Thu, Oct 31, 2002

: Formula 51

This movie is just fun. It’s totally dumb — all of the characters are hilariously idiotic. For instance, one bad guy tells another to “take care of Larry,” meaning to care for him, but the dumber associate thinks he means take care of him and kills him! The “plot” concerns a genius chemist (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who’s invented a new drug 51 times more powerful than heroin. He’s trying to sell it to drug dealers for $20 million. Of course, nothing goes right, and there’s lots of explosions, shootings, and back-stabbings. The film’s set in Liverpool, England, and part of the story is the big Liverpool vs. Manchester United soccer match (they’re two of the biggest football clubs in England, if you don’t know). I found that pretty cool, but unfortunately they don’t show much soccer. All in all a completely silly film, but fun for a lark. A lot of pointless bad language though.

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: The Time Machine

Not a bad remake, actually. It’s been a long time since I read the book or watched the original George Pal version. This one definitely has the special effect award, and I liked Guy Pearce in the lead, and the Morlocks were truly scary, but the film lost steam toward the end. The bizarre bit where Guy blows up the time machine and somehow erases the Morlocks from existence didn’t make any sense at all to me. Watch this one for the amazing special effects: the geological time passing while he’s zooming to the future is definitely worth seeing.

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Tue, Oct 29, 2002

: Punch-Drunk Love

Author: Paul Thomas Anderson

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

The trailers made this look a lot stranger than it is. It is unusual, but the story is surprisingly linear. It concerns a young man’s (Adam Sandler) romance with a woman (Emily Watson). The odd pairing of slapstick comic with serious actress makes the film work: Sandler plays the straight man and while he’s compentent (don’t except an Oscar or anything), there isn’t much emotional depth to his character (he’s just a weird geek). Watson gives Sandler credibility and tones down the comic vibes. Her presence combined with Sandler’s idiotic good guy likability makes it work. What makes the film interesting is the unusual approach to filmmaking. From cinematography to pacing to music, the film is just odd and unsettling. That works perfectly with the odd, unsettled characters in the story. There are lots of long tracking shots, following the characters as they walk out of a restaurant, for instance. Lighting is extremely significant, especially at the beginning, where we’re treated to extreme constrasts of dark and blinding white. The music is wild, transitioning through a variety of conflicting styles, and occasionally being a strange mix of sounds most people would call noise. (But even there, it blends in cleverly with the ambient sounds of the film.) Unfortunately, while I found the film fascinating, the story and the characters were a little too empty. They were a touch pathetic and therefore one sympathizes with their situation, but I never felt like I understood or related to them. For instance, what draws Watson to Sandler? We’re never told. She supposedly is attracted to him from seeing his picture, but surely his strange behavior would have either endeared him to her or frightened her off, but there’s no indication of either. Instead, she seems to have the same crush on him she had at the start. We’re also not given much to work with regarding Sandler’s character. There are glimpses of his past — he has seven sisters who drive him nuts, and he’s occasionally violent — but we don’t really understand him. He says “I don’t know” a lot when people ask him questions. He’s like Camus’ The Stranger, a man without personality or motivation. Portions of Sandler’s performance were too much like his idiot roles in Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy. Overall, this film feels like it was done by a director who wants to be avant garde and literary, but still produce a film that will do big box office. The casting is proof of that. I’m sure it will be successful financially, but there’s no real depth here behind the camera tricks and odd characters. Worth seeing just because it’s unusual, but don’t expect too much.

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Mon, Oct 28, 2002

: Abandon

Not a bad Hitchcockian thriller. If you like Katie Holmes you’ll probably like this film. If you don’t, you probably won’t, as she’s in nearly every scene. The director loves to do super-closeups so that the pimples on her forehead are the size of dinner plates. She’s a lightweight actress (though I still like her), but she’s smart in that she doesn’t try to overdo this role (which she could have easily done and would have been terrible). She does a good job in a complex role. The film is much less exciting than it appears in the promos — there’s virtually no story, and the pace is leisurely. But it’s still interesting. We follow Katie just before graduation as she prepares her thesis, studies for finals, and goes on job interviews. Meanwhile, a detective is looking into the disappearance of her old boyfriend who she hasn’t seen in two years. He’s an eccentric rich kid who is unpredictable, but no one has seen him. As the stresses of academic life pile up, Katie becomes unraveled as she thinks she sees the missing boyfriend. Meanwhile, she begins an attachment with the detective. I won’t spoil the twist ending; it’s predictable, but satisfying. Hitch would have liked it (but he would have done much more with this script). Overall, above average, especially if you like thrillers and/or Holmes.

