Saturday, December 31, 2005

Review – Cinderella Man

The tale of boxing legend Jim Braddock is one of those stories that just sort of tells itself. And that’s a good thing, because none of our storytellers here is exacting having his or her finest moment. Director Ron Howard probably has the lion’s share of the blame coming. He seems to be trying to create a blend of 21st century big budget Hollywood and sappy Frank Capra triumph-of-the-underdog, and more often than not it doesn’t work. It’s just hard to get behind a gazillion-dollar production about people so poor they can’t pay for utilities or food. However, this still turns out to be a reasonably entertaining movie. You’ll have to be in the mood for one of these sappy things about a washed-up athlete who makes an astounding comeback, but if that itch takes you then this is a solid way to scratch it. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Review – The Dukes of Hazzard

Okay, the guilt is on me for renting this when I knew perfectly well what to expect. My only excuse was that I hoped Johnny Knoxville might bring at least some semblance of sarcasm to the production. Instead, the “magic” seems to have worked in reverse, making him as bad as the rest of the movie. And truly bad it was, even worse than my memories of the TV series. Indeed, the only thing that stood out for me amid the general awfulness was the odd handling of the Confederate flag on the roof of the car. Unlike the series – which never seemed to give any thought to the subject – the movie acknowledges that some folks don’t care much for the emblem of the pro-slavery South. I would almost have preferred ignorance or even anti-PC pig-headedness to the attitude here, which had a disturbing “we know it’s wrong but we’re going to do it anyway” feel. Other than that this is exactly what one would expect: the redneck moral equivalent of gangsta rap. Oh, and I never saw the rated version so I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that the main distinction between the theatrical release and the unrated DVD (the version I saw) was the inclusion of a couple of completely superfluous boob shots (and no, they weren’t Jessica Simpson’s). Maybe a drug reference at the end or perhaps a couple of the raunchier jokes. But nothing to write home about. Wish I’d skipped it

Monday, December 26, 2005

Review – Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell

You can tell Yvette Mimieux’s character is possessed by evil spirits, because she pretends to want to have sex with Richard Crenna. The creature of darkness responsible for such monstrous wickedness? A dog. A German shepherd (with lights aimed into his face to give him that spooky red-eye effect) that’s secretly a demonic glow-in-the-dark yappy dog complete with little horns. So the movie is almost completely undone by the cuteness of its supposedly-menacing villains, especially early on when the fluffy shepherd puppy psychically sets the maid on fire. With the fright factor gone, this is just an oh-so-70s production about a suburban family who bring a hell creature into their home. I enjoyed this immensely the first time I saw it, but on recent re-viewing I’m forced to confess that it’s a bit of a stinker. Mildly amusing

Friday, December 23, 2005

Review – The Exorcism of Emily Rose

This might have been a better movie if only its creators had stuck with the horror angle rather than trying to turn the thing into a theology debate. Early on some of the effects are kinda spooky, and if the film-makers had just relied on this strong point they might have come up with something worth watching. But the story swiftly gets bogged down in courtroom drama that plays like the Scopes trial in reverse. The legal wrangling is filled with a legion of holes, but those are easy to ignore compared to the inadequate handling of the alleged battle between facts and faith. Indeed, once the priest is attacked by cats in the middle of the exorcism, the movie has lost any chance of being taken seriously. Later it turns out that poor Emily is possessed by not one but six different demons, including one that was once inside Nero and one that was once inside Judas. In the words of Father Karras from a considerably better exorcism movie, “that’s like claiming you’re Napoleon.” If that’s the best these folks could do, they should have stuck with simple shocks and left more profound thinking to minds that were up to the task. See if desperate

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Review – The Big Easy

When doing a lot of location shooting in New Orleans, film-makers should take care not to let the backdrops overshadow their productions. Of course with acting this mediocre and a script this bad, the movie doesn’t stand a chance. Ellen Barkin wasn’t too bad, but whatever good she managed to do was immediately cancelled by Dennis Quaid’s witless smirking and come-and-go accent. The story was some mish-mash about corruption in the New Orleans police force, which turned out to be just as uninteresting as it sounded to begin with. And the sex scenes … yeech! Beyond the street scenes, the only real entertainment to be found here is a brief cameo by Judge Jim Garrison playing Judge Jim Garrison (several years before JFK). Someone with enough insider knowledge of the city to make such casting and location decisions really should have come up with a movie that did a better job of living up to the subject. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Review – The Bad News Bears (2005)

