their friends playing exaggerated versions of themselves, or at least their public images. Real-life spouses Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates play a married couple, he an actor prone to exaggerated Shakesperian airs and she an actress who has retired to raise their two children (played, of course, by Kline and Cates' real son and daughter). Gwenyth Paltrow also appears as the Hollywood golden girl who has been given the part in the movie that everyone assumes is based on Sally.

    The Anniversary Party is an interesting film, and takes a couple of unexpected detours over the course of its tale, but, ulimately, doesn't seem to be about much except for watching the tensions boil just under the surface, waiting for them to burst through. And burst through they do, thanks to the drug Ecstasy and a lost dog. It's fun to imagine that this might truly be what celebrities are like when they're just hanging with their friends, and there are some nice performances. This is a perfect movie to discover on a rainy Sunday afternoon when there's nothing else on cable. Seen: 7/14. Score: 6.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2001
    Last Friday was a double feature again. Kelly and the kids met me for Cats and Dogs, then I stayed at the theater for Scary Movie 2. Neither movie was fabulous, but neither was particularly bad either, and both pretty much delivered on what their trailers suggested.

    Cats and Dogs is a fine example of the evolving art of computer filmmaking. The live actors (in this case Elizabeth Perkins and Jeff Goldblum) are overshadowed by a collection of, as the title suggest, cats and dogs, whose actions and dialogue are accomplished through a combination of live action, computer animation, and electronics. The story involve Lou (short for Loser), a beagle puppy who is accidently sent to guard an experiment being conducted by Goldblum, after the previous guardian is kidnapped by cats and retires to Flordia. It seems that Goldblum is working on a cure for humans' allergies to dogs. The dogs want to safeguard the work, but the cats, led by Mr. Cuddles (voiced by Will and Grace's Sean Hayes) want to steal the formula and use it to make all humans allergic to dogs, thereby allowing the cats to resume their place as masters of the world (from which the dogs expelled them in ancient Egypt). Along the way, Lou bonds with Goldblum and Perkins' adolescent son (Alexander Brody), bringing up questions of relationship vs. duty which mimic the struggle which Goldblum is going through, regarding his work vs his relationship with his son.

    The movie is fun, with some of the special effects particularly engaging (especially in the ninja cat attack), although some of them occasionally look rather stilted. There is enough for adults to enjoy in it that it won't be a waste of time or money, and the kids really loved it. A good family view, with fewer fart jokes than Dr. Doolittle 2. Seen: July 6. Score: 5.

    I don't have a lot to say about Scary Movie 2, except that it's a lot like Scary Movie, except not as focused. Where that movie folded its scatalogical and biological humor into a very pointed takeoff of the Scream movies, with a few of the other teen slasher films thrown in, this one targets horror movies, touching on everything from The Exorcist (in an extremely tacked-on, extremely gross opening segment) to What Lies Beneath, Mission Impossible 2, and Charlie's Angels. The basic plot draws from The Haunting, with a group of students trapped in a haunted mansion under the guise of a sleep disorder experiment, though some of the sequences are pulled directly from The House on Haunted Hill, which came out around the same time and had a similar plot. (I am referring to the two remakes of those movies that came out two years ago, rather than the originals, of course.)

    As I said, most of the humor is of the gross-out variety, and the characters and situations are even less developed than in the original. If you liked that one, you'll like this one. I happened to like that one, and liked this one a little less. Seen: July 6. Score: 4.

    Monday, July 02, 2001
    I really, really wanted to like AI. It's a futuristic fantasy, grounded in reality but with a number of fantastical elements, and not afraid to touch on darker elements and themes. It's got an intriguing pedigree, based on an obscure (?) short story, nurtured for a decade by Stanley Kubrick, one of the best-regarded directors of all time who, in the recent past, had made more art-house type movies than big ones. Upon Kubrick's death, the mantle was taken up by arguably the most popular filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg, who ended up authoring the script himself, and seeing the project to fruition.

    And I did like AI. Just not as much as I wanted to.

    Without giving away too much of the plot, David is a prototypical android who's been programmed to actually feel love, to imprint upon a father and mother and love them forever, and unconditionally. He is given to a couple whose natural son is in a coma, and events progress that lead David to undertake an overtly Pinnochio-an journey to become a "real boy".