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Sat, Oct 26, 2002

: Red Planet

Another “first manned mission to Mars” film. Not terrible like I expected, but nothing to write home about. Extremely predictable — the “loser” janitor (Val Kilmer) is the only survivor (duh, he’s the only star). Had a few interesting moments, but overall is a good movie to watch while reading a book.

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Fri, Oct 25, 2002

: The Sweetest Thing

Odd Something About Mary clone, with all the gutter humor coming from women this time. There are strange scenes like the sudden musical number in the middle. It’s funny, but an uncomfortable funny, and a lot of the jokes fall flat. The story is simple: three single girls search for love. One meets a guy but doesn’t follow him, then later decides she might regret that decision, so she and her friend go on a road trip to his brother’s wedding to find him. There are all sorts of strange mis-adventures on the way. The film very much has a “series of skits” feel to it more than a cohesive story, but there is a pleasant sense of genuine good feeling to the characters that helps gloss over the movie’s weak points.

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Thu, Oct 24, 2002

: In the Bedroom

Terrific low-key film about the after-effects of a murder in a small New England seaside town. The pace is slow and meandering, but somehow not at all boring. Even when the characters are discussing ordinary fishing, you sense deeper meaning behind the words. Excellent performances, especially from the two parents (Tom Williamson and Sissy Spacek). The film is modest and never assumes it’s anything it’s not (it’s not the least bit pretencious). The ending is predictable but extremely satisfying.

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Mon, Oct 21, 2002

: The Ring

The premise is totally a gimmick: everyone who watches a particular videotape dies seven days later. However, this is like really liked is the ring itself: you’ve probably seen the ring image in the promos. What’s cool is that ring image is core to the explanation: it’s something ordinary, just seen from an unusual perspective. Very cool. If you like intelligent, unusual suspense, like The Sixth Sense, you’ll like this film. It’s more complicated and less gimmicky than Sense, and the direction is excellent. This film is based on the Japanese film Ringu, which I’d love to see now. I’m sure some will be overly critical about the unexplained mysteries and gimmicks, but that’s part of what happens in this genre: there are always false scares and things that aren’t explained logically. But this film is definitely above average, and I personally love all the mysteries: there are plenty of clues in the film that explain them, if you’re willing to use your brain.

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Sat, Oct 19, 2002

: Murder by Numbers

A decent mystery movie with Sandra Bullock as a detective trying to nail two high school students for murder. The main problem is that we know from the beginning the students did it and framed someone else, so there isn’t much mystery. There’s some attempts at characterization, with Sandra’s character haunted by her past, but that’s mediocre at best. What’s interesting are the characters of the two high school students, a bored rich kid and an intellectual geek who knows all the forensic secrets of the police. Unfortunately, the ending is rather ordinary: I would have much prefered a Primal Fear type ending (where the geek gets away with it) — that would have been cool.

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: Reel Future

This is an excellent collection of science fiction short stories and novellas that were made into great motion pictures. It’s wonderful, with incredible variety that makes science fiction so awesome. We’ve got the original stories that inspired The Fly, Total Recall, The Thing, 2001 — A Space Odyssey, Re-Animator, The Illustrated Man, The Day the Earth Stood Still, They Live, Death Race 2000, Damnation Alley, Millenium, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Enemy Mine, and many more. The stories are often quite different from the films (“The Fly,” for instance, is set in Paris), but they’re obviously special stories that inspired directors to make them into films. This is a profound collection that will make you think and inspire you to watch some great science fiction films.

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Fri, Oct 18, 2002

: White Oleander

Author: Janet Fitch (novel)

Terrific film. I’m only a third of the way through the book, but I was very impressed at the accuracy of the script. The story’s condensed a bit, but captures the tone of the book. At lot of the dialogue is straight from the novel, as is most of the narration. The story is a coming-of-age tale about a 13-year-old girl whose mother kills her boyfriend after he abandons her. The girl must grow up in foster homes as she struggles to find her identity and come to terms with her mother. The performances are excellent, especially newcomer Alison Lohman as the girl and Michelle Pfeiffer as the mom. This is a fascinating story about psychology and characterization. It’s worth watching and I recommend the book as well.

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Tue, Oct 15, 2002

: Insomnia

Excellent somber mystery about a Swedish cop sent in to Norway (where it’s always daylight) to solve a murder. However, during a shootout the cop kills his partner and the only witness is the murderer, a novelist who the blackmails the cop into protecting him. Fascinating, creepy, and mysterious, never quite letting you know the cop’s true movitations. Stellan Skarsgaard is amazing as the cop.

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Mon, Oct 14, 2002

: Swimming with Sharks

Pretty cool flick about the dog-eat-dog world of the movie business. The harried assistant of an egomaniac producer gets fed up with being treated like dirt and kidnaps the producer, holds him and gunpoint, and tortures him. The film cuts back and forth between the “live” kidnapping and flashbacks to the guy’s Hollywood career. Smoothly done. Somewhat predictable, but still entertaining, and the ending has a unexpected twist that’s totally diabolical.

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Sun, Oct 13, 2002

: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Author: Coen Brothers

Director: Coen Brothers

Terrific, awesome, fantastic film. This is filmmaking as it was meant to be. Great story, great acting, great moody black-and-white cinematography, great everything. I love the black humor. The story’s about Ed, a barber who fell into the trade and doesn’t think of himself as one. He’s played by Billy Bob Thornton and I think it’s Billy’s best role and performance ever. Just awesome. He hardly talks and Billy’s got to convey his character through subtle facial expressions, posture, and gestures. Anyway, it’s 1949 and Ed hears about an investment in a new thing called dry cleaning, so he decides to blackmail his wife’s boss to get the $10,000 he needs to invest. His wife’s having an affair with her boss and he (anonymously) threatens to expose the affair unless he gets the money. This starts a complex chain of wild events. Eventually the boss is killed and Ed’s wife is jailed for the murder. From there it just gets more wild! I won’t say more because I don’t want to give all the twists and turns away. Let’s just say that nothing turns out the way you’d expect. Brilliant film.

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Sat, Oct 12, 2002

: Original Sin

Surprisingly poor movie considering the interesting plot and cast. The plot has potential: a wealthy Cuban orders a bride from America, but she turns out to be a con artist who steals his money and runs away. The guy chases after her to kill her, and we’re treated to scenes of each of them protesting love of the other and we don’t know who is telling the truth. Unfortunately, the acting is poor (Angelina Jolie, who is usually good, is little more than a pretty face here), the script awkward, and the direction confusing. Nothing gels or makes much sense. For instance, Antonio Banderas falls deeply in love with his mail-order bride within days of meeting her and gives her complete access to his bank account? Come on! The film has a few good moments, and the second half is better than the first (unusual), but as a whole the thing just feels like something with potential. Unfortunate.

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: From Hell

Author: Allen Moore

Really good film about Jack the Ripper based on Moore’s graphic novel. Fans of the novel weren’t pleased with the film, and I’m not sure why, as I haven’t read the comic yet (though I did recently buy it and will soon). The film projects a new theory as to the identity of the killer. At first this theory is excellent and understandable, but as the film continues, complications (such as the whole Free Mason conspiracy) convolute things to a degree that degrades the quality of the entire picture. My thinking is that probably this is better explained in the book, where there’s room for the complexity, but in this film this doesn’t work. Overall, the film’s interesting, has excellent cinematography, and is worth seeing.

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Fri, Oct 11, 2002

: The Transporter

Author: Luc Besson

Not terrible, but not as good as it could have been. I wanted to see it because Luc Besson was involved (though he didn’t direct). The acting is excellent, and the action is great. Unfortunately, there’s only half a plot. For many action films a plot is just a device to drive the action and that works because one can overlook the plot and enjoy the action. In this case, however, the plot is too key to the picture as it’s closely tied with the characters. The main guy’s an ex-military dude who is “the Transporter” — he delivers packages (of an illegal nature) for whoever hires him. He’s incredibly organized and precise, with exact rules for the transaction. No exceptions. Unfortunately, he breaks one of his own rules and opens a package and discovers it contains a Chinese girl. The results of that mistake last the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the plot gets messy when the girl — who was becoming romantically involved with the hero — confusingly turns against him, making us wonder who she is. That turns out to be a pointless red herring, and the whole thing about transporting Chinese into France is just bewildering. (I never could figure out how they profit from it, or what the point was. Even more sad, I didn’t really care, a sure sign that a film has lost me.) Overall, this will be great on DVD.

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Sun, Oct 06, 2002

: Blow

Depressing film about a guy who wastes his life selling (and doing) drugs. He brings cocaine to the U.S., makes $100 million, and loses it all. Mildly interesting but ultimately pointless (but of course, that’s the point — drugs are meaningless).