They could have stopped the title after the first two words. The original was a clever production about a pack of misfit kids on a little league team coached by a cynical drunk with a heart of gold. This one’s ostensibly the same thing, but instead of clever it comes across as trite and vile. Part of the problem is that back in the 70s kids that swore and scrapped and otherwise misbehaved were a welcome divergence from the Brady Bunch vision of childhood that dominated the media at the time. Now foul-mouthed brats are a dime a dozen (and even at that price you’re being overcharged). Further, Walter Matthau worked in the coach role in ways Billy Bob Thornton can only dream of. In short, this was yet another entry in the long list of movies that weren’t crying out for a remake to begin with, and certainly didn’t deserve redoing like this. See if desperate

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Review – Biggie and Tupac

If there’s anyone in the whole wide world who could make a documentary about the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupak Shakur and not find concrete evidence of a conspiracy, that director would be Nick Broomfield. But of course as usual he isn’t making a documentary about his subject. He’s making a documentary about how righteously indignant he is that nobody will talk to him. Nobody, that is, except for the usual collection of nuts, pathological liars and a handful of other folks with nothing better to do with themselves than waste time with Broomfield. Oh, and he does manage to get into prison to interview Sug Knight toward the end, but by then Nick’s forgotten his title subjects and instead interviews Mr. Death Row about some hyped-up feud with Snoop Dogg. Snore. Indeed, “snore” on the whole movie. Wish I’d skipped it

Review - The Fantastic Four

After decades of planning to make a movie out of the foursome, this is what they come up with. First the good stuff. The effects were okay an a comic-bookish sort of way. And I came into the experience fully expecting to dish out a DRNPA to Jessica Alba. But oddly enough, she dodged the bullet. Part of her luck was that the script didn’t call on her to do a lot of hard-core science-ing. But what she did have to do, she managed to pull off better than I predicted. Now the bad news: that’s pretty much the limit of the good news. I was especially disappointed in the handling of Victor Von Doom. The doctor in the comic books had a certain Eastern European outsider mad genius quality to him. The guy in the movie came across as just another corporate wiener. Overall this was a mid-packer of a Marvel superhero movie, not as bad as The Hulk but most likely not the franchise feature that Spider-Man turned out to be. Mildly amusing

Friday, December 16, 2005

Review – A Christmas Carol (1999)

Worst Dickens ever. I’ve seen this classic tale done by “talents” from Henry Winkler to Mickey Mouse, but honestly I’ve never seen such a parade of mediocre, phoned-in performances from experienced, professional actors. The odd part is that this is one of the few stories that can be overacted with impunity, and yet a cast full of folks with well-established histories of overacting decide to do little more than mumble their lines. Patrick Stewart in particular turns in one of the most lackluster jobs of his career, making his Scrooge almost impossible to feel for. Richard E. Grant also makes a crotchety Cratchet, his bad temper and bad teeth making him authentically English poor but not evocative of much sympathy. The ghosts were all weird as well, though the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was the worst. He looked like an overblown refugee from Phantasm. As adaptations of Dickens’ novel grow more numerous and more technically sophisticated, it seems they also grow more soulless and dull. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Review – The Body Snatcher

Val Lewton produces. Robert Wise directs. Boris Karloff stars. Bela Lugosi even has a small role. The source story was by Robert Louis Stevenson. And the best this team of greats could come up with was this dreary little piece about a med school teacher tormented by his association with a “resurrectionist” who turns out to be a bit too zealous in his procurement tactics. The syrupy-sweet paraplegic child is either an interesting contrast to the cynical world of body snatching or just a dumb cliché, it’s hard to say exactly which. But by the time the movie draws to its “telltale heart” conclusion, there’s no doubt about the weakness of the script. The wanton killing of a small dog also served to knock this one down a peg. See if desperate

