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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Devil's Rejects

Yeah, on second thought, no. I'm looking forward to a nice dinner tonight, and I'd rather keep my appetite till then. In fact, I'd rather keep my appetite altogether. Here's a quick review:

Chop chop chop, blah blah blah, cut cut, chop, blah blah, scream, something probably blows up, chop chop, etc... The end.

Hustle and Flow 

Great story, great music, and great acting. What more could you want?

I was, as expected, highly impressed with this movie. The story itself seemed so real that by the end of the film I was convinced it had to be based on a real-life rapper’s rise to fame, but director Craig Brewer created the characters and storyline himself. A middle-aged Memphis pimp, DJay (brilliantly portrayed by Terrence Howard), suddenly finds that he wants more out of life than sitting by the roadside pimping out prostitutes from his car. He has a chance encounter with an old high school friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), who works as a self-employed recording engineer and takes DJay with him to a recording session of a church choir. DJay is so moved by the singer’s powerful performance that he finally realizes his only way out of his current life is to rap. He alone believes in himself at first, but convinces Key, an aspiring musician named Shelby (DJ Qualls), and some of his prostitutes that he has the latent talent to make a legitimate album. All of this revolves around an upcoming visit to Memphis by big-time rap superstar, Skinny Black (Ludacris), whom DJay hopes will pull some strings in the music industry after hearing DJay’s demo tape. The characters don’t necessarily produce the album in the hopes that they will become rich and famous, but so that they can escape their real-life existence, even if only for a few hours. The dream is fueled by the possibility that it could become big through Skinny Black’s assistance, but the process itself is all about salvation.

What I really liked about Hustle & Flow is that all of the characters, especially DJay and one of his prostitutes, Nola (Taryn Manning), realize and wish that they could do more with their lives than hustling and prostituting. They are all unhappy with their chosen professions, yet do not see in themselves any abilities that might facilitate an elevation. DJay finds an outlet in his music, into which he can pour his frustration with his own wasted life. The other characters contribute in separate ways to the endeavor and all find their own personal strengths in the process. The resulting demo album is as much the supporting characters’ heart and soul as it is DJays, although the words are his own. He keeps a notepad with him at all times, writing down his life experiences in lyrical form and then expressing them through the music. We see his desperation with his every day life, as we follow him through the social sphere of prostitution and hustling, which itself is his inspiration. He has a talent with words and a philosophical outlook, and his desperation comes from knowing that he should be better than he is. Given different circumstances, he realizes that he could have been.

The acting is terrific, and I liked the direction that Craig Brewer took the film. It’s not a gangster movie, but a story to which many people can relate—characters unhappy with their lives trying to escape through the pursuit of a lifelong dream. In this case, the dream is music and the characters are hustlers, but the story is extraordinarily human. The actors did a wonderful job with their characters, and the music was especially good as the audience sees its creation, the meaning behind it perfectly clear. If you have any appreciation for music or have any kind of dream of your own, then you will definitely like this movie.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bad News Bears 

Bad News Bears wasn’t quite as funny as I was hoping it would be, but it still has its moments—mostly Billy Bob Thornton moments.

This movie is a remake of the original Bad News Bears starring Walter Matthau, and although I can hardly remember anything from the original, this version does retain the overall attitude of its predecessor. The indifferent, drunk, and inappropriate Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) coaches a little league team composed of kids who lack any sort of baseball talent. Buttermaker used to play professional baseball as a pitcher for a minor league team, but once made it to the majors for less than one inning. He lacked the ambition and drive to be successful however and now makes a meager living as an exterminator. The Bears start out the season as beyond hopeless, unable to perform the most rudimentary baseball procedures, such as fielding a ball, making a catch, or making a decent throw. Buttermaker at first regards the slaughter with a fatigued indifference and finally decides to forfeit the game before the first inning is completed. He starts teaching the kids the fundamentals of baseball, and recruits two new star players to the team: his daughter from a previous marriage who happens to be a pitching ace, and the stereotypical delinquent who must therefore be good at baseball. Mostly through the addition of these two players, the team begins to improve, and we are progressively led toward the final game against the defending champs.

