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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Land of the Dead 

It’s always encouraging when mindless zombies display more intelligence than regular humans. Sadly, it’s also not surprising.

Land of the Dead is not your average predictable zombie movie, in that director/writer George Romero throws in the additional plot component of zombie evolution combined with human stupidity. While he does not explore the intricacies of the physical and chemical zombification process, he does make it clear that one walking corpse in particular, Big Daddy, is one quick-learnin’ dead dude. Big Daddy gets an A+ in common sense, whereas many of the humans attempting to escape do not meet the requirements for such a grade. Then again, perhaps that’s not fair of me. After all, the zombies do possess some superhuman powers, such as the ability to rip down a small, unstable chainlink fence to gain entrance to the city. Humans could not possibly be expected to display such mental and physical capacity, nor should they be expected to later find an escape route through the fortress that is chainlink protection. I mean if these people came up with the brilliant idea that flimsy metal wires criss-crossed into diamond shaped patterns would be more sufficient protection than, I dunno, say…concrete or steel, then it’s really not fair to expect any amount of intelligence from them.

The movie takes place some thirty years after Romero’s original zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, wherein the dead are brought back to life with a rather unfavorable tendency to eat human flesh. Once a person is bitten by a zombie, he has about an hour before transforming into a zombie himself, at which point it becomes necessary to shoot said person in the head in order to destroy him. Fairly standard so far. However, this movie actually explores a future in which zombies were never fully annihilated, so it portrays a culture that has degenerated into near anarchy, as only a very few cities have managed to survive. Riley (Simon Baker) lives in one of these cities, and commands a militaristic crew of men who periodically raid zombie towns for food and supplies. The kingpin of this city, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), operates a residential complex in the middle of the city called Fiddler’s Green, in which only the rich are invited to live. The rest of the people are forced to make do on the streets, living a life of poverty and service to those in Fiddler’s Green.

Eventually, the zombies, led by Big Daddy, get fed up with all this raiding nonsense and decide to attack the city. I can hardly blame them—after all, here they are living peaceably amongst each other, and then in come some rootin’ tootin’ cowboys stealing supplies and shooting up the town. So Big Daddy, Ph.D leads his fellow zombie townsfolk in an attack against the city while the humans stick their fingers up their noses and run around in a necrophobic panic.

I found Land of the Dead to be more than entertaining, and if you like horror movies, zombie movies, scary movies, etc… then you will definitely appreciate this one. The humans are wonderfully idiotic, the zombies refreshingly two-dimensional (versus the standard one dimension), and there are many surprising moments of comedy when the viewer least expects it. There’s a healthy amount of gore for those who like that sort of thing—I always cringe during those parts—but it’s not overflowing with guts, as the movie really relies on the story and characters for entertainment, with the gory bits being more supplemental. Keep in mind that this is a zombie movie, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you dig that genre. I give it four stars because I think it is actually a good zombie movie.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Thankfully, there’s only one scene where Will Ferrell has the opportunity to really ham it up.

My date claimed that the second half of the movie was better than the first, but that was only because he fell asleep midway through. I didn’t find the movie to be quite that boring, but I can certainly understand why he and others might have a hard time watching it. With that said, as the tagline for the movie states, “Be Warned.”

Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) is a witch who decides that she is tired of the instant gratification that comes with possessing magical abilities. She leaves the magical realm behind and moves to Hollywood in search of a normal life complete with a normal relationship. And yet, her inherent naivety about the real world lends her many opportunities to continue using magic despite her desire to quit the practice. Meanwhile, struggling movie star Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) has just been cast as Derrin in the revised version of the television show, Bewitched. Seeking to steal the spotlight and boost his career, Wyatt insists that the character of Samantha be played by an unknown actress who won’t upstage him. Blah blah blah, etcetera, etcetera, they end up casting Isabel as Samantha. Haha, yes, it's all very ironic. Hah. Hah. The remainder of the movie focuses on Isabel’s growing understanding of life in the real world and Jack’s continuing belief that the show should revolve around his character. Why anyone with half or even a quarter of a brain would like a show revolving around the blah blah character Derrin, given that the title and premise of the show is about a witch, is apparently left as an exercise for the viewer.

Jack Wyatt is for the most part entertaining, and I think that this is because Will Ferrell is not relying solely on his usual comedy from Saturday Night Live. His character is somewhat goofy but not slapstick, and Ferrell is not allowed the customary leeway to go off on random and unfunny tangents. Nicole Kidman plays a natural naivety very well, in that the audience realizes that she is simply innocent and trusting, but all the characters around her believe she is a dumb ditzy blond. Isabel is inherently the very same as the character whom she portrays, Samantha, in that Isabel really is a witch in love with a mortal man, trying to live a normal life. When real world problems become too much for her, she begrudgingly falls back on magic, as she is unable to change who she really is.

There are definitely moments in the movie that are really quite funny, but unless one is engaged in the story and has an interest in the characters, then I can see why Bewitched could be rather tiresome. Personally I thought it was basically entertaining and laughed out loud several times. Then again, I am as they say, somewhat easily entertained, so keep that in mind. Bewitched is very lighthearted and innocent, the characters are likable enough, but in the end there’s nothing spectacular about the film. I think Bewitched is best left to the list of “DVDs I want to rent.”

Monday, June 27, 2005


I’m not sure what this movie is based on, but it definitely isn't reality. The first indication I had that Driven was going to make absolutely no sense was when I noticed that Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay.

Stallone plays Joe Tanto, a retired driver who returns to racing at the request of his former team’s owner, Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds). Carl has a new rookie driver on the team who is rapidly rising to stardom, yet is having difficulty adjusting to life in the spotlight. Strangely enough, the rookie lacks the experience to deal with these issues, so Carl asks Joe to help Rookie Driver (Kip Pardue) learn the ropes. Or something. Rookie Driver’s main competition on the track is German driver Beau Schumach—I mean, Brandenburg (Til Schweiger), who should theoretically be the main antagonist in the movie, but instead turns out to be a really nice guy. This ambiguity is helpful for the climactic final race in the movie, as it distracts the audience from the ridiculousness as we struggle to decide whether we’re supposed to root for Beau or Rookie Driver.

Joe takes Rookie Driver under his proverbial wing, and inevitably he starts winning under Joe’s expert guidance. Apparently Joe has really gained a lot of wisdom and valuable experience during his time in, um, retirement. At one point, Rookie Driver throws a tantrum over his inability to steal Beau’s girlfriend, Sophia (Estella Warren), so he jumps in a racecar that is on display (yet helpfully filled with fuel) and takes off on a rampage through downtown Chicago. Joe grabs the other showcase car (also filled with fuel, which isn’t at all incongruous with the idea of having a car on display) and takes off after Rookie Driver. Eventually Joe talks some “sense” into Rookie Driver and thus quickly dispenses with the romantic tension plot point. Team owner Carl is quick to provide a new source of drama by telling Joe that Rookie Driver must finish first in every race or he will be fired. Burt Reynolds, never satisfied with second place. Especially not if one is a rookie—the older, more experienced driver on the team is allowed to finish in last place all he wants, but Burt will be damned if he’ll allow that kind of incompetence from a rookie! Reasonable enough.

Stallone wastes a lot of time with meaningless dialogue that is probably intended for plot development, but in actuality serves absolutely no purpose. There is also an unbelievably long and boring pre-race montage featuring shots of drivers putting on helmets and preparing for eminent death, apparently. Given the spectacular nature of the crashes in this movie, however, I would most likely prepare for death or at the very least severe dismemberment as well. There is one crash that occurs in the midst of a torrential downpour, as the concept of a rain delay was simply much too realistic. Rookie Driver and would-be bad guy Beau Brandenburg abandon the race in favor of helping the crashed driver escape from his overturned car that flew in the river and then leaked all its fuel and then caught fire and then a tree fell on it and then it fell down a ravine and then a stampede of elephants trampled on it. And then it exploded.

The list of absurd and completely unrealistic moments in this movie extends throughout the entire hour and 56 minutes of film, so if you decide to watch this movie then make sure you adequately brace yourself. The best way to do that is to walk past it in the video store. And don’t look back.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Honeymooners 

This is a movie that teeters on the brink of three stars, but just doesn't quite get there.

The Honeymooners had several moments of certifiable humor, and I don't think that without the performances of Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps this movie would have been even remarkably amusing. Cedric plays Ralph Kramden, a city bus driver whose wife, Alice (Gabrielle Union), dreams that one day the two will have enough money to buy a house. Their upstairs neighbors, Ed Norton (Mike Epps) and his wife Trixie (Regina Hall) are the couple's best friends and potential co-owners of a duplex that Alice and Trixie have been admiring. Unfortunately, they need to collectively acquire $20,000 within two weeks in order to buy the property. Blah blah blah, Alice thinks they already have half the money without realizing Ralph has spent it on another useless scheme, blah blah blah, Ralph and Ed have to come up with a way to quickly earn all $20,000 in order to avoid disappointing their wives. Cue hijinks.

Ralph and Ed dance in the park for money; they pretend to be blind beggers on the streetcorner; they try to defraud kindly neighborhood folk by pretending they are raising money for some children's charity. It's ok though, afterall, they just want to make their wives happy.

The movie finally gets funny once Ralph and Ed hire Dodge (John Leguizamo) to train a greyhound that they found carelessly misplaced in a dumpster, with the idea that they will enter the dog, Iggy, into a race and win the convenient $20,000 prize. Dodge is quite easily the funniest character in the movie, and his interaction with Cedric the Entertainer almost forces the leading comedian to be the straight man for Leguizamo's comedy. Unfortunately these moments of genuine humor are just a little too sparse, and the remainder of the movie drags on. There were only so many of Alice's reproachful looks at her husband that I could take. I began to wonder at one point if Gabrielle Union's sole purpose in the the movie was to tilt her head and look exasperated.

In the end, I wouldn't say this was a bad movie, and it could have been a lot more cheesy. The actors really did a good job keeping the movie somewhat realistic, and like I said there were some very funny moments. Not a bad movie to watch if you find the time, but it wouldn't be a terrible decision to wait for the DVD to come out.

White Noise 

This movie was definitely terrifying, but only in the sense that after five minutes I felt a growing horror at the knowledge that I was going to be stuck watching this movie for another hour and 55 minutes.

Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) has the perfect life--a beautiful wife who is pregnant with his child, a big luxurious house and a successfull career. He always stops to smell the flowers, and bunny rabbits and birds follow him around as he sings a merry tune. Life is good. Unfortunately, this Disney-esque montage is interrupted with the sudden death of his wife, at which point weird things start happening in the middle of the night. His cell phone rings and the caller ID indicates that it's his dead wife; the radio/tv turns on by itself and he hears/sees only static; some strange fat guy approaches him in the street and claims that Dead Wife is talking to him through the tv. I mean that's quite a lot to handle.

So, Jonathan predictably goes off the deep end and buys 20 tvs so that he can watch for signs of Dead Wife, presumably under the assumption that the afterlife consists of being trapped in a television for all eternity. He joins forces with Strange Fat Guy and a sad lonely woman, Sarah Tate (Deborah Unger), whose fiance died and also ostensibly lives in her television. They sit and watch static on the tv for hours and hours, waiting to hear messages from their dead loved ones. Eventually, Jonathan becomes so insane that he hears Dead Wife say, "GO NOW!" and interprets it to mean that he should wander around and help people. (?)

I had really high hopes that this movie would be both scary and clever, as I found the idea of hearing paranormal messages through "white noise" to be quite interesting. Unfortunately, however, the opportunity was squandered by the filmmakers, and I was forced to endure two hours of Michael Keaten helping people (unfortunately not as Batman though). Everytime his dead wife tells him to "go now," he does the opposite and stands around with his mouth open for ten minutes. Once in a while three dark figures appear in the static, but only when Jonathan is not looking so that the audience can be persuaded into feeling slight tension.

I can't even begin to describe my disappointment with White Noise. Jonathan Rivers is perhaps the most idiotic character on the planet, as nothing was more aggravating then watching him gape at Dead Wife's messages like a hilljack trying to solve a calculus equation. Furthermore, when everyone around him who uses the "white noise" communicative technique starts dying, instead of discontinuing this obviously hazardous approach he buys a few more tvs and puts them in a constant state of static. The audience is obviously not surprised then, when bad things start happening to him.

Seriously, it may seem like a good concept, and it may seem like it would be scary, but it was frightening only in its mediocrity. And calling it mediocre is pretty generous.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Batman Begins 

It would have been absolute perfection if they could have just gotten those fight scenes right! I can’t stand it when these scenes are cut to such extremes that it is impossible to tell what the hell is happening in the actual fight. But, aside from that minor objection, this movie was absolutely brilliant.

I was delighted when I first heard that Christian Bale had been cast as the newest incarnation of Batman, and I was not disappointed with his performance in the slightest. This version of the Batman mythology is reminiscent of the first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton back in 1989, in that it is grittier and explores more of the actual character of Bruce Wayne/Batman rather than focusing on doofy villains and their pointless schemes (ahem, “Batman & Robin,” most notably). Christian Bale brings Bruce Wayne’s hatred and thirst for vengeance to the surface and makes that the focal point for the character’s motivation.

The story begins with Bruce Wayne learning to, as the previews make it clear, “make himself more than just a man,” under the instruction of Ducard (that almighty film mentor/sage, Liam Neeson). Flashbacks during these scenes show us the night that a young Bruce witnesses his parents’ murder at the hands of a petty thief and his resulting struggle with vengeance and hatred for crime. When he eventually returns to Gotham City (after Liam Neeson’s expert tutelage of course) in an effort to rid the city of its infestation of crime and corruption, the viewer has a complete understanding of his intense obsession with justice.

I loved the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul as Batman’s first foes. Considering that the bulk of the story deals with Bruce Wayne’s confrontation of his personal fears, it was appropriate that the Scarecrow—a villain who literally manifests people’s fears—was the main adversary. I personally believe that the casting for Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) was fitting, as Cillian Murphy gives me the creeps. This movie is filled with a spectacular cast, however, and each role seemed absolutely perfect for the actor/actress. Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, a kindly old scientist who assists Bruce in acquiring whatever tools he may need for his nighttime activities. Michael Caine plays the fatherly butler, Alfred, and brings his usual aplomb to the role; and Katie Holmes, while having beaten out my personal favorite Sarah Michelle Gellar for the role of Rachel Dawes, is well-suited to the idealistic and righteous district attorney.

Not only is this movie far beyond comparison to the last two Batman movies to which we have been subjected, but it successfully sets the foundation for the entire Batman mythology without being boring or sacrificing the integrity of the story. There are many different elements at work in the film, with clever bits of humor scattered throughout, an appropriate amount of drama, and several good action scenes including the requisite batmobile car chase scene. The extremely talented cast brings a power to the characters, most notably Christian Bale as I mentioned before. I can’t emphasize enough how perfect he was for the role, not only as Batman but as the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.

In the end, as someone who enjoys comic books as well as a good story, I found this movie to be extremely fun to watch. I highly recommend that you see this, as it is without a doubt one of the best movies I’ve seen.

Except for those blasted fight scenes! Put the camera on a mount and for the love of god hire a choreographer who knows what he’s doing!

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Perfect Man 

Yes, in this movie, Heather Locklear has trouble meeting men.

Actually, it’s not that hard to believe that most men would be intimidated by a woman as good-looking as Heather Locklear and have difficulty summing up the courage to talk to her. Her character, Jean Hamilton, is approached by all sorts of weirdos and guys who are misguided in their confidence—this is to be expected, but what is difficult for me to accept is that Jean would actually give most of these doofus dudes the time of day no matter how desperate she is.

So, Jean (Heather Locklear) is a divorced single mother who is so frightened of ending up alone forever that she hooks up with the first guy who looks her way regardless of whether he is right for her or not. Every time the relationship inevitably fails, she packs up and moves across the country with her two daughters, Holly (Hilary Duff) and Zoe (no purpose whatsoever). The movie starts with such a breakup, so the family moves to Brooklyn to start a new life/relationship. At this point in her teenage life, Holly has grown decidedly tired of moving every few months, so she hatches a cleverly thought-out and ingenious plan to set her mother up with an imaginary man. Seemingly under the impression that her mother is still 6 years old and able to sustain such chimerical friendships, Holly puts this masterful plan into action by sending her mother flowers and writing her love letters signed by a secret—and I can’t stress this enough—imaginary admirer. This fake relationship has the desired result of preventing her mother from moving again, with only the slightly bothersome side-effect of completely decimating her mother’s heart once she realizes that Johnny-Perfect-Man does not exist. But, you know, Holly just wants to make her mom happy and stuff.

So this harebrained scheme of Holly’s results in all sorts of would-be comedic moments. Holly tries to leave her mother an orchid at the front door, but is repeatedly unsuccessful in getting her mom’s attention with the buzzer. She then has to climb in and out of her bedroom window to simultaneously buzz the front door and prevent a random homeless man from stealing the flower. Ha ha, it’s funny because it’s just so typical. Later on in the movie she tries to create a diversion in order to prevent her mother from meeting the actual guy on whom Johnny-Perfect-Man is based, so she reasonably decides that the best way to do this would be to set off the sprinklers at a high-end restaurant. Genius! Not to mention, freakin’ hilarious!

It was pointed out to me by a most clever reader that Hilary Duff is always given the opportunity to do one of her famous clumsy tripping scenes, and this movie is no exception. Not only does she trip and fall through the window as she’s trying to give her mother an orchid, but she also runs into one of the many reliable dog-walkers on the streets of New York, who are always there when a hasty character needs to get tangled up in twenty leashes. Because oh my god, what if she doesn’t make it in time!!

Not surprisingly, I found this movie to be rather asinine and only mildly entertaining. All the characters are veritable fountains of wisdom, spewing forth such life lessons as, “we all make mistakes,” and “new people are only new the first day.” Yet for all their supposed wisdom, the characters make the most idiotic decisions. I wasn’t in complete misery while watching this movie, but I certainly don’t recommend that you spend precious time and money seeing The Perfect Man. There are far better movies out this summer in which you can waste those commodities.

Herbie: Fully Loaded 

Repeat the following prior to viewing this movie:

“I will suspend my disbelief and dutifully accept all plot devices in order to maintain the sanity that would otherwise escape me were I to process events in the movie from a logical perspective.”

Because yes, Herbie, an old VW Bug, will compete in a NASCAR race and drive sideways on the fence.

Having said that, this movie is quite enjoyable when watched from such a standpoint. It’s fun and innocent, but it carries the typical Disney fantastical vibe as well. I sometimes get annoyed with the cheesy ridiculousness of those types of movies, but then again, when I was a kid I thought they were wonderful. So, take that as you will.

Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) has just graduated from college and is about to happily embark on her new life as an ESPN writer. Her father (Michael Keaton aka The Dark Knight) and late grandfather own Peyton Racing, a NASCAR team in which her brother, Ray Jr.,competes. Unfortunately for the family, Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer) lacks the racing talent that his father, grandfather and sister possess, and the team is now struggling to keep sponsors from backing out after numerous crashes and defeats on the track. Maggie dreams of racing for the team, but her father desperately wants her to use her college degree and leave the horrible world of racing behind. We’re never really told why her father considers professional racing to be so lowly a profession, given that it produces dozens of respectable sports stars and, oh yeah, lots and lots of money; but, again let’s stick to the original “suspension of disbelief” mantra, and we’ll have no trouble with his opinion of the sport. Maggie comes across Herbie and quickly learns that the car has a mind of its own and can magically propel her and her family into fame and fortune on the racetrack.

The movie is complete with a standard garden-variety villain, Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), a four-time NASCAR champion, who, despite being competent enough to win the Nextel Cup series four times, cannot keep his mind off an impromptu street race that he lost to Herbie. He acts like a jerk, flings insults at Maggie, and generally struts around like he’s better than everyone, thus enabling the audience to despise him. Plus, he was like, totally mean to Herbie and called him a piece of junk! You just don't talk about Herbie like that, and I so kept hoping he’d get his comeuppance in the end.

I did like the movie, however, because from a certain standpoint it is enjoyable to watch. Herbie himself has several humorous moments, and I couldn’t help but like him. Given that this wasn’t a documentary it’s forgivable in its transgressions on reality, which in the end make the movie more entertaining. It’s lighthearted and doesn’t attempt to beat the audience down with a message (see: Sharkboy). I highly recommend Herbie: Fully Loaded for kids and for those who like cute and wholesome movies—if you’re simply looking for a good pick-me up and a fun movie, then this is definitely one that you shouldn’t miss.

Just...don’t get caught up in the details.

Friday, June 17, 2005

High Tension

No. No fucking way.

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl in 3-D 

I’m sure kids will like this movie, but I found it to be a bit tiresome and at times absurd.

The 3-D effects that Robert Rodriguez seems to insist upon using in his children’s movies (e.g. Spy Kids 12: Game Over, Man) were completely useless and extremely distracting. There are far more expensive ways to create a 3-D movie, and while I understand that Rodriguez is Johnny-Low-Budget-Director, I don’t see the point in using 3-D if it’s just going to look crappy on screen. I don’t know how many 3-D movies you might have seen lately, as it was a trend that went out of style back in the 80’s and all, but it’s almost impossible to see anything out of those ridiculous glasses because of the dark red lens on your left eye and blue lens on your right. Most of the color is therefore zapped out and you’re left squinting and crossing your eyes, all in an effort to see the fabulous 3-D bubbles that appear to float at your face. Wow, thank god that was in 3-D because otherwise it would have just been 2-D bubbles. And come on, that’s just lame.

Anyway, so Max is a nerdling whose parents (David freaking Arquette and Kristin Davis—Rodriguez doesn’t bother to give the parents actual names) fight a lot and might be getting a divorce. Max also has a really hard time making friends at school, so he retreats into his imagination and dreams of a far better, more desirable world. A world of drool. Yes, I can see how that would be much better. This dubious planet o’ fun is ruled by kids, chiefly Sharkboy and Lava Girl, who are the beloved superheroes of Max’s imagination. Max is discouraged from dreaming, however, by his friendly and well-intentioned teacher, Mr. Elecricidad, who encourages him to try and make friends in the real world. Max decides to take his advice, at which point his dreams (Sharkboy and Lava Girl) materialize in the real world using a random tornado (?) and enlist his help to save Planet Drool from destruction.

This is all well and good from a creative standpoint so far, so Max wanders around Planet Drool with Sharkboy and Lava Girl, trying to find an ice crystal that can save the planet or some damn thing. His classmate and friendly neighborhood bully, Linus, is cleverly renamed Minus in Planet Drool, and he evilly attempts to destroy the place in the same manner that he destroyed Max’s dream journal in real life. Sharkboy and Lava Girl will have none of that, as they would prefer not to be eliminated by some bully who is really just sad and lonely inside (as all bullies are of course). Lava Girl, amidst searching for the crystal, asks Max what her powers are every five minutes. Um, you’re made of lava. You’ve been shooting the stuff out of your hands throughout the whole stupid 3-D movie! But, I guess that particular power is simply not good enough. Sharkboy then takes the opportunity to chime in and bitch to Max about his lack of an army of sharks, all the while yelling at Max to please dream up some cool new stuff, yo.

All of this nonsense is supposed to convey the message, don't stop dreaming, damnit! The audience is mercilessly beaten with the message in 3-D every few minutes. I think it’s odd that the one grownup who doesn’t stop dreaming, David Arquette, is an unemployed loser on the verge of a divorce. Yet despite this obviously dismal future for dreamers, Sharkboy and Lava Girl tirelessly repeat the message to Max (and the visually assaulted audience) every two seconds. In 3-D.

You know, I’m sure that kids will enjoy this movie, but I can’t help but feel that there should be a standard for quality in kids’ movies. This one, while conceptually pretty creative, falls way short of the bar.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lords of Dogtown 


So um, I guess Lords of Dogtown turned out to be pretty good, albeit a bit bizarre at times. There were several moments in the movie when I questioned whether the filmmakers were perhaps high themselves as they shot certain scenes. But, marijuana-induced filming techniques aside, the drug and homemade-movie vibe of the film made it seem that much more authentic.

Lords of Dogtown chronicles and is based on the rise of skateboarding in the late 70’s, helmed by Skip (Heath Ledger…supposedly anyway) and his teenage Z-boys, Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), and Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk). Skip owns and operates Zephyr, the local surf shop, and starts the skateboarding team that, comprised of these three stars, goes on to revolutionize the sport. With the help of new polyurethane wheels (which, as we're reminded ten thousand times, can GRIP), the boys are able to invent new stunts and maneuvers that had never been done on skateboards before. But, you know, with the help of the super grip wheels, not some new superpowered ability to defy gravity. Once the three gain high stature in the skateboarding community, however, they become caught up in the sponsorship offers and begin to question their loyalty to the perpetually stoned Skip.

The movie has some admittedly interesting and visually appealing skateboarding scenes, but I felt at times as though the filmmakers had about an hour’s worth of story stretched into almost two hours of film. It follows a very strict pattern of: boys go skateboarding, boys get high, boys go surfing, boys go over to Skip’s shop and get high, boys win some skateboarding competitions, boys get stoned and generally misbehave. Once in a while, Tony Alva’s father pops his head in just to remind his son that he better stop messin’ around on that damn fool skateboard or he will become a ditch digger. That’s just good parenting right there.

I confess that I know little about the sport of skateboarding, nor did I do much research into the actual history of Zephyr skating; nevertheless, I have no doubt that both surfing and skating enthusiasts alike will thoroughly enjoy this movie. I liked Lords of Dogtown from a general observer point-of-view, and it really is an interesting story to watch. I definitely recommend that you see it, but you can just as easily wait for the DVD to come out.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith 

Well, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. Unfortunately, this movie was ruined for me in some ways, mostly because of the ridiculous amount of press coverage that had nothing to do whatsoever with the actual film.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is everything one would expect after watching the previews. It mixes action scenes, some drama, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue into what ends up being a relatively entertaining film. The action scenes are well done and exciting, and the acting is also good, although I wouldn’t classify the roles as being very challenging. The humor is abundant and somewhat reminiscent of a James Bond film, as the characters remain nonchalant and airy even as bullets and grenades fly around, never once detracting from their ability to quip sarcastic remarks at each other.