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Review – The Big Sleep

I’ve seen this movie three or four times now, and I’ve completely given up trying to figure out what’s going on. Perhaps someday I’ll read the book so I can piece it together at my leisure. But then again, perhaps I won’t. The bewildering twists and turns are part of the pleasure, just like the hard-boiled dialogue and big-city-after-dark settings. Though I suppose The Maltese Falcon is considered the more perfect example of Bogart’s contribution to the film noir genre, in many ways I like this one better. Certainly the chemistry between the leading man and Lauren Bacall was hard to beat. So just as long as you aren’t trying to get it to make sense, this mystery is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Worth seeing

Review – The Eagle Has Landed

This World War Two drama fits quite well with the mid-70s environment that spawned it. The Germans are the heroes, or anti-heroes if you prefer. A team of German paratroopers has been sent to Britain to kidnap Churchill. They’re being aided by an IRA insider (Donald Sutherland, with an Irish accent so bad it’s almost a shame he even bothered to try) and a woman whose family was killed by the English during the Boer war, two folks who seem to have a legitimate reason to want the Prime Minister dead. The plot gets blown when one of the troopers dies trying to rescue a child. In other words, this level of moral ambiguity is a far cry from the days of John Wayne and Audie Murphy. The first time I saw this was when it first came out, and the venue was one of the converted hallways upstairs at the Empire theater. It was hot and stuffy, and it was hard to pay attention to the picture. So it was nice to at least be able to watch it this time through. Mildly amusing

Friday, December 9, 2005

Review – Adaptation

As with Being John Malkovich, this production depends almost entirely on its own quirkiness. The story is standard writer-with-writer’s-block stuff, the story-within-a-story (the book the writer is supposed to be turning into a screenplay) is about a writer with the New Yorker working on a story about an obsessive orchid hunter. There’s a lot of ennui, alienation, et cetera, et cetera. A paragraph-review description can’t help but make the production sound silly, even somewhat masturbatory in a guy-writing-the-screenplay-of-his-own-life way. And in at least some ways this movie is just that. But a simple description sells the movie short, because its charm lies in the little twists and turns, the small visual tricks, the details rather than the bigger picture. I’m not sure that it works for the whole running time, but there’s enough fun here and there to keep it at least close to interesting. Mildly amusing

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Review – Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

This is the kind of movie that Showtime free preview weekends were made for. Paying for it – however indirectly – would merely add insult to injury. This movie has only two things going for it: an occasional bit of David Spade wit and a scattering of cameos from actual former child stars. The best part was a whole gaggle of these folk performing a “We Are the World” style song during the end credits. The rest is lame situation comedy and/or touchy-feely nonsense about a washed-up actor who pays a real family to help him relive a childhood he never had. See if desperate

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Review – Dragon Seed

What an odd mix of contrary elements. This production is at once laudatory of and condescending to the peasant farmers of China. The first half hour or so is an endless parade of country bumpkin clichés with a fair amount of racist stereotyping (compounded by the fact that almost all the key characters are played by white actors). But once the Japanese soldiers show up to disrupt this rural idyll, this settles into a standard “This is the enemy” propaganda piece from World War Two. The script is stiff and the acting likewise. Katherine Hepburn’s portrayal of a young, idealistic woman is especially disappointing, so rigid that in places she seems to be concentrating so hard on being enigmatic that she actually appears to be blind. Or maybe it was just the eye makeup. Beyond a few interesting dips into socialism, this movie is probably best appreciated as a creature of its time. Mildly amusing

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Review – Apollo 13

As one might expect given the subject matter, this is one of those movies that moves from one calamity to the next. As historical drama, it’s interesting. As storytelling, it’s more than a little tedious. Some of the special effects are fun, particularly the weightless stuff. Overall at least some affection for Hollywood and/or NASA will make this an easier pill to swallow. Verdict: mildly amusing.

Genre: Drama

Subgenre: Thriller
Date reviewed: