Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Review – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

This is the movie I expected to get when I rented Elf. And just as I was pleasantly surprised when Elf turned out to be somewhat entertaining, I was unpleasantly reminded here of what crimes against humor Will Ferrell is capable of perpetrating. The plot’s some trite nonsense about a local news anchor in the 1970s coming to grips with a female co-worker. But the story’s beside the point. Sadly, the main purpose of this sad production is a relentless showcase for jokes that might charitably be described as quirky but would be more aptly called moronic. This also features a heapin’ helpin’ of that old SNL standby: when the joke doesn’t work, just keep doing it and dragging it out and doing it some more, hoping to draw a laugh out of the audience’s sheer embarrassment. That rarely works live and certainly doesn’t work here. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Dodgeball

I didn’t hate this as much as I thought I was going to. Sure, it’s every bit as stupid as you’d expect a Ben Stiller movie about dodgeball to be. But the lack of expectation actually helps make some of the humor a little easier to take. Don’t get me wrong, though. This is a cliché-clogged parade of brainless gags if ever there was one. Further, it’s got more than just a touch of Stiller’s trademark awkwardness that’s supposed to be funny but rarely works. Still, if you don’t expect much out of it then at least some of the production will provide a bit of mindless fun. It’s also somewhat better on DVD because of the alternate ending joke. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Review – Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid

Them big snakes is at it again. There’s some mish-mash in here about a scientific expedition searching for a flower that may prove to be the fountain of youth, but really it’s just an excuse to drop a group of Americans into a jungle full of big, computer-animated reptiles. I guess they’re supposed to be vicious and all, but it’s almost hard not to feel sorry for them in the end given that their human opponents just spent the last hour and a half making themselves as unsympathetic as possible. See if desperate

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Review – Elf

This was the best two thirds of a Christmas movie I’ve seen in quite awhile. I’m not the biggest fan Will Ferrell ever had, and the premise – human raised by Santa’s elves seeks reunion with his biological father – seems more than a little silly. So I came into this expecting to hate it. But it swiftly won me over. The script was good, filled with quite a stock of amusing moments. Ferrell was his usual self, but even that kinda worked within the context of the movie. However, in the third act the production massively loses direction. It seemed like it ran out of wit and tried to skate through the final half hour on many of the same Christmas movie clichés that had been gently mocked up to that point. That’s really too bad, because if this show had just managed a stronger finish it would have been worth watching. Mildly amusing

Review – The Alamo

Two hours and they never once went down to the basement to check for Pee wee’s bike. Instead we get a western-mythologized production of the famous battle, a version unlikely to win any accuracy prizes or sell many tickets in Mexican theaters. But if that’s what you’re in the mood for, this is a solid example thereof. I was especially impressed by the battle scenes. They’re not the most realistic depictions of violence I’ve ever seen, but it’s hard not to admire the elaborate choreography and expensive effects. Acting, script and direction are all in keeping with what might expect from a production of this caliber. See if desperate

Monday, November 15, 2004

Review – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Normally a romance wouldn’t draw too much attention from me. But throw in some brain erasing and a certain indie charm, and I actually ended up liking this production. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett are having relationship trouble, so she decides to go to a strange new service that erases all memory of him from her mind. Understandably upset when he finds out, he follows suit. But midway through the procedure he changes his mind and begins a battle within his own memories to preserve her. Some of the effects used to create the disintegrating memories were sort of fun, pleasantly understated for the most part. I was a bit bemused by the Kirsten Dunst sub-plot while it unfolded, but in the end it turned out to have more of a point than it looked like it was going to have. And yeah, in spots it works the whole “quirky” thing a little too hard. But overall this is an enjoyable if moody little tale about the prevalence of love. Worth seeing

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Review – The Day After Tomorrow

Gosh darn that global warming! All of a sudden the whole face of the earth ends up covered by giant super-storms, sort of tornado-tsunami-hurricane-sudden-freezing all wrapped up into one. Some of the effects are kinda cool, making it fun to watch LA ravaged by tornados or New York buried under walls of water and then sheets of ice. The twin troubles here are that the massive destruction sequences are front-loaded, leaving little for the back half of the movie. And beyond the flashy graphics there just isn’t that much to this production. The premise is shaky, the script poor, motivations often murky at best, the performances mostly mailed in. So keep your finger on the fast forward, and buzz past any part where nothing’s being destroyed. See if desperate

Review – Deathwatch

Boy was I ever set up to love this movie. I guess they probably had me at the premise: something evil lurks in an abandoned trench during World War One, and a squad of British soldiers stumbles into it. That’s enough like the “Weird War” comics I thrived on as a child to get my attention here. One by one the soldiers are driven mad and/or killed by the dark force that never really takes physical form anywhere in the movie (though it does do some cool stuff with barbed wire in a couple of places). Thus we get the subtlety of a non-effects-intensive horror flick but still retain enough of the visceral to keep things interesting. It also shares an advantage with The Thing: an all-male cast limits the misogyny endemic to the genre. My only gripe – and it’s a comparatively minor one – is that the story seems to run out of tricks somewhere in the middle and then start to do variations on a theme to keep the movie going until the players are whittled away. Oh, and with trench mud all over everyone half the time, the actors were sometimes a little hard to tell apart. Otherwise this one was a keeper. Worth seeing

Review – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

I have to admit that the first time I saw this I didn’t exactly go into it with “oh boy, a movie about drag queens” on my mind. Thus I was pleasantly surprised when the picture turned out to be genuinely entertaining, charming in a not-too-cutesy sort of way. The casting was certainly an interesting bit of business, with one of the three lead queens a veteran of one of the Superman flicks and the other two destined to go on to make action movies of their own. But for now all do a great job with the sarcastic humor and occasionally-excessive sentiment. If nothing else, the ping pong ball sequence alone makes this worth seeing. And much of the rest of the movie keeps up the same quirky tone. Worth seeing

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Review – The Eyes of Tammy Faye

I honestly feel sorry for this woman. Watching Tammy Fay interact with a camera is like watching your alcoholic cousin – the one who just got out of rehab for the fifth or sixth time – at a family reunion, sitting in the corner and slowly nursing a beer. She’s been bit by stardom several times, and she just knows she ought to leave it alone. But she just can’t. I thought the early footage of the Jim and Tammy Show – especially the puppets – was fascinating stuff. But once the story gets to the scandal that toppled the Bakker empire, it’s mostly old news. However, it was nice that at least the production was reasonably sympathetic to this simplistic woman and her apparent need for attention. Mildly amusing

Monday, October 18, 2004

Review – The Bad News Bears

Anyone who played Little League baseball in the 70s is pretty much morally obliged to like this movie. Even if you didn’t, there are still plenty of entertaining moments in this tale of a down-and-out pool cleaner (Walter Matthau) who takes on the job of coaching a ball team full of misfits and losers. Along the way the story takes the de rigeur side-trips into serious exploration of the competitive nature of youth sports, but fortunately even these are usually delivered with the movie’s sarcastic sense of humor. Certainly this is a creature of its time; if nothing else, ten-year-olds with filthy mouths were a little more risqué in 1975 than they are now. But as kid flicks go, this is still one of the better ones. Worth seeing

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Review – Cold Creek Manor

This movie left me bitterly disappointed, and I blame the marketing campaign at least in part for letting me down. The ads for this clunker made it look like a haunted house picture of some kind, but instead it turned out to be sort of a Cape Fear thing in which a happy family is menaced by a ne’er-do-well with a not-entirely-justified grudge against them. Trouble is, I (generally at least) like the kind of movie I thought I was going to get. And worse, I hate the kind of movie this turned out to be. The gaggle of former-A-list actors didn’t help matters much. By the time our ex-con antagonist has murdered the girl’s horse and left it floating in the pool, this production had worn out what little welcome it might otherwise have enjoyed. Wish I’d skipped it

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Review – Extreme Ops

Snowboarding thrill-seekers in the Alps shooting an ad for something or another. Serbian war criminal in the Alps along with his gang fleeing from the scene after faking his own death. The two groups collide. Result uninteresting. I can’t say the movie was disappointing, because it delivered pretty much exactly what it promised: lots of elaborate downhill stunts, some expensive pyrotechnics, a feeble excuse for a plot, and not much else. See if desperate

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Review – Big Fish

This should play in a double bill with What Dreams May Come as a special treat for people who have too much happiness but not enough beauty in their lives. Tim Burton’s visual style is all over this movie, and when the focus is on the young Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) the story is charming if often a bit on the silly side. However, the bracketing story finds an aged Bloom (Albert Finney) on his deathbed while his adult son (Billy Crudup) struggles to come to grips with his father’s refusal to deal in reality. The message about the importance of fantasy – or at least the importance of telling a good story – is well made. It’s just sort of a depressing way to get the point across. Mildly amusing

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Review – Dawn of the Mummy

This might have been a better movie if it had been made 20 years later. Well okay, it probably still would have been cheap horror exploitation garbage, but at least the folks who made it would have had more liberty to include the sex and gore they seem so desperately to want but were probably prohibited by 1981 mores from including in their production. The story starts off as a standard mummy tale, with fashion models added into the cadre of crass English-speakers disturbing the mummy’s tomb. But by the end this has disintegrated into a cheap rip of the zombie movies implied by the syntax of the title. See if desperate

Friday, August 27, 2004

Review – The Bourne Supremacy

They must have heard me griping last time that the plot was too much of a cookie-cutter spy yarn. Now the pendulum swings to the other extreme, and the second one barely has a plot at all. Needless to say, that’s even more fatal to an espionage thriller than the formulaic route. Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne, dragged out of amnesiac retirement when the j-random forces of darkness kill his significant other and frame him for a hit on a couple of CIA agents. While this might seem like the set-up for an old-fashioned, linear revenge tale, instead it becomes a meandering game of cat-and-mouse in which Bourne and his former taskmasters swap the feline and rodent roles back and forth. A good revenge flick should leave audiences with the word “dude!” on their lips, but this one merely left me with a “huh? so that’s the end?” Oh, and this thing has a car chase that went on so long that the audience was actually laughing by the end of it. See if desperate

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Review – The Day of the Jackal

Ah, whatever happened to the days when they made international thrillers like this? The production isn’t especially slick by later standards; indeed, the extensive use of hand-held cameras give it an almost documentary feel in places. But the plot is tight and the story keeps moving. The most striking thing about the story is that – particularly by the end – it’s hard to know whom to cheer for: the assassin whose exploits we’ve been following for a couple of hours or the police official who’s trying to prevent him from killing Charles de Gaulle. Though this isn’t precisely a Cold War drama, it still has that intriguing 70’s era look and feel to it. Genre fans shouldn’t miss this one. Worth seeing

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Review – Death Bed

For years I’ve been slamming Full Moon in general and Stuart Gordon in particular for producing movies that are little more than flimsy excuses for tons of tit shots and cheap gore. So I expect I’ll sound like a complete hypocrite for griping that this movie didn’t have anywhere near enough stage guts or exploitative sex. But when the premise is that an old bed in a couple’s new loft is haunted by kinky bondage ghosts, one expects the producers’ usual bag of tricks. I concede the possibility that I somehow ended up with an edited-for-squeamish-video-stores version, and there were some oddly-cut sequences that supported that theory. But sex and sexism aside, this would have been a stinker no matter what elements were included or left out. The acting was bad as usual (including a supporting role by Joe Estevez, whom I assume is related somehow to Martin Sheen), the script was bad as usual, but the real killer was the pacing. The production had an almost soap-opera-esque ability to structure drama so that the plot advances as little as possible. That might work for shows that have to eke out five hours a week, but for a simple 80-minute movie it alternated between just plain annoying and so annoying that it actually became sort of funny. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Cold Mountain

For a Civil War movie – not to mention yet another rehash of The Odyssey – this wasn’t half bad. Clearly this one cost a lot to produce, but the expense shows up on the screen in the form of quality acting, excellent cinematography, and a fairly good script. Sure it gets a little maudlin in parts, but that’s part of the point of any marketing blend of action for the guys and romance for the gals. Overall this is a fine piece of Hollywood entertainment that would have gotten a slightly higher rating if it had been a little easier on the animals. Mildly amusing

Review – Club Dread

It should say something that I went into this movie figuring that it would roughly approximate the stupidity of Broken Lizard’s earlier work on Super Troopers and came away feeling that they didn’t even live up to that relatively meager standard. Instead this plays like an extra dumb slasher movie. Some of the snide references to Jimmy Buffett are kinda cute, but the rest of it is a thoroughly un-entertaning hack-and-slash with just enough racism and pointless boob shots to keep it nice and offensive. See if desperate

Friday, August 20, 2004

Review – Exorcist: The Beginning

I read in an entertainment magazine somewhere that the studio brought in Renny Harlin to basically reshoot the whole movie after the first director (Paul Schrader) created something that wasn’t scary enough. And it shows. To an extent this is an interesting prequel to the original, making a conscious and reasonably skillful effort to tie forward to some of the action in Friedkin’s production – particularly the Iraq sequence at the beginning, which was always my favorite part of the movie. But grafted on to the archaeological horror I love so much were a ton of booga-booga shots, elaborate gore and other trademark Harlin sensationalism. This leads me to suspect that the first version of the movie would have been something I would have loved, while the eventual theatrical release was just another fright flick. This weakness shows up especially strongly in the scattering of plot points that go nowhere and seem to bear little relationship to the overall structure. And I don’t expect there’s even any point in getting into the gender politics of the series at this late stage in the game. So suffice it to say that this one lurks somewhere between the heights of numbers one and three and the depths of number two. Mildly amusing

Review – Alien vs. Predator

How the mighty art fallen. Both of the series merged here got off to solid starts, but by this point in history they’ve joined in a descent into the realm of goofy horror-action mix. I should have known going into it that any movie that couldn’t at least eke out an R rating was going to aim for cartoonish action rather than taking advantage of its sources’ horror roots. A team of scientists led by an aging millionaire heads off to Antarctica to check out a buried pyramid that turns out to be infested with Aliens and the Predators who show up to hunt them. If nothing else, this left me wondering why the Predators would set up a game preserve in Antarctica when the first two movies in their own series made it clear that the hunt-monsters prefer things extra hot. So now Predator takes on Jason in the finals, right? The DVD promises an alternate beginning not seen in theaters, but it doesn’t amount to much (and what there is of it is sort of poor quality video). Mildly amusing

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Review – e-Dreams

Just climb on board with a dotcom startup and let the cameras roll for the whole roller-coaster ride! This documentary chronicles the rise and fall of Kosmo.com, a company that promised to deliver books, videos, food and the like via bike messenger within an hour of an order being placed on the Internet. In its favor, this was at least a better idea than a lot of its contemporaries, web-based businesses that didn’t seem to be selling anything or have any way of making money aside from sucking down venture capital. But when the vapor-companies crashed heavy in 2000, they took a lot of businesses like Kosmo with them. One also gets the sense from watching the exuberance of the early days contrasted with the deep depression of the company’s last few months that the whole thing stopped being fun once the participants had to stop riding the initial success wave and actually sit down and try to work for a living. Though this is too much of a fish-in-a-barrel experience to count as ground-breaking film-making, it’s still an interesting picture. Mildly amusing

Review – Catwoman

The sexual politics of this plot – meek woman empowers herself by getting in touch with her inner strength helped by a hefty dose of cat magic – might have been really radical 30 years ago, but now it’s not exactly enough to sustain an hour and half worth of movie, not even an empty-headed action flick. The script and acting help, particularly Halle Berry in the title role. Unfortunately, the direction undoes the goodwill everyone else in the production works so hard to drum up. It’s like the director watched MTV for years without managing to learn anything useful from it. As a result, just about every time the show starts getting interesting it dissolves into a spattering of spastic jump cuts that more often than not get in the way of the stunt work, special effects, even the acting. Though it’s a given that there’s a bit of a difference between Bob Kane and Citizen Kane, this still could have been a better production than it turned out to be. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Review – Bulletproof Monk

Chow Yun Fat once again lends his talents to an all-too-Hollywood martial arts action movie slash goofy buddy comedy. This one wasn’t quite as bad as Rush Hour in the offensive ethnic humor department, and a lot of the choreography was pretty good. But it’s still the story of an Asian kung fu master who takes a westerner under his wing for no readily apparent reason other than potential box office receipts. If they’d left the dumb white kid out and just focused on the Tibetan monk (Chow) pursued by an evil Nazi and his mercenary henchpersons, this would have been a much better movie. Mildly amusing

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Review – Darkman 2: The Return of Durant

Durant (Larry Drake) may be back, but he’s about it. The switch from Liam Neeson to Arnold Vosloo is fairly indicative of the change in the whole thing: the first had class and originality, while the second one is reasonably well crafted but uninspiring. Once again our hero battles crime while he searches for the formula for non-light-sensitive artificial flesh so he can have a face for more than 99 minutes at a time. There’s some mish-mash in here about energy weapons, and a new scientist gets stirred in so Durant will have someone new to kill. But beyond that this is strictly leftovers. Mildly amusing

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Review – Black Hawk Down

With such an interesting story to tell and such a gifted storyteller at the helm, this should have been a better movie. Visually this is Ridley Scott business as usual, with lots of jump cuts and heavy filter work. The MTV rah-rah should have made an interesting combination with the sad tale of an American military mission gone horribly wrong in Somalia. However, the story soon sinks under its own weight. Perhaps if the cast had been more tightly focused on a smaller group of characters, or at the very least not been so jam-packed with interchangeable 20-something white boy Hollywood hunks, it might have been easier to empathize with the protagonists. As it was, the whole thing comes across as stupid and random, accurate perhaps but not as genuinely tragic as it might have been. Mildly amusing

Review – Barry Lyndon

This is a visually stunning, technically brilliant, virtually unwatchable movie. If memory serves, this is the first big budget drama ever shot with film stock so sensitive that the whole thing was done with available light. Combine that with Stanley Kubrick’s natural gift for shot composition, and you get some of the most impressive images ever incorporated into a motion picture. Getting the Chieftains to do the soundtrack didn’t exactly hurt, either. Unfortunately, it almost seems like Kubrick decided that he didn’t want plot or character to interfere with his technical genius. So he employed his talent to make a movie out of a dreary old Thackery novel, a story so vastly uninteresting that it wouldn’t sustain a production half as long as this three hour monster. The acting is of similarly dubious quality; if nothing else, Ryan O’Neil is better suited to movies in which a young Drew Barrymore wants to divorce both her parents than to Napoleonic costume drama (especially given his inability to maintain a consistent accent). Thus while I admire the skill involved, there’s just no getting around the fact that no matter how beautiful it may be, minute after endless minute of watching British aristocrats pay their bills just doesn’t make a good movie. See if desperate

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Review – The Bone Snatcher

The Thing relocated to the desert. Here’s another batch of leftovers that didn’t reheat especially well. The characters aren’t interesting, and the plot meanders so much that after awhile I kinda lost interest. The basic premise is that a group of scientist (or technicians and hangers-on) unearth some kind of creature that’s approximately half Thing and half flesh-eating ooze. Some of the monster effects were bush leagues cool in a big-black-blob-of-goo-with-a-skull-for-a-head kind of way, but that’s about it. See if desperate

Review – Being There

If this had been Peter Sellers’s last movie, there wouldn’t be a curse named after him. Certainly this is the last good movie he made, and it’s a quiet, subtle, high-quality capper to a legendary career. Sellers plays Chance the Gardner, a gentle, elderly, mentally-differently-abled gentleman who finds himself cast out into the cold, cruel world after the man he’d served his entire life passes away. Through a series of coincidences he ends up the toast of Washington, houseguest to a terminally-ill captain of industry, object of the old guy’s wife’s affection, advisor to the President, and accidental political pundit. Throughout he maintains a genuinely touching sense of innocence and simplicity, something that I usually find annoying but here found compelling. The odd yet oddly charming ending helped seal the deal. Worth seeing

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Review – The Chronicles of Riddick

At least it wasn’t as boring as Pitch Black. Of course that’s due at least in part to the decision of the film-makers to steal from several different sci fi movies rather than limiting their pilferage to Alien. The main “homage” here is to the Borg, unfortunately proving that even good Star Trek is still Star Trek. Even the art direction – probably the high point of the picture – was all shamelessly derivative. Vin Diesel is his usual ham-handed self (but then what kind of hands would one expect a ham to have?). The script is bad, as is the acting. Toward the end I actually started to drift off, no mean feat considering I caught a matinee and wasn’t especially tired going in. I assume that isn’t the effect they were going for. See if desperate

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Review – Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Werner Herzog and jungles just don’t mix. Here he serves up the grim tale of an offshoot of Pizarro’s expedition. Their original assignment was to head down river (at least that was a change in direction from the usual Heart of Darkness stuff) and find help for the army of conquistadors. But after the crew runs into trouble, a sub-commander named Aguirre takes over. Given that the character is played by old Herzog standby Klaus Kinski, it almost goes without saying that our anti-hero starts out crazy bad and just gets worse as the plot progresses. It also almost goes without saying that before the show ends we’re treated to a lot of long, tedious soul-searching punctuated by random acts of savagery. I used to have a higher tolerance for this stuff than I do now. There are some beautiful shots toward the beginning, but ultimately they don’t justify the whole depressing thing. See if desperate

Friday, June 18, 2004

Review – The Crazies

Though in retrospect this comes across as sort of a dry run for Dawn of the Dead, it’s got a lot more going for it than just that. The basic premise – townspeople driven mad by biological weapon accidentally unleashed by Army that then descends on the town in an attempt to contain the problem – isn’t entirely dissimilar to Romero’s zombie pictures. But the really intriguing part of this movie is the struggle of the protagonists not only to escape the doomed town but also to determine who among their number has come down with the insanity plague (as opposed to merely behaving abnormally due to the abnormal situation they all find themselves in). George Romero isn’t exactly the master of subtlety, and to be sure most of the entertainment value to be found here relies on gore or other cheap thrills. But here and there this outing’s got a little more going for it. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Review – Alice

Jan Svankmajer’s version of the classic Lewis Carroll tale plays like a Rankin Bass holiday animation on PCP. Not since Dreamchild has Alice in Wonderland gotten such a disturbing work-over. And while Henson and company appeared to be trying to make some kind of point about child molesters, the creepiness here seems to be outré gratia outré. Some of it works in an odd way (which is about the only way it could work). But other parts come across as a little tedious. The disc also includes Svankmajer’s somewhat famous short, “Darkness, Light, Darkness.” Mildly amusing

Friday, May 21, 2004

Review – Dracula 2: Ascension

I don’t see anything here that qualifies as an ascension. If anything, this is a significant step down from its predecessor, Dracula 2000. And that’s saying something, because the original wasn’t exactly Citizen Kane. Through a series of uninteresting plot twists the reanimated body of Dracula falls into the hands of an annoying collection of med students, mad scientists and various riff raff seeking to use his blood to develop a cure for death. And of course hot on the trail is an assassin priest from the Vatican’s ever-popular anti-vampire squad. This might have been a better production if they’d worked just a little harder to make at least one of the characters – even Dracula would have done – somewhat sympathetic. See if desperate

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Review – The American Nightmare

The interviews that form the meat of this documentary about seventies-era low-budget horror movies are downright fascinating (for the most part). But given that many of the subjects either haven’t worked at all or haven’t done anything substantial for many a year, perhaps they didn’t have much better to do than sit down and give good interviews. Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Craven, and Cronenberg all had interesting things to say about the early days of indie horror. I found Tom Savini’s remarks about the connections between his work and the real-life horrors he experienced in Vietnam especially compelling. However, a fair amount of screen time also ends up squandered on commentary from academics (not the end of the world, but not as good as chat from the guys who were really responsible for the sub-genre) and montages of footage of nuclear explosions, Vietnamese casualties, race riots and so on. Result: anecdotal information is great, but attempts to prove some bigger point from it all come across as more than a little heavy-handed. Mildly amusing

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Review – Capturing the Friedmans

Here’s an interesting new twist: a crime documentary in which the criminals (or maybe “alleged criminals” would be better) actually document themselves. There seems little doubt that elderly, nerdy Arnold Friedman was a fan of child pornography. But once he was busted for kiddie porn, things swiftly went from bad to worse. Before the dust settled, Arnold and his youngest son were both sent to prison for molesting students in Arnold’s home computer classes, the ol’ man killed himself, and his whole family turned into a dysfunctional mess (not that it was a long drive for them to begin with). The story itself is sad and icky but not much more. The real fascination here lies in the obsession Arnold and his eldest son had with filming, audio- and videotaping almost every aspect of their family’s life, particularly the domestic discord that appears to grow worse and worse as the case progresses. An uplifting commentary on the essential nobility of the human spirit this ain’t, but it nonetheless probably bears a look. Mildly amusing

Friday, April 2, 2004

Review – Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The original’s a classic, so there really isn’t any point in comparing the remake to it. However, I did enjoy this production more than I thought I was going to. It owes more to 28 Days Later than to Romero directly; indeed, it has a lot of the 28 Days booga-booga shots without the pretentious artiness. I also enjoyed the nods to the original trilogy (especially little things like the cameos and the store in the mall called Gaylen Ross). Some of the gooey boogers are Dead Alive silly, such as the fat woman and the baby. But for the most part the gore’s good, the chills are chilling, and the story keeps moving. I’m unlikely to watch this one as many times as I’ve seen the original, but it was thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. If nothing else it was interesting to see a movie that keeps the action going all the way through the end credits. Worth seeing

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Review – The Cat in the Hat

Though I admit that the cat was never exactly my favorite Dr. Seuss character, it still saddened me to see such a pathetic, vulgar mess made out of this reasonably charming childhood classic. The picture starts out with an astounding amount of set-up; I didn’t time it, but I imagine the cat himself doesn’t even make an appearance until at least 20 minutes in. And though the non-cat plot is no more compelling than a Bart-centered episode of the Simpsons, the movie nonetheless takes a turn for the worse when the titular character debuts. Mike Myers’ Bert Lahr impression gets really old really fast, and the nasty little double entendres and other random vulgarity that might have worked with an Austin Powers audience here only serve to strangle what little charm the production might otherwise have been able to muster. Though I’m well outside what I suppose was the target audience, I have trouble imagining even the dumbest, crudest child finding much entertainment value in this flop. Wish I’d skipped it

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Review – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Perhaps the book was more entertaining. Or perhaps at least with the book it was harder to tell if game show creator and host Chuck Barris was really serious about being a contract killer for the CIA. In the movie the only challenge is trying to figure out if the guy’s an imaginative liar or a drug-addled nutjob. Honestly, when he says goodbye to “Lee” and “Jack” at the end of secret assassin school, well, it’s impossible to take it seriously after that (not that it was all that easy before). Overall the production comes across as the tale of a celebrity undone by his own mental illness, kind of like Auto Focus only Barris is still alive so the film-makers couldn’t be quite as unflinching with him as they were with Bob Crane. See if desperate

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Review – About Schmidt

Normally a sappy tale about a recently-retired insurance executive coming to grips with the aging process would lie squarely outside my viewing schedule. However, I’d heard good things about this movie, and eventually curiosity got the better of me. I just had to see for myself whether or not Jack Nicholson could pull off a role more than a little outside his usual type. But I was pleasantly surprised to watch everything come together. The plot bounces back and forth between clever and awkward, though even the awkward spots usually contribute nicely to character development. Mildly amusing

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Review – Creature Comforts

This DVD includes four fairly short animations from the Aardman Studio, but honestly the Nick Park piece that leads off the set is the reason to seek out the disc. “Creature Comforts” is a brief bit of claymation, but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. The rest of it’s just average. Worth seeing