    The cast is wonderful. Hayley Joel Osment as David, proves that The Sixth Sense was no fluke for him the way that Jerry Maguire may have been for that kid; he handles the part with subtlety when it's called for, and over-the-top reaction when that's needed. He is marvelous. Australian actress Frances O'Connor, as David's imprinted mother, is alternately caring for her adopted son and concerned for her real one. Jude Law, as an adroid programmed for a different (physical) kind of love, is a real breakout. No one knew who he was when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Talented Mr. Ripley. After this, everyone will know him.

    The problem I had was that I wasn't sure what Spielberg was trying to say. The questions of the nature of love, what it means to be human, and whether a machine who learns to love is still a machine all fall within the scope of the story, and all are touched on, but none is developed fully. If the message of the movie is that what David does is a near-eternal expression of love, I, as a programmer, will argue that what David does is the action of a near-eternal program; he's programmed to love unconditionally and forever, and that's exactly what he does. That there is a 2000-year gap between the main portion of the story and the climax does nothing but reinforce that the boy is not truly human.(there is a sentence in the white space preceding this one. It gives away a fairly minor detail of the movie. If you'd like to read it, click your mouse after "what he does." and drag across the white space.)

    In the course of the story, there are some disturbing situations and images, some moving ones, and some very funny ones. But what's missing to me is the emotional attachment to David which would have given the story much more weight. We are told so many times that he has been programmed to love that we view all his emotions as just that much more precise programming.

    AI is recommended viewing. I just wish I could recommend it more highly. Seen: 6/28/01. Score: 6.

    Note: Since I've been writing these formal reviews (as opposed to spouting my opinions to anyone who would listen), I've become a little concerned about my opinions; most professional reviewers see movies before reviews of those movies come out (duh), so they have only their own response to the film, and maybe conversation amongst those at the screening, from which to form their opinions.

    Since I am of the opinion that going to see a bad movie is no one's fault but your own (since abundant information regarding the movie's stars, plot, and quality is generally available prior to the film's release), I tend to read reviews before I go see the movies. This got me into a Catch-22, however, with writing these reviews, because I can never be sure that my opinion of the movie isn't clouded by the reviews I've read.

    So I made it a point to see AI without reading any reviews of it. Oh, I checked a couple of ratings (3 1/2 stars, two thumbs up, that kind of thing), but did not read any detailed review until I got home.

    And you know what? My opinion, in a vaccuum, matched that of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reviewer, to a t. So I feel better now, though I'm not sure why I worried since nobody's reading this anyway .

    Friday, June 29, 2001
    Sorry it's taken me a while to post these reviews. I hate it when things like work intrude on the really important stuff.

    I enjoyed Atlantis:The Lost Empire a whole lot more than I thought I would. The previews don't really give an idea of what the movie is about, just that a geeky guy (a cartographer and linguist, voiced by Michael J. Fox) finds the legendary lost continent, and meets a native-looking girl who gets picked up in a beam of light. What the movie really is about is perseverance, compassion, and respect. There are a number of celebrity voices, as befit any Disney summer animated feature. Particular standouts are Don (Father Guido Sarducci) Novello as an Italian demolitions expert, and Florence Stanley, as an elderly woman whose one line of dialogue appears to be "Oh, yeah. We're gonna die." Toss in James Garner and Claudia (Babylon 5) Christian as the heavies and the late Jim Varney (better known as Ernest P. Worrel ("knowhatimean, Vern?")) in what must have been his last role, and you've got some real heavy hitters. There is enough going on to keep the younger kids busy (though kids too young may miss part of the plot), enough action and explosions for the older ones, and enough plot and humor for the adults. Recommended. Seen: 6/22/01. Score: 6.

    Dr. Doolittle 2 is a sequel to the tremendously popular Eddie Murphy movie of a few years ago. If you liked that movie, you'll probably like this one. It repeats a lot of the themes from the first: The social issue addressed this time is the destruction of nature by developers, the family issue is a surly teenager, and the main animal character is a circus bear who needs to be taught to live (and mate) in the wild.

    There will be no Academy Awards for the performances in this film, but they're serviceable; Murphy gets to do a few Murphyisms, Norm MacDonald is funny as the family dog who also tries to get in touch with his more primative side (in the person of a female wolf), and Steve Zahn is loopily engaging as Archie, the Circus Bear. Seen: 6/22/01. Score: 6

    Thursday, June 21, 2001
    Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the start of a number of things. It's the first of a couple of movies this summer which are based on video or computer games (Final Fantasy is the other), it's the first of a couple of action movies with female protagonists (again, Final Fantasy is the other), and it's the start of (hopefully) a string of reviews coming from here the next few days.

    Let's hope Final Fantasy is a better movie. Don't get me wrong; there are some things to like about Tomb Raider. The action scenes are wonderful and inventive, and Angelina Jolie is sexy and appealing as Lara, the first female superstar of computer gaming. Purists (of which I am most definitely not one; I've never even played the games) may argue that they should have adopted the character's computer-gaming color scheme (aqua tank top and khaki shorts), or red hair, but Jolie more than pulls off the job, wearing padding to make her look as physically close to the character as a real person could, without looking like a freak (proportion-wise).

    The plot involves Croft discovering a clock which holds the key (figuratively and literally) to the retrieval of the two pieces of an artifact which, when reassembled, will hold the key to the mastery of time. She is racing against the clock, though, as well as against a wealthy lawyer and a rival tomb raider, both in the imploy of the Illuminati (a secret society traditionally linked to world domination and secret machinations). Lara wants to use the clock to reunite with her dead father. The Illuminati undoubtedly have more nefarious purposes, though they don't get spelled out much.

    As I said earlier, the action scenes are very nice, including a rather inventive bungee-ballet which becomes a firefight, and fights with both animated statues and a big honkin' robot thingee. But the pacing is miserable (so much so that the three boys with me commented that the non-action scenes were dull), with great long stretches of nothing much happening. And Lara's relationship with the rival raider is so nebulous throughout the film that her actions late in the movie really don't make as much sense as they should.

    All in all, if I had to see one of them again, I'd re-watch The Mummy Returns before I'd take in Tomb Raider again, though I would be happy to see a sequel if it comes out. Seen: 6/20/01. Score: 5.

    Monday, June 18, 2001
    It's been a while. Over a week without going to the movies. You should have seen me shaking from withdrawal symptoms.

    I'm flirting with the idea of putting up reviews of movies that I'm watching on cable/DVD as well. I saw a cute movie called Love Stinks on cable last week, and watched the DVD of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the kids. I swear, you can't beat the quality of DVD; in this one, you can actually see the Dragon, and the Tiger appears to be more squatting than actually crouching.

    Seriously. I'm planning on going to the movies this week, hopefully to see three movies, and will report back. Meanwhile, here's a quick review of Swordfish to keep you going. Swordfish is about a super-hacker (Hugh Jackman) who is blackmailed/hired/bribed into breaking into a secret government account and diverting funds for a mysterious benefactor (John Travolta). In the middle is a beautiful woman (Halle Berry) who's currently appearing on every tv show in the country, discussing the fact that she may or may not have been paid $500,000 to bear her breasts in this film. She does indeed bear them, and they're nice, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Somebody in the theater I was at took a picture, though, so you can probably find them on the internet for a lot less than the $7 ticket price.

    Unfortunately, Ms Berry's assets are being used to hype this movie because there's precioius little else to use. "Honey, would you like to go see a movie where Rob Schneider turns into an animal, or a movie about a rogue computer programmer?" Swordfish starts out promising, with a monologue about realism in action movies by Travolta, followed by a really cool action scene involving high explosives and ball bearings. (Trust me.) But nothing else about the movie lives up to those two scenes. Oh, Jackman's interaction with his daughter is touching, and the climactic action scene involving a bus and a helicopter is breathtaking (and breathtakingly silly), but on the whole, it's just dumb.

    There are plot holes galore, and the Hollywood depiction of computer programming cannot hope to capture the true exhiliration of code crunching, but for a summer action movie, I've seen worse. Well, no I haven't, because I avoid movies if they're worse, but this one was okay for a hot Saturday afternoon. Seen: 6/16/01. Score: 4.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2001
    Two movies tonight, a John Leguizamo-as-supporting-player double feature. Duane and I have a long-standing joke about what we call "the second movie curse". For a long time, it seemed that every time we went to two movies together in one evening, the second movie was terrible. Not just not as good as the first movie, but amazingly, lost-two-hours-of-your-life bad. Dead Man on Campus bad. Very Bad Things bad. Sometimes, when we're deciding which order to see movies in, we will intentionally try to circumvent the second movie curse by scheduling the movie we expect to be better second. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. Tonight, as the second movie started, I was afraid it backfired. But it didn't.

    What's the Worst That Could Happen was first up. It got lost in last week's debut of Animal, but on the whole I think it will outlast that movie by a long shot. Martin Lawrence stars as a burglar who breaks into Danny DeVito's beach house thinking he's not there. When DeVito catches him, he adds insult to injury by not only turning Lawrence over to the police, but by stealing his lucky ring as well (telling the police the ring was his). An ever-escalating chain of retribution follows, as Lawrence sets out to retrieve the ring.

    A lot of times, you can tell if a movie's going to be bad by how many ex-Saturday Night Live cast members it has as featured players. For some reason, the presence of those familiar faces just don't lend themselves to really funny movies. In this case, however, each one contributes nicely to the picture, from Siobahn Fallon as a magician/burglar's kvetching wife, to Ana Gasteyer as Leguizamo's wife and Nora Dunn as DeVito's. The actors all click, and there are some funny situations and lines, and Lawrence reins in his usual mugging. Add to them the always-dry Richard Schiff (Toby on The West Wing) and the always-good Glenne Headley (probably best known as Tess in Dick Tracy, and you've got an enjoyable two hours. Seen: 6/6/01. Score: 5

    Wow. Moulin Rouge. People are really going to like this movie, or really really hate it. For the first few minutes, I thought I'd be in the latter category. Actually, make that the second few minutes; the movie starts with a wonderful bit with a conductor in the movie theater's orchestra pit conducting the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It then goes into some old-time movie style stuff, and then practically explodes.

    The story is fairly simple. Boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back. In this case, the boy is Christian (Ewan McGregor) a writer new to Paris who is drawn into the decadence of the Moulin Rouge nightclub/brothel by a chance meeting with French artist Toulouse Lautrec (Leguizamo). The girl is the Moulin Rouge's top headliner/courtesan, Satine (Nicole Kidman).

    Moulin Rouge is really almost two movies. In the first, everything is loud and fast and over-the-top, with weird "hey, I'm a filmmaker look what I can do" lighting and rapid cuts and blaring sound. Everyone in this half except for McGregor and Kidman are cartoons; Jim Broadbent as the owner/manager of the Moulin Rouge is too-heavily rouged for two thirds of the show, with his hair standing out in all directions. You almost expect the duke (Richard Roxburgh), who vies for Satine's body (if not her affections) to start twisting his Snidely Whiplash moustache at any moment. The second half is much darker, more a traditional musical, in which both Leguizamo and Broadbent get a little more depth to their characters and the shenanigans tone down quite a bit.

    Much has been made when talking about this movie that the music used is not traditional movie-musical style music (except for Come What May, one of the love themes and the only song written specifically for the movie), and in some places I found the incongruity of the modern music in the turn-of-the-century setting a little off-putting. The first such song usage (The Sound of Music), I felt was particularly jarring, but by the time Broadbent and Roxburgh duet on Like A Virgin (the culmination of the over-the-top first half), I'd fully bought into the concept, and I thought the use of Roxanne as a dramatic tango was not only effective, but darn near brilliant.

    McGregor and Kidman acquit themselves well as singers, and better as actors, and it says a lot for the movie that I was truly on edge as to what would eventually happen. Be warned that the entire movie is unconventional, and the first half is extremely so, and give it a try. Seen: 6/6/01. Score: 6

    Friday, June 01, 2001
    Looks like I revised the ranking scale just in time...

    Thanks to Duane McClinton, I ended up with 4 passes for The Animal last night at a preview showing. It opens today at, as they say, "a theater near you." I took three boys, ages 8 and 11, and we all had a good time. Rob (Saturday Night Live, Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo) Schneider plays a nebbishy property clerk for a small-town police department, who dreams of following his father as a cop. Barely surviving a horrendous (and hilarious) car accident, he is saved by a mad scientist, who uses a variety of circus animals as organ donors. Schneider gains the abilities of the animals along with their organs, but also gains their more base instincts and urges as well. And, as they also say, "hilarity ensues."

    There are a fair number of crude jokes (farts and butt-sniffing and such), but within the "behaving like an animal" context, they're not too bad. A couple of more sexually referential jokes may have been a little too much for younger kids, but those are shown to a lesser degree in the trailer, so they've probably seen them already anyway.

    All in all, the movie was fairly enjoyable. Schneider still hasn't reached the stage in his career where he finds it necessary to try to instill deep meaning in his roles (something it appears Adam Sandler is now attempting), and his goofy amiability goes a long way towards carrying the movie. A minor subplot about reverse-discrimination is funny, and all in all the movie is entertaining, if lightweight. Schneider's love interest is played by Survivor alumna Coleen Haskell, who is every bit as pixieish and lovely to look at as she was when she was eating rice on Palua Tiga, but whose expressions range from smiling to trying not to smile. Seen: 5/31/01. Score: 4.

    Tuesday, May 29, 2001
    Before I start, I want to note that I've revised the header to this page, and the ratings that I am using for the reviews herein. In sitting at the movies this weekend, I realized that making anything under a "5" something that I would not recommend, I was cutting myself very little slack, and leaving few options. Since I am fairly careful about making sure I truly want to see a movie before going, I don't see a lot of movies that I truly don't like or really wouldn't recommend. So I'm bucking the criteria down, to give myself a little more wiggle room. From here on out, a 3 is a break-even movie. That's something that I didn't mind paying the ticket price for, and can in good conscious tell you that you might find something enjoyable in. A 2 or 1 is not something I'd recommend you see. And, in retrospect, even given the new scale, I wouldn't change any of the ratings I've given below.

    I took my 11 year-old son to see A Knight's Tale on Saturday. It was a movie that he wanted to see more than I did, but it was good father-son bonding time, and it was a fun enough movie. The story involves a young man of common birth who takes the place of the knight for whom he works, when that knight dies in the midst of a jousting tournament (but not in the joust itself, so no one is aware of the switch). In the course of the story, he develops a love interest with a young princess, a rivalry with the former undisputed tournament champion, and a friendship with a young scalawag of a writer named Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer.

    A lot has been made about the anachronisims in this movie, from the peasants singing We Will Rock You (right down to the bum-bum-BUM, bum-bum-BUM hand beats), to the modern dancing in a party scene, but by and large, while those things will make you smile and remind you that you are, indeed, watching a thoroughly modern movie, they add to the fun atmosphere, rather than detract from it. The thing I found most jarring of all was the character of the princess, a thouroughly-modern Millie in medieval dress. (They did have ultra-sheer black fabrics back then, right?)

    All in all, not a great movie, but an okay way to spend a couple hours with an adolescent son. Seen 5/26/01. Score: 5.

    Saturday, May 26, 2001
    Pearl Harbor is a movie I've been waiting for since the first time I saw the images on the trailer of the Japanese Zeroes flying low in the hills of Hawaii. It's been over a year since that day, and I have to say that, while it wasn't a waste of money, it wasn't everything I hoped it would be, either.

    Most of the reviewers have been praising the action scenes, and ripping the romantic plot, and I don't see any reason to disagree with them. Kate Beckinsale is a beautiful girl, and an okay actress, but she had absolutely no chemistry with Ben Affleck. To be fair to her, though, Affleck has almost no chemistry or charisma in this entire film. The rest of the fliers follow him, and you know because of that he must be a good leader, but he never shows it until the end. Beckinsale's relationship with Josh Hartnett (who struck me as a dead ringer for a young Tommy Lee Jones) fared better, but you have to care about all three sides of a romantic triangle, and I sure didn't. To say that everything about the triangle was predictable, from the way Affleck and Beckinsale "meet cute" to the final fates of everyone involved, is an understatement. In Titanic, the romance gave you a reason to sit through a 3-hour movie whose end you already knew; in this one, the thing that keeps you going is that, sooner or later, the enemy will arrive and the action will start.

    The supporting players fared better than the leads; Jon Voight was buried under makeup to play FDR, but did so well, and Alec Baldwin and Cuba Gooding, Jr. did the best they could with throwaway roles, and Dan Ackroyd stood out in a very small part.

    As I said, not a waste of money, but not the raging success I'd hoped for. Hopefully, Beckinsale will fare better with John Cusack in Serendipity later this summer. Seen 5/25/01. Score: 6.

    Sunday, May 20, 2001
    Saturday was a primo movie day for me; not only did I get to see 3 movies, but all three were movies that I'd been eagerly anticipating.

    A couple of observations before I get to the reviews:

    This is shaping up to be a great summer for family films. From this week's Shrek to Cats and Dogs and Dr. Doolittle 2 by way of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, I can't remember a summer in which the kids' movies look as much fun for the grownups as well. And not a Pokemon in sight.

    I had a surreal experience last night, while waiting to see Memento: One of the pre-movie previews as for The Center of the World. I was impressed by the preview, to the point that I said to myself, "Wow. That looks like a really interesting movie. I can't wait to see it." Problem was, I'd just seen it. Check my review, below.