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Sat, Oct 05, 2002

: 13 Ghosts

A different kind of ghost film about a guy who catches ghosts to build a demonic machine that predicts the future. Okay, the plot sounds terrible, but what makes this different is the unusual set (the glass house full of ghosts is the machine) and the way the ghosts are visualized, as real creatures that can hurt you. The house reminded me a lot of Cube. Nothing profound, of course, but entertaining.

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Fri, Oct 04, 2002

: Red Dragon

Excellent film and good (accurate) adaptation of the book, including some important scenes left out of the original version of this film, Silence of the Lambs. That doesn’t make it bad, just not a miracle of filmmaking. I liked the way the film began with Hannibal’s capture by Will Graham (something the book only hints at via flashback) as does well to set the tone of the film. Unfortunately the horrible murders by the “Tooth Fairy” aren’t as horrific as they should be (like in Manhunter), though there are some chilling moments. The relationship between Dollarhyde (the killer) and Reba is handled extremely well and is one of my favorite parts of the film and the book. For me, that aspect is key to the novel: one gets the feeling how narrow the difference is between sanity and insanity. Under just slightly different circumstance, the two could have made a great couple. Ralph Fiennes does a good job as Dollarhyde, but he’s still too good looking (even with the hairlip makeup) to be convincing as a guy who’s embarrassed to show his face. I like Manhunter’s Tom Noonan better. Overall, however, this is a satisfying film for those who love the characters. I can’t say it’s better than Manhunter — they’re both different and there are things I like better about each. Both are excellent films worth seeing.

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: Birthday Dinner

Well, today was my birthday, so I had to endure a birthday dinner with friends and family. Just kidding — I had a great time and ate too much. I chose Hungry Hunter restaurant, which has my favorite meal, steak and fries with whiskey peppercorn sauce. The sauce wasn’t peppery enough and the fries were wimpy thin fries, not thick steak fries, but it was still delcious. The family was in good humor, teasing me about reaching the halfway point in my life (I’m 35), but I told them the average lifespan is always increasing and “halfway” is in the forties now and will be 50 by the time I’m forty-nine. It’s all irrelevant to me: I still have trouble thinking of myself as an adult, let alone a middle-aged man. Hopefully the “you’re only as old as you feel” phrase is true, for I feel like my life has scarcely started.

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Thu, Oct 03, 2002

: Dungeons and Dragons

What can I say? I’d heard rumors this was bad, and within the first five minutes I had that dreadful feeling that this was indeed a stinker. Fortunately, it had a couple moments that weren’t completely awful, but in general this film was one of the worst I’ve ever endured. The acting — or I should say overacting — was terrible. Shockingly bad. I’ve seen better acting in gradeschool Christmas pageants. Jeremy Irons, who should have brought a touch of class to things, just looked hopelessly overwhelmed and out of it, as though he was heavily drugged. A better script could have been written by a two-year-old. All the actors seemed to struggle with the bad material, and I got the definite impression that in several scenes the actors were just rushing through their lines as quickly as possible to get this mistake over with. The main focus of the film seemed to be the “incredible” digital effects. Well, even those were lame. We only get to see digital dragons a couple times, and they look incredibly… digital. The DVD I’d rented was so scratched the ending wouldn’t play and I didn’t even care. Unless you really hate someone, don’t let your friends watch this braindead turkey.

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Wed, Oct 02, 2002

: The Tuxedo

Jackie Chan vehicle about a super electronic tuxedo that enables anyone who wears it to become expert at any number of skills such as fighting, dancing, etc. Chan plays a taxi driver hired by a successful spy to be his driver, but when the spy is injured, Chan wears the tux and takes over the spy’s identity. The plot’s some absurd thing about a bottled water baron who wants to contaminate America’s water supply with a bateria that dehydrates a person to dust within a few seconds of drinking the water. Silly, but fun, with several good Jackie Chan moments. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those. First off, you’ve probably seen most of them in the trailor (doing the James Brown dance, a couple fight scenes, etc.). Second, I missed a lot of the trademark improvisation that is key to so many of Chan’s films and really is what puts him up there in the Charlie Chaplin brilliancy department. This film is more of a buddy movie, pairing Chan with Jennifer Love Hewitt, who’s a scientist/spy assigned to work with him, and all the problems they face as their personalities clash. While I love Hewitt and she does a fantastic job here, seemlessly metamorphasing between gorgeous and appealingly dorky like she did in

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