The plot is also firmly established in the previews—John Smith (Brad Pitt) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) are both highly skilled assassins working for competing agencies, and both maintain their secret identities from the other. At one point, their agencies hone in on the same target, and they are unknowingly sent off on the same mission. Inevitably, their covers are blown, and they are each given 48 hours to eliminate each other before they are marked as targets by their own agencies. Honestly, just about everything you see in the previews is what you get in the movie—there are alternating scenes where they fight and attempt to kill each other, all the while struggling with the emotions of assassinating someone they love. And oh yeah, they have lots of sarcastic banter during their attempts at spousal homicide. In fact, this is the only source of comedy the movie really uses.

There are several of these action/witty repartee scenes that take place at different locations, until finally the couple is forced to decide whether they will reconcile, thereby becoming targets of their own agencies, or whether they will separate and disappear. I won’t ruin it for you, but seriously, you shouldn’t be surprised at the ending of this movie. Luckily Brad Pitt is adept at this sort of role, and Angelina Jolie stands around looking beautiful, so it all seems to work rather well and is, as I said, entertaining. I was disappointed with the fact that there wasn’t very much Vince Vaughn, however, and I am still wondering what his purpose was in the movie. That dude from The O.C. (Adam Brody) was fairly entertaining in his brief scenes, and while I confess that I’ve only seen one or two episodes of the show, I’m fairly certain he was playing the same basic role. Regardless, the focus of the movie remains fixed almost solely on the Smiths, their action scenes, and yes, their blasted chemistry, which makes the film generally worth the price of admission.

Like I said, it wasn’t great, but it was definitely entertaining.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Cinderella Man 

The first thing that came to my mind at the conclusion of the movie was, thank god I wasn’t alive back in the 30’s.

I’m surprised that this movie isn’t doing well in the box office, as it is a great story performed extraordinarily well by very capable actors. Russell Crowe, while perhaps an asshole in person, is truly adept at portraying physically tough and yet emotionally gentle men. I feel like someone should send a copy of this movie (and Gladiator) to Orlando Bloom (Kingdom of Heaven) as an example of how a real action/sports hero actor should look and behave on screen.

Cinderella Man tells the story of James J. Braddock’s (Russell Crowe) rise, fall, and eventual comeback in heavyweight boxing during the Great Depression. The story is based on historical reality, and I got the impression that any liberties taken with the facts occurred mostly in Braddock’s interactions with his family and friends. I mean the guy is nice, like super awesome goody-two-shoes perfect nice. He never appears to be all that stressed even as the depression strangles his family with financial ruin. The heat gets turned off in the family’s tiny little shack, the kids fall sick, he can’t get a job, there’s not enough food for the family, little puppies and kittens are dying, and yet, through all of it, Jim Braddock remains unwavering in his calm demeanor. Then again, he was known for being a boxer who could take his licks in the ring and yet keep fighting with tenacious perseverance, so perhaps he lived his life the same way. Braddock was a really easy character to root for, and I found myself continually impressed with Crowe’s ability to portray a genuineness in Braddock’s personality. This ability was especially moving during a scene in which Braddock asks his former boxing managers and promoters for help that he desperately needs.

The boxing scenes were terrific, and they didn’t have that dragged-out feeling that one sometimes feels during particularly long sports and/or battle scenes. I was completely engaged in every single fight scene despite knowing the outcome (I couldn’t help but read up on Braddock prior to seeing the movie). The supporting characters were fantastic as well, particularly Paul Giamatti as Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould (aka Gus-Gus). Max Baer (Craig Bierko) received the traditional vilification treatment, which I thought was a tad unnecessary, as the audience is already rooting for Braddock without need of further nudging. But still, Baer’s flagrant behavior did add to the excitement and drama of the final fight. At one point during the final rounds, Braddock gets knocked down by a particularly vicious punch and looks up at Baer with a fiery determination in his eyes, signaling to the audience that Braddock is about to stand up and unleash a hailstorm of blows. Let that be a lesson to you, Max Baer: don’t be the villain in a feel-good story!

This movie was great to watch, as it is an engaging story filled with a cast and crew that can do it justice. Ron Howard did a magnificent job directing the film, and I was glad that the 2 1/2 hours passed so easily. The fact that this is a true story, set against the backdrop of The Great Depression makes the movie that much more captivating. Definitely see this movie if you have a chance!

Oh, and for those of us not quite as adept with vocabulary: pugilism = boxing. Yes, I looked it up afterward.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 

The best part of the movie was when they showed the Harry Potter preview beforehand.

Actually, all snide remarks aside, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was pretty well done; however, it is not surprisingly targeted for a very specific audience. Fortunately enough for this viewer, it wasn’t completely insipid or dripping with estrogen-charged emotions, but I still wouldn’t recommend it to those of you who lack double X-chromosomes.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants follows the stories of four 16-17 year-old best girlfriends, facing their first embarkments into adulthood and blah blah blah. Lena (Alexis Bledel) travels to Greece, where she lives with her grandparents and meets a Romeo-esque lad from a hated rival family. Bridget (Blake Lively) is supposedly 17 but looks about 22. Oh, and she goes to a soccer camp in Mexico for the summer and meets a hot guy or something. This was by far the most annoying and pointless storyline, but I digress. Carmen (America Ferrera) goes off to spend the summer with her mostly absent father who is about to re-marry, and Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) stays at home to work in a local drugstore and film a documentary about people who are losers. On the eve of their separation, they find a magical pair of blue jeans that defies all physical law in fitting each of them perfectly. They convene their own Ya-Ya Sisterhood meeting replete with candles and rules for the newfound sisterhood, one of them being that each girl keeps the jeans for two weeks and then sends it on to the next, in the hopes that the jeans will bring good fortune.

In all honesty, I found myself pretty invested in the storylines, with the exception of Bridget’s soccer camp experiences. I found her story to be rather pointless and at the same time ridiculous, as she seduces a 20-something soccer coach over the course of the summer. Maybe I just have a really hard time accepting that a 17-year old could be so confident as to be outrageously forward and undeterred after repeated rejections. Furthermore, I defy anyone to find a man who will search the countryside to find some girl with whom he had a cheap fling simply to tell her that, “it was my fault, sorry. Can we still be friends?” Especially with, you know, the jail time involved for sleeping with someone under 18.

Nevertheless, I must admit that the movie was, as I said, well done. The acting is great, and the movie shifts from story to story fairly quickly, therefore preventing the audience from getting bored with any of them. Despite a few absurdly improbable scenes, it was easy to become absorbed in the characters and their respective development over the course of the film. There were some serious themes and, I confess, some very touching moments, so I do highly recommend Sisterhood. But again, probably only if you fall within the target audience.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Longest Yard 

If you're expecting a documentary then you will be disappointed.

Adam Sandler plays the role of Paul Crewe, a disgraced former professional football player, who is sent to prison after a crazed drunk driving spree. Naturally enough, the warden at this particular prison enlists Crewe's help to improve his semi-professional football team of prison guards. Paul suggests the groundbreaking idea that Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) have his team play a tune-up game to get ready for the actual season. The final step in this logical progression is to assemble a rag tag team of inmates to play said tune-up game.

The audience is treated to the customary recruitment of the biggest, meanest, most dangerous neanderthals capable of crushing the opposing guards on the line. If the convict is so dangerous and mean as to be completely non-verbal, all the better. Little known fact: if a guy doesn't speak to you when you ask him a question, then he will therefore be good at football. Paul Crewe, the Caretaker (Chris Rock), and Coach Scarborough (Burt Reynolds) waste no time in finding these hardened men to round out their team. Check. Now, it's on to finding a good running back. Ah, they spy a group of intimidating black men playing basketball, one of them being Nelly. They recruit him. He is fast. Yay, now we shall surely win our football game after a little bonding over our mutual hatred of the guards! And so on.

What I really liked about this movie was that it didn't waste any time with good dialogue and plot development in getting straight to the point. Considering that this is not a movie that has any aspirations to be in the Oscar hunt, however, I thought that it did its job remarkably well. It was funny, and the characters were likable to the point that the viewer can be drawn into the story. Despite his lack of proper footwear, I liked Nelly's character, and James Cromwell is great in any film, no less so as the warden in this one. Goldberg and Stone Cold Steve Austin are also awarded appearances, and I appreciated the inclusion of Michael Irvin on the inmate team, being that he played for the Cowboys in the mid-90's and all. These were all very nice touches.

The Longest Yard was precisely the kind of predictability I paid to see. I did get a little tired of the constant stream of homoerotic jokes, but I suppose it's to be expected for a movie that takes place in a prison, compounded by the fact that this is an Adam Sandler production. Like I said, as long as you know what you're getting into then you'll like what this movie presents. In my opinion, sometimes it's nice to see a movie that isn't trying to send a message or leave the viewer with any deep thoughts. I thought it was good, and I definitely recommend it if you want something fun to watch.