    Memento has been getting rave reviews from every front, and I'm not going to dissent. An intriguingly complex movie, with a marvelous gimmick, it's been inspiring audiences to see it again and again. Memento tells the story of Leonard, an insurance investigator whose wife has been raped and murdered. In attempting to fight off her attacker, Leonard is injured, and develops a rare case of short-term memory loss; he can remember everything up to and including the attack, but cannot form any new memories. This means that every time he meets someone new, it's like meeting them for the first time, and if a conversation goes on too long, he'll forget how it started. He devises an intricate system of notes, tattoos, and polaroid photographs to allow himself to function, and to track down his wife's killer.

    To give the viewer some sense of what it's like for Leonard, the filmmaker has taken the challenging tactic of telling the story backward. From the first scene, in which we watch a polaroid photograph undevelop, each successive scene precedes the one before, ending with the beginning of the previous scene. It's not as complicated as it sounds, and is extremely rewarding, as we discover more and more about the supporting characters (none of whom are what they seem), and about Leonard himself.

    This movie has already joined The Usual Suspects and Blood Simple as my favorite suspense movies that no one's ever seen. I saw it on 5/19/01, and give it a score of 9.

    The Center of the World was extraordinarily disappointing. It's been a controversial film, with a number of cities refusing to allow its artsy/racy adds on public transportation and bus stops. I'll admit, I don't see what the fuss was about; I've seen more titillating perfume ads. I have a real similar reaction to the movie itself. As I said above, prior to Memento, I saw a preview for Center, and was struck again by what an interesting premise the movie adopts: a dot-com millionaire offers a stripper $10,000 to accompany him to Las Vegas for a weekend. She accepts, with a number of conditions, including restrictions on the time and type of their physical relations. They, of course, begin to draw closer during their time together. Can their mutual attraction overcome the strictures of their deal, and the differences between them?

    Who the hell knows? Unfortunately, the movie fails to deliver on the promise of its setup. The reviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (who, by the way, gave it 3 stars out of 5) described the movie as a metaphor for the inability to connect. Which is all well and good. But whether or not the characters in a movie connect with one another, they have to connect with the audience, or we don't have a reason to care what happens to them. These characters do connect with us at points, but those points are too far between, and the connection is not sustained, so I came away, ultimately, unsatisfied. It seemed like there were three or four scenes missing from this movie, and those may have made the difference. Seen 5/19/01. Score: 2.

    Shrek was a movie the whole family was waiting to see and, with the exception of Kelly's overactive gag reflex almost causing her to lose her lunch, it was one the whole family thoroughly enjoyed. The plot of the movie is as old as the fairy tales it lambastes, with an ogre going to rescue a princess from a dragon so that she can marry a prince, and over the course of the journey falling in love with her. There's also a moral to the story, also not new: It doesn't matter how you look on the outside, but rather what's on the inside.

    What really makes this movie, though, are the talents of the voice artists (Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, and, especially, Eddie Murphy) and the massive amounts of sight-gags, from the fairy tale creatures that overrun Shrek's swamp, to the strangely familiar, theme-park like castle that Lithgow's Prince Farquaar inhabits. Kelly repeatedly said "I can't believe they did that without getting sued." I couldn't respond, as I was laughing so hard I was gasping for air. Seen 5/19/01. Score: 8.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2001
    One Night At McCool's is an okay movie. The story of how three very different men are smitten by one woman was cute as it set up its premise, and downright funny when all three storylines came together, but in between I had trouble staying awake. That may have had something to do with the fact that I didn't have a lot of sleep the night before. Or maybe not. Liv Tyler is lovely, John Goodman is earnest and funny, Paul Reiser is sleezy and funny, and Matt Dillon is Matt Dillon. Seen 5/9/01. Score: 4

    The Mummy Returns was exactly what its predecessor was: A good summertime movie. Light and frothy with plent of humor and gobs of special effects, it was a great way to spend a couple hours late one Friday night with my sons. The always-appealing Brendan Frasier and the lovely Rachel Weisz return as the leads, now married with child, and Arnold Vosloo is back as the titular bad guy, with WWF star The Rock thrown in as secondary baddie The Scorpion King (soon to be featured in spin-off prequel of that name). If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. If not, probably not. Seen 5/4/01. Score: 7
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