What makes Bad News Bears funny is Billy Bob Thornton. This movie wasn’t really about a misfit baseball team led by a reluctant coach, who must all come together and learn valuable lessons about themselves in order to win in the end. It was instead almost entirely about the character of Buttermaker. He doesn’t really learn anything or grow as a person, which is nice for a change because it more accurately reflects the real world and gets rid of a sappy ending. The kids whom Buttermaker coaches are almost as cynical and detached as Buttermaker himself, so his behavior ends up being much less shocking and more comical. He flings endless inappropriate one-liners and comparisons, but the kids respond in kind, being equally depressed about their own existences as Buttermaker is. I suppose this is what makes the movie funny, as both the kids and Buttermaker realize that they are hopeless outcasts, and decide to regard the rest of the world with its constant competitiveness as being a complete waste of time.

Unfortunately, the movie does drag somewhat in parts, and with one-liners from Coach Buttermaker being the bulk of comedic material, I didn’t end up laughing quite as often as I thought I would. Sure, Buttermaker is a funny character, but he is never presented with a variety of different situations in which to be himself, so by the end of the movie it’s not as funny when Buttermaker is boozing it up on the baseball field—I saw that in the first 10 minutes and almost every minute thereafter as well. This movie is definitely not bad, and I recommend you watch it—but it’s not worth going to the theater for this one.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Island 

Ah Michael Bay...don't you just love the guy? Anytime I start to crave absurdity and preposterous action scenes, I know I can count on him to fully deliver.

Sure enough, The Island is everything one would expect a Michael Bay film to be, although this particular movie branches out into a somewhat disturbing science fiction realm. It takes place sometime in the future, where human cloning is used for the purposes of organ replication and donation. The very rich can buy their very own "insurance policy" and be assured that if they need an organ transplant at some point in the future, their cloned parts will be available. The movie opens within the clone facility, which is obviously from the future since everything is sparkling white and basically looks like the inside of an Apple computer store. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is one such clone, but he's more of a Microsoft guy and therefore not so happy living in this utopian society. The clones are led to believe that the world outside suffered some huge contamination, and that they are the only surviving humans. They are also told that there is one island left on earth that is still clean and livable, and every so often there is a lottery to determine who among the population gets to go live there. Lincoln Six Echo questions everything about his existence in the facility and ultimately discovers that those who are picked to live on the island are in actuality killed (although he doesn't know why). He makes his escape with best-friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), and the two of them set out to find their policy owners in the hope that the awful truth of the facility will be revealed to the world.

The remainder of the movie is less about causing the audience to think, and more about Michael Bay launching a visual assault upon the viewers. Don't get me wrong, this is all entertaining and fun to watch...but, come on. Seriously? There was one action scene that takes place on a skyscraper, and it was so completely absurd that I found myself laughing aloud. I'm fairly certain it wasn't meant to be comedic, but I also don't think that being a clone somehow makes one impervious to death and injury after free falling from over 30 stories up. Then again, perhaps the cloning process does in fact equip one with this ability. I don't know, I'm not a scientist.

Michael Bay was smart to cast Sean Bean as Dr. Merrick, because the instant I see either Sean Bean or Gary Sinise in a movie, I am assured that their characters must be up to no good. Sean Bean is thwarted in his original "vegetative state clones" design, and so evilly makes the next logical step to create an elaborate uptopia in which his clones can live. Bwa ha ha, look at me, I'm Dr. Merrick and human life is worthless to me, I am so evil. He also goes quite insane.

Anyway, the point of the movie, as always, is that human beings cannot be contained in a strictly controlled environment without starting to question things. Blah blah blah, human beings are miraculously intelligent, I get it already. The Island is not necessarily a bad movie, and I thought it was certainly entertaining for what it was. It has a good story, and as long as you are adept at suspending reality for a few hours then you will definitely like it as well.

Friday, July 22, 2005

March of the Penguins 

And here I was thinking that the only good thing about penguins was their source of comedy in Adam Sandler movies.

I must admit that I was greatly surprised by March of the Penguins. It turned out to be an incredible tale of not so much love as the previews exclaim, but more of survival and instinct. I was simply amazed at the complexities of a penguin’s life down in the extreme harshness of the Antarctic. This film is a documentary, so if you’re not keen on the discovery channel or nature programs, then you probably won’t dig this movie; on the other hand, it was an incredibly well done and engaging documentary, with a surprisingly intriguing animal as its star. Not to mention of course, the fact that the illustrious Morgan Freeman provides the narration.

The film starts with the penguins’ incredible journey on their little penguin feet of over 70 miles of treacherous Antarctic terrain. Needless to say it takes these animals about two weeks to reach their destination—the carefully selected breeding ground at which all of them were born. Somehow, they instinctively know not only how to reach this location (as it varies from year to year given the constant movements of the ice), but also that it is the most solid area and least likely to melt while they attempt to raise their young. Each penguin couple learns to recognize his/her mate by vocal identification—which is amazing in itself considering that there are hundreds of birds all squawking loudly at the same time. The film details the elaborate rituals that each couple goes through for 6 or so months, all in an effort to raise a single chick. The couple transfers possession of the egg/chick back and forth between each other, taking turns at trekking the 70 miles back to the sea for food. At one point, the fathers actually go nearly four months without eating anything at all, depending on snow for hydration and each other for warmth, while at the same time balancing the small egg on their feet for two months to keep it warm. The temperatures are at their coldest during this time of near starvation, getting down to -150 degrees with the wind chill, yet the animals know to huddle together in a constantly cycling mass in order to protect each other and their precious offspring—keeping the eggs at 95 degrees at all times. The struggle for survival doesn’t end when the eggs are hatched, and the penguins are given more obstacles to overcome and more dangers from which to protect the fragile chick. And yet through it all, the parents are there to support each other, each going through endless harsh tests of strength.

Like I said, this is a documentary, and while I have always been the type to enjoy most nature shows, this documentary is uniquely surprising. The penguins almost put every other species to shame with their innate ability to survive in such a horrible climate, while making countless acts of self-sacrifice for their chicks. So impressive were these animals that at times I felt as though the penguins must be moving under the direction of the filmmakers, as their rituals were performed with such perfect timing and extraordinary persistence. The filmmakers attempt to show how similar these animals are to us in some ways, but to be honest, the only consistent trend I noted was that it’s just as funny to watch a penguin slip on the ice and fall on his face as it is when a person does it. I am surprised to say though, that I definitely have a new respect for penguins after watching this movie. If you have any interest whatsoever, even the slightest bit of curiosity at the animal kingdom, then I suggest that you watch this film while you have the chance.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wedding Crashers 

Wedding Crashers absolutely did not disappoint, but was in fact, uproariously entertaining. And yes, while Vince Vaughn portrays a character almost identical to every other character he ever plays, it is still funny as hell when the guy launches into one of his token fast-talking rants.

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn), as we know from the title of the movie and the katrillion or so previews, have a long and cherished tradition of crashing weddings in that most noble of ambitions to sleep with as many beautiful women as possible. They have all sorts of tricks, one-liners, and an enormous set of rules by which they operate in order to achieve this goal, such as “never commit to knowing a relative without knowing if he/she is dead,” or “never leave a fellow crasher behind,” etc... They have trusty one-liners, foolproof tactics like dancing with the cute little flower girl, and they are so experienced with weddings that they make bets on which reading from the bible will be used during the ceremony. At the end of a five-minute musical montage showing John and Jeremy happily engaging in their well-practiced schemes, we see that Owen Wilson’s character is starting to develop and inkling of a conscience—quite an unfortunate turn of events for their line of work. Jeremy convinces him to attend an upcoming high-society wedding held by a political big-wig, Secretary Cleary (Christopher Walken), and it just so happens that when John catches his first glimpse of one of Secretary Cleary’s beautiful daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams), he falls immediately in love—apparently never having seen a beautiful woman before or something. Jeremy, meanwhile, pegs another beautiful Cleary daughter, Gloria, as his next conquest, realizing too late that she is “a stage 5 virgin clinger.” In the interest of adding more situations for Vince to be tortured under Gloria’s psychotic full-court press, John and Jeremy are invited to spend the weekend at the Cleary family estate, where John attempts to steal Claire away from her competitive asshole boyfriend, who is clearly insane.

The list of things that happen to poor Vince as he is staying at the Cleary family mansion are numerous and exceptionally hilarious, particularly a dinner scene where I could hardly hear the dialogue over the uproarious laughter in the audience. It was fantastic, and I appreciated Vaughn being so adept as the epicenter of misfortune. He has many of his rapid fire diatribes, and each one was no less entertaining than the others as he grows more and more agitated while the weekend of hell continues. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are expertly paired and play off each other very well, as Wilson allows Vaughn to have the spotlight without making him the cornerstone of the movie’s humor. There is an awesome cameo toward the end, just as I worried that the movie was never going to actually go anywhere, and I couldn’t imagine a better vehicle for Wilson to achieve his self-revelation than this particular person. It simply works beautifully, just as everything else prior to it.

Overall, I thought this movie was extremely well-executed, and I highly recommend that you see it if you have the chance. It’s always nice to see a comedy that consistently makes you laugh out loud throughout the entire duration of the film, constantly surprising you with well-written dialogue and actors that are adept in making the material funny. I definitely, definitely recommend Wedding Crashers.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

Tricky, this one. Very tricksy. My best advice to anyone going to see this movie is not to compare it to the original.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is very much a Tim Burton film. The sets and visual appeal of the movie are very typical for his style (as to be expected), and the characters behave in that strange and sometimes dark manner that defines most of Burton’s work. I’m a big fan of most Tim Burton movies, but I had a little trouble with this one—shockingly, I had trouble with Johnny Depp.

The plot is virtually identical to the original movie (and book for that matter), with just one notable twist concerning Willy Wonka’s background. Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) lives with his poor family in an extremely run-down house, which is slanted and convoluted in that very typical “poor people live here” Burton fashion. One day the mysterious candy-maker Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) announces that he will open his factory to five children who have the fortune (as in either luck or wealth) to find a golden ticket in one of his candy bars. The alarmingly rotund Augustus Gloop, snotty rich girl Veruca Salt, gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, and obnoxious television and video game addict Mike Teavee all win the first four tickets, leaving that final golden prize for Charlie to find. Which of course he does.

Charlie and his Grandpa Joe join the other children at the factory, and it is at this point that we are introduced to the elusive and mysterious Willy Wonka. I was most anxious to get to this point in the movie, as I was curious to see how Johnny Depp would portray this famous character. Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed. I know I shouldn’t compare him to Gene Wilder in the original movie, but I could not help but think that I preferred the old Wonka to this odd new one. Depp consistently creeped me out, and I found him to be too silly and awkward, mostly in the way that he spoke in a disturbing high-pitched voice. Freddie Highmore’s Charlie Bucket is definitely more likable than the original one, and he was, if possible, even more good-hearted. He doesn’t make any mistakes, is generous to a fault, and is steadfastly loyal to his family. The other children and their equally despicable parents were played well, and the singing Oompa Loompas apparently decided against the psychedelic dancing this time around. I felt that the lessons we were supposed to learn from watching the rotten children get their comeuppance was downplayed a little more this time, although the film still retained that particular dark element of punishment. It is always somewhat disturbing to watch someone get sucked up a tube or blown up into a blueberry about to pop, especially when Wonka had no clear method for making things right again.

It would seem that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the perfect story for Tim Burton’s unique and always entertaining style, and it basically was just that; but, in the end I couldn’t get over Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka. The flashbacks to Wonka’s childhood were intriguing, but often came at the expense of making Willy Wonka appear even more disturbing as he mutters to himself while lost in a trance of childhood memories. I missed the gleam in Gene Wilder’s eye, as if to show that he was not insane and creepy so much as clever and magical.

Don’t get me wrong, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was definitely good, but only if one doesn’t mind watching a Michael Jackson-esque weirdo escorting kids around Neverla—er, the chocolate factory.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Truth About Charlie 

This is, without a doubt, the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire life. Even worse than Leprechaun 5. Yes, worse.

Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. Regina Lambert (Thandie Newton) comes home to her Paris apartment after a vacation to find that her philandering husband, Charlie, sold all of their possessions, emptied their bank account, and then went and got himself murdered. So that’s fun. The police commander, Jeanne (Christine Boisson) tells Regina that Charlie was a bad, bad man, with many different aliases and passports. Regina is counted as a suspect at first, until Commandant Jeanne realizes that Thandie Newton is hot and decides to flirt with her instead. An ostensibly random stranger, Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg) sees that Regina is emotionally vulnerable after all this murder and theft and whatnot, so he decides to comfort her in the hopes that he can get laid. Unfortunately for Joshua, his attempts are constantly thwarted by the presence of three not-so-sinister crooks who believe that Regina is in possession of a large loot of money that the late Charlie had supposedly stolen or something. One of these would-be intimidating crooks, it must be noted, is actually Buffalo Bill/James Gumb of Silence of the Lambs fame, who is apparently no longer interested in killing great big fat girls. Tim Robbins makes a dubious appearance as Mr. Bartholomew, a U.S. government agent who wants to help Regina find the missing money and return it to the government. Apparently no one informed Tim as to when the cameras were actually rolling, however, as he channels his inner Ben Stein (Bueller? Anyone? For red, dry eyes...), and literally delivers every line as fast as he can in complete monotone. You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you—but he honestly made absolutely no effort to actually act. Then again, maybe, like me, he was just bored as hell.

The three crooks attempt to terrorize Regina by each approaching her separately and warning her that Marky Mark is up to no good. For some reason, Regina takes the word of three people whom she suspects murdered her husband over that of someone who is helping her (even if it is just to get in her pants). Buffalo Bill/Great Big Fat Girl walks around with acupuncture needles sticking out of his head for no clear reason and periodically panics on trains or in elevators. Nothing really happens for the next two hours, except the characters keep changing their names and alternating between “good guy” and “bad guy.” I don’t know, perhaps this constant uncertainty is supposed to create tension. It didn’t.

Eventually the supposed climax of the movie arrives, and everyone figures out where Charlie hid the money. There is a ridiculous foot chase scene where Marky Mark chases one of the crooks up a staircase. The choreography for this sequence was so bad that it seemed like I was watching a home videotape of two kids playing cops and robbers. Marky Mark grabs Johnny Crooks-A-Lot by the feet and pulls him down the stairs. Then Johnny Crooks-A-Lot grabs Marky Mark’s ankles and pulls HIM down the stairs! Marky Mark will have none of that, so he retaliates by grabbing Johnny Crooks-A-Lot’s feet and pulling him back down the stairs for the second time. Thrilling.

“Best.” Chase scene. Ever. And I’m using the sarcastic quotation marks.

I haven’t even begun to clearly explain how bad The Truth About Charlie was. I could try, but unfortunately one has to actually see this carnage to believe it. Personally, I wanted to punch myself in the face repeatedly for having rented it.

Oh and Jake, this quote from the movie is for you: “Stamps?” “Ahhaahhhh.”

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fantastic Four 

A quality comic book movie, but not quite fantastic enough to compete with the likes of Batman Begins and the Spider-Man movies. I'm just sayin.

Fantastic Four was a good movie, however, if not a little too focused on the respective discovery of powers. The story opens fairly quickly, with Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) taking the inevitable path to superpowers via radiation. It's always the scientists you know, getting the superpowers and all. Note to nerds everywhere: please become cool by getting yourself irradiated, or bitten by a hybrid spider, or simply wait for a lightning bolt to shatter your beakers so that the chemicals will splash all over your body, thereby giving you superspeed. Anyway, each of these particular characters gradually discovers his/her new powers, with mixed results. Obviously, Ben Grimm, who becomes The Thing, is less than pleased at having permanently assumed the shape of a giant rock as well as such a non-descriptive nickname. The movie devotes a good portion of time on Ben's struggle to accept and embrace his new concretion identity, whereas Johnny Storm takes his new ability to superheat in stride, quickly adopting the moniker The Human Torch. I was a little confused as to why Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Woman, and Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, had anything to complain about, but apparently they had some sort of inner struggle as well and kept trying to find a way to reverse the effects.

Victor Von Doom, who prefers the path of evil, develops the ability to harness and conduct electricity as his body gradually transforms into metal. He becomes Dr. Doom and poses the greatest threat to the Fanastic Four; however, he doesn’t really do a whole lot with his powers except glower and sulk until the very end. I would have preferred it if the film focused slightly less on the discovery and acceptance of superpowers and more on the conflict between the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom. Unfortunately, only the last 20 minutes or so of the movie deal with this particular issue, so there wasn’t a very clear direction in the plot for most of it.

The special effects were not overdone, which is, in my opinion, the best way to do a comic book movie of this type. Each character has his or her moments when powers are used, but I didn’t feel like the whole movie was just an excuse to show CGI and light displays. However, much as I appreciate subtlety in special effects, I think it would have been alright to stick in one or two extra fight scenes with special effects. It is always neat to see superheroes discover their unique abilities and decide how to use them, but a little more fighting and a little less whining would have been nice. In the end it seemed like this movie was only the first half of the story.

Nevertheless, Fantastic Four was definitely entertaining. I confess that I am a bit predisposed to like comic book movies, but I honestly believe that this is a decent film. It has good dialogue, great acting, and an interesting, if not underdeveloped plot. I suppose it’s ok to be left wanting more at times, so let’s just say that I have high hopes for the sequels.

Dark Water 

“Some mysteries were never meant to be solved.” And also, some movies were never meant to be made.

God this movie was boring. So very, very boring. I have to say, I’m extremely disappointed with Dark Water, I really thought it was going to terrify me. The preview for this movie frightened me the first time I saw it, and ever since then I have been eagerly, if not nervously, anticipating its release. Dark Water starts out normally enough, with the usual introduction of the characters and a few slight indications that the apartment they are about to rent is decidedly haunted. I kept waiting for the movie to gain some momentum after the standard introduction, but unfortunately that is one thing that Dark Water severely lacked.

A single mother, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly), and her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) move into a cheap apartment just outside New York City as Dahlia and her husband are in the midst of a nasty divorce. There’s something about a custody battle and Dahlia’s internal issues with her absent mother or something, but these plot points are solely intended to add some dimension to the characters. I say, who cares about the characters, just get to scaring the hell out of me! Dahlia immediately notices a nasty leak in her bedroom ceiling but can’t get the building manager to fix it. Instead of focusing on the ghost that is obviously creating the leak of evil, the movie chooses to focus on the landlord/tenant dispute of who’s going to fix that leak? I wish I could tell you what happens from there, but unfortunately there’s nothing left to tell. The scary Ghost Leak continues to grow, Dahlia fights with the building manager some more about fixing it, and Dahlia's daughter Ceci finally decides that someone should probably pay attention to the ghost upstairs who is supposed to be the whole point of the movie. Ceci gets to talk to the ghost and see the ghost in typical child fashion, but the audience is denied this frightening pleasure. We are forced to instead continue following Dahlia with her custody and landlord woes. Great, this was exactly the movie I signed up for.

The entire film consists of tiny little scares here and there, with the spirit of some dead girl unenthusiastically terrorizing Dahlia while boring the hell out of the audience. Seriously, there was never any point in the movie where I felt a build up of suspense beyond the two or three seconds when something jumped out at the audience. The viewer finally finds out at the very end who the little ghost girl is, why she died, how she died, what her shoe size is, etc..., but it’s completely anticlimactic. It wasn’t clever or disturbing, as any self-respecting horror movie would choose to end, but mindless and drab. I didn’t care what happened to the main characters, and I was disappointed with how little haunting the spirit actually did. The leak comes and goes, water turns dark, but that’s basically all that happens.

True, this review might be a little harsher than necessary, but when I go to a movie expecting that it will scare the crap out of me, I feel pretty annoyed afterward when I can’t think of one truly scary moment during the whole film. I mocked my date for smuggling alcohol into the theater, but afterward I was irritated that I didn’t have the same mental cushion that he did.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


The filmmakers in Rebound diligently stick to the prescribed "kids sports movie" formula, and desperately hope that Martin Lawrence provides a flicker of spunk.

I can't give Rebound more than two stars, not because it was necessarily bad, but because it was painfully predictable. It dares not stray from the tired but true progression of, "a small team of misfits is matched up with a reluctant savior, who inevitably leads the team to victory only after learning a valuable lesson.” In this case, the reluctant coach, Roy McCormick, is played by Martin Lawrence, who attempts to single-handedly provide some unique quality to this film in order to distinguish it from all other kid movies. He fails.

Roy McCormick is a hotshot college basketball coach with an outrageous temper and passion for endorsement deals. The audience is repeatedly shown how out of touch with basketball Coach Roy has become by showing many examples of his advertisements, his flashy car, his expensive suits, etc. We are even treated to the routine clips from “The Best Damn Sports Show,” where Tom Arnold proclaims that Coach Roy is losing it. After we have firmly established that Roy is in fact out of touch already, we get the inevitable temper tantrum that results in his expulsion from the league. Coach Roy then reluctantly agrees to coach a struggling junior high basketball team. This brilliant plan will supposedly help him rebuild his reputation, thereby allowing him to gain readmittance to the league. Because apparently, the best way to gain credibility as a basketball coach is to instruct reject junior high kids, at which point one will just be rolling in offers from the NBA.

We watch as Coach Roy methodically teaches the kids how to play basketball, one skill at a time, through a series of overdramatic techniques. He brings in a weird hoodlum preacher who is not funny at all and looks suspiciously like Martin Lawrence dressed up as a hoodlum preacher. He scours the student body for a very tall kid who is also clumsy in a humorous way. He also recruits a large girl to the team, as she is Susie-Likes-to-Fight, and Roy thinks that if things get rough, he can always channel his inner John Chaney and send her out to pummel someone. Which of course she does. The audience laughs because she's a girl! Haha, get it—she’s a girl! And all the while, goofy and upbeat music plays helpfully in the background, reminding us that this is a stupid kid’s movie.

There's the romance factor of course, with Coach Roy trying to get a date with one kid's mom, who will only go out with him once he compliments her kid’s basketball abilities in a touching and heartwarming scene. Because being attractive, successful, and funny is otherwise not up to this chick’s standards! There's also the slapstick assistant coach (played by SNL cast member Horatio Sanz), who bumbles around hoping to provide supplemental humor when basketballs slip out of his grasp and fly in all directions; there's the overzealous opposing coach who thinks junior high school basketball is as important as college or NBA--but then again, can you really blame the guy? After all, the film has already established that coaching junior high school basketball is a direct path to the big leagues.

Needless to say, this movie is tiresomely predictable, but not necessarily bad. I know that kids will like it, so I would recommend it as a very family-friendly movie. It definitely has the "cute factor," in that sense, but those of us who are not 13 may not see the same value in Rebound.

Friday, July 01, 2005

War of the Worlds 

Sometimes I go to a movie expecting that it will be horribly boring and it surprises me. Other times, I go to a movie expecting it to be good and it is extremely disappointing. This movie, however, turned out to be one of those rare occasions when I anticipated that it was going to be good, I was excited to see it, and amazingly enough it still managed to surprise me by how awesome it was.

Spielberg made an extremely intelligent move by limiting the amount of film that we see in the previews. I had no idea what was going to happen at any given time during the movie, which was refreshing and added to the suspense. I won’t do the film an injustice by giving anything away in this review, as I believe that seeing this movie from such an unfamiliar viewpoint allowed me to truly be surprised by what I was seeing.

I was literally on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire duration of the film. The first half hour was beyond suspenseful, and I found myself wide-eyed and mouth open for a solid 20 minutes. The effects in this movie were simply astounding, and for once, not overdone (*cough* George Lucas!). Steven Spielberg was brilliant in his execution of the effects, in that they look real as opposed to being blatantly CGI, and the movie does not depend on them for its visual appeal. The acting was well done, and no matter what your opinion on Tom Cruise, one can’t deny that he plays his role in this movie quite well. I wouldn’t say that any of the roles were necessarily difficult to play, but if the actors hadn’t been so competent in their performances then I don’t believe I would have been quite so captivated by the film. Every aspect of War of the Worlds combined to draw me in completely, so that it almost seemed like I was watching some horrific documentary. It’s my understanding that the famous radio broadcast of this story in 1938 was mistakenly taken by thousands of listeners as a description of real events, causing widespread panic. What I like about this movie was that it seems as though Spielberg wanted to create the same believability of the story, which is perhaps why the special effects are more subtle and the camera angles taken in many instances from the perspective that a news camera would have. Combined with realistic acting that didn’t seem forced but jarringly natural, and the film took on the documentary feel that I mentioned earlier.

As I said, I don’t want to ruin anything for you, so I can’t give any examples of the things that I found to be most powerful in the movie, but there were several moments when I actually verbalized my astonishment. The actions and details on which Spielberg chooses to focus were stunningly powerful in their subtlety, as it’s not hard to imagine them actually happening. The actors strengthen these parts with their reactions to the events surrounding them, behaving exactly as one would expect in times of panic and complete hysteria. The lightening storm at the very beginning of the movie (as seen in the previews), is a perfect example of this, as people cannot help but stand outside and watch despite the obvious danger. Events change quickly from merely strange to absolutely sinister, and the characters are forced to face a very ominous future.

I have never read War of the Worlds, but apparently this movie stays very true to the book and its illustrations, including the ending. This conclusion of the story might bother some viewers in its abruptness, but as they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” (*cough cough* George Lucas!)

I want to see this film in the theater again. I highly, highly recommend that you see War of the Worlds as well, but given the way this movie looks, sounds and feels, I don’t suggest that you wait until it comes out on DVD. The first time you see it should be in the theaters, trust me.

Oh yeah, and much as I like most of your movies, M. Night Shyamalan, take notes buddy. Take notes.