Prince and Me
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Entirely apropos, the latest teen romance comedy The
Prince and Me is set partly in the state of Wisconsin, home of the
big cheese. Not quite as befitting are the references to Shakespeares
Hamlet, although feigning madness might be helpful to endure this
unintentionally tragic comedy.
Prince Edward (Luke Mably) hails from Denmark, which, like England, is
a small country in Europe, so plummy accents are prescribed. (More Americans
will be familiar with Danish as a tasty treat anyway.) Coming to America
incognito, the Danish prince is accompanied by his manservant Soren (Ben
Miller), and together they move into a college dorm. Paige Morgan (Julia
Stiles) is a premed student at the same university, and when the two protagonists
are thrown together, antimony abounds. However, when Paige invites Eddie
to her family farm home things soon rev up over a riding mower race (presumably
the five minutes of muddy macho entertainment tailored to the duped date).
Ultimately Paige must choose between a career in medicine or her prince
charming. Or just maybe she can have it all.
In a reprisal of her prim role from Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Stiles
manages to feature in another shallow pseudo-feminist story. Although
a proven talent, director Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose, Lost
in Yonkers, Valley Girl) has made a disappointing variation
on the Cinderella story. Go out and buy a pastry instead. (PG-13)
Rating: 2; Posted 4/9/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
There are few annoyances greater than a movie trailer that gives away
everything that happens in the film. The most egregious example in recent
months was the trailer for The Prince and Me, which was essentially
a Cliff Notes version of the picture. If you saw it, you had no reason
to plop down $8 to see the full-length version.
That brings us to Johnson Family Vacation, a broad comedy starring
Cedric the Entertainer. No, its trailer doesnt give everything away.
It simply includes every funny moment in the movie. Once again, theres
no reason to have to pay for a ticket.
Johnson Family Vacation is essentially a road picture replete with
numerous ham-handed slapstick setups. Its heart may be in the right place,
but the execution is strictly third rate. Even the editing seems wide
of the mark.
Cedric plays Nate Johnson, an amiable insurance man who hauls his clan
from California to Missouri for a family reunion. He rents a pimped-out
Lincoln SUV, picks up his estranged wife, Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) and
his three kids, DJ (Bow Wow), Nikki (Solange Knowles, sister of Beyoncé)
and Destiny (Gabby Soleil), and hits the road.
Nates dream is to win the family trophy from his uppity
older brother, Mack (Steve Harvey, who is apparently in every other picture
made this year). That means that Nate will have to keep his own dysfunctional
clan together long enough to endure the drive, and then rally their efforts
in order to surpass Macks crew in a number of competitive events.
En route, Nate and his brood are terrorized by a 18-wheeler, pick up a
beautiful but unbalanced hitchhiker (Shannon Elizabeth), are arrested
by a surly Kansas Highway Patrolman and have their Lincoln covered with
concrete. They then put Aunt Edna on the roof and
(oops, sorry. Wrong
The script by first-timers Earl Richey Jones and Todd R. Jones (TVs
The Hughleys) plays like a tired sitcom, and novice Christopher Erskins
direction is no help, either.
As he demonstrated with his standup work in The Original Kings of Comedy
and his memorable turn in Barbershop, Cedric the Entertainer is
a genuinely talented guy. His affable presence is the only attraction
in this labored effort that wastes his talent as well as that of the rest
of the likable cast.
Still, they made a funny trailer. Just make sure you catch it preceding
a better movie. (PG-13). Rating: 2; Posted 4/9/04
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney
Walking Tall would have been more aptly called Walking
Penis, but although 30 Big Ones line our highways, the
word penis is still publicly verboten. All the elements of
primal male fantasy are on show, and as such, Walking Newly Upright
can be enjoyed as a masterpiece of over-the-top masculinity.
The original 1973 version of Walking Tall was singly responsible
for creating the Hicksploitation genre. It starred Joe Don
Baker as real-life Tennessee sheriff Buford H. Pusser and became a cult
classic. The same role is taken on by The Rock in this remake, and he
manages to sustain an otherwise ridiculous narrative, thanks to an abundance
of charisma and style.
The story opens with Chris Vaughn (The Rock) returning to his hometown
in rural Washington, which is in an obvious state of deterioration. The
local mill has been capriciously closed to be replaced by a casino, owned
by Jay Hamilton, Jr. (Neal McDonough), an old school buddy soon to be
an adversary. The town is run by Sheriff Watkins (Michael Bowen) who gets
to deliver lines like, This is my town. Im the sheriff here,
and You should not have come looking for trouble.
When Chris discovers drugs are being dealt through the casino, he goes
on a vigilante attack against the security guards employed there. Although
he ends up on trial, he is able to convince the jury and the townsfolk
that he can clean up the community. Civil rights be damned, he is found
not guilty and becomes the next sheriff. After an amorous night in the
jailhouse with a reformed stripper (I kid you not), Chris and his new
bra-clad love face a showdown with the casino goons. Newly deputized friend
Ray (Johnny Knoxville) helps save Chriss family with a vegetable
peeler, but the weapon of choice is Chriss 2x4, variations of which
he wields throughout the film.
The overt patriotic flavor of the film equated with the uber male is nothing
new, but in this political era, the implications are somewhat insidious.
The American flag flies over the town as a backdrop to Chriss homecoming;
Chris himself is fresh from the Army Special Forces no less. Even
the strippers at the casino are clad in firefighter get-up, and in one
scene bad guys use a box-cutter carve up our hero. Our patriot on the
other hand, uses brute force to resolve differences, ignores the law when
it doesnt suit his purposes, entertains a stripper in his place
of work, and believes in revenge.
Fortunately, its just a movie. (PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted 4/9/04
on the Range
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
If you seen Scooby Doo 2, Monsters Unleashed or Agent
Cody Banks 2: Destination London, you may not think that there are
any pictures currently playing that adults can enjoy along with the small
Thanks to the folks at Disney, there's a feature-length animated film
that has just enough laughs and pleasant tunes to maintain the interest
of mom and pop.
Home on the Range is a broad, slapstick cartoon that is a departure
from most of the recent Disney product that has aspired to addressing
more serious themes. In fact, it has more in common with the old Warner
Brothers shorts that featured the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
The story takes place in the Old West, where a show cow named Maggie (Roseanne
Barr) whose owner has had his ranch usurped by an unscrupulous land grabber.
He delivers his prized heifer into the care of a friend named Pearl (Carole
Cook) at a small farm called Patch of Heaven.
There, Maggie meets fellow cows Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and Mrs. Caloway
(Dame Judi Dench) and the other denizens of Patch of Heaven. As luck would
have it, the bank is about to foreclose there, too. The only hope that
the cows have is to try to catch a wanted cattle rustler named Alameda
Slim (Randy Quaid) and claim the reward money which would give them just
enough cash to cover the mortgage.
In spite of the interference of Buck (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), the local sheriff's
karate-chopping horse, our bovine heroines continue their pursuit. Trouble
is, the dastardly Alameda Slim has an uncanny ability to mesmerize all
cattle with his hypnotic yodeling!
The movie is short, fast-paced and filled with gags. The animation is
mostly of the old fashioned, hand-drawn variety and is often as jokey
as the script. (Particularly amusing is the look of a shady character
named Wesley, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Buscemi, the actor
who provides the voice.)
The movie also marks the return of Alan Menkin, the composer responsible
for the songs in Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid
and numerous other Disney classics. His work, and that of lyricist Glenn
Slater, is far wittier than the dreary tunes that pop composers like Phil
Collins have provided for recent Disney fare. Plus, k.d. lang, Bonnie
Raitt and Tim McGraw supply some spirited vocals.
Home on the Range isn't among the best Disney fare, but it's an
amiable popcorn movie for the whole family. (G) Rating: 3; Posted 4/2/04
Architect: A Son's Journey
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
A disheveled and penniless man died in a Penn Station toilet
in 1974 at age 73. He was alone in the world and had the address on his
passport scratched out.
Because he was hard to identify, his body laid for days in a morgue awaiting
someone to claim it. The body belonged to renowned architect Louis I.
That is just one of the mysteries featured in My Architect: A Son's
Journey, a compelling new documentary made by Kahn's son, Nathaniel.
Among the other fascinating nuggets uncovered about the enigmatic Kahn
was the fact that he had three families. In public, he had a wife, Esther,
and a daughter named Sue Ann. In secret, he had another family with a
mistress, the architect Anne Tyng, and another daughter, Alexandra. With
yet another mistress, assistant Harriet Patterson, he had a son.
The film details Nathaniel's quest to learn about his father who died
when he was just eleven years old. Through his search, Nathaniel chronicles
his father's works, which are among the most influential of the century,
as well as his unorthodox lifestyle.
Kahn, a Jew who immigrated to Philadelphia from Estonia as a child, was
a short, ugly, bespectacled man with an annoying voice who had no success
in his career until after he was fifty years old. He bore extensive facial
scars from a fiery childhood accident. Still, he was apparently a charismatic
individual who had great success with the ladies.
A perfectionist with a drive that some colleagues found off-putting, Kahn
had an unorthodox vision that he applied to the few buildings he designed
that were eventually built. The stark, futuristic edifices include the
Salk Institute in California, The Kimball Art Institute in Texas and,
most grandiose, the capital building of Bangladesh...that took over 20
years to erect.
Along with family members and friends, Nathaniel interviews his fathers
noted colleagues, including I.M. Pei, Frank Geary, Philip Johnson and
Moshe Safdie. Most colorful is the feisty Edmund Bacon, who fought Kahn
tooth-and-nail over the redevelopment of downtown Philadelphia.
Ultimately, Nathaniel's search for his father lacks the cathartic conclusion
that some may yearn for. There is no discovery that serves to explain
Kahn's motives or sum up his character.
But by exploring his father's work, especially the capital of Bangladesh,
Nathaniel finally makes a connection. The resulting film is a notable,
sometimes moving account of a son coming to terms with his own identity.
(Unrated) Rating: 3; Posted 4/2/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Comic book characters are hot properties in Hollywood right now. From
the ongoing Spider-Man franchise to a new Batman project
and even offbeat ditties like Man-Thing, studios are dishing
out the superhero flicks like mad. Inevitably, the trend will play out
and few rotten egg films will kill the momentum and spoil everything for
the whole genre (anybody remember Batman Forever?). Until then,
comic book and action movie fans should just enjoy the ride. Hellboy
is one of the relative high points on that ride.
Like a cross between X-Men and the Ghostbusters, the
Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense is a collection of government-funded,
super-powered oddballs who spend their nights battling other super-powered
oddballs for the fate of the world. The misfits include a telepathic fishman,
an emotionally fragile firestarter and a big, red demonic manchild with
a soft spot for kittens (and these are the good guys). Those up to evil
deeds include a blond-haired Nazi pin-up girl, Hitler’s quietest,
creepiest and deadliest assassin and the mad, immortal monk Rasputin,
whose master plan involves paving the way for a bunch of tentacled chaos
gods to take over all creation. Believe it or not, the movie isn’t
based on an H.P. Lovecraft story but instead on a comic book series by
writer/artist Mike Mignola. The main appeal of the comic has always been
Mignola’s lush, atmospheric artwork, and the film does it justice
with inspired visuals, including dead-on character designs and CGI effects
that blend seamlessly with the live-action shots.
Unfortunately, for a setup this offbeat and imaginative, Hellboy
takes itself awfully serious at times. An unrequited love and a strained
father/son relationship pack far less wallop than Hellboy’s
stone-fisted right cross. There are also far too many characters to share
the spotlight, including the kindly, aging professor, the likable but
doomed right-hand-man, the meddling, narrow-minded boss and of course,
the new guy out to prove himself. Hellboy works best when the
action and the witty one-liners are coming fast and furious. When it pauses
for melodrama, you start to realize that at a little over two hours, it’s
a little too long.
Director Guillermo del Toro previously demonstrated his comic-adapting
chops on Blade II and for awhile was attached to direct The
Coffin, a comic created by Kansas City artists Phil Hester and Mike
Huddleston. Hellboy star Ron Perlman is no stranger to prosthetics,
as he’s best known for his role as the lion-faced romantic lead
in the 1980s cult classic TV series, “Beauty and the Beast.”
The rest of the cast is equally strong, including the always-hilarious
Jeffrey Tambor and the legendary John Hurt. The showstealer, however,
is still Mignola’s imagination, which shines through despite a muddled
script. If you dig this film, don’t bother waiting for the sequel,
but do yourself a favor and look up one of the many Hellboy trade
paperbacks and check out Mignola’s imagination at its most unfettered.
(PG-13) Rating: 4; Posted 4/1/04
Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
Reviewed by Lizzy Bordon
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is yet another
extraordinary achievement in this golden age of nostalgic remakes and
stalwart franchises. The sustained anticipation of delight and novelty
makes this sequel the Citizen Kane of the Warner Brothers Studio.
Audiences will thrill when Scooby announces “Ruh-Roh!” in
his distinctive tenor, and the more astute will appreciate the reference
to the word “Rosebud.” Profound philosophical underpinnings
and cunning socio-political insights are woven deeply into this Hanna
Those born after 1975 will be reassured to know that their parents’
generation, the very people now in charge of the mass media, grew up on
a rich diet of clever mysteries and philosophical discourse on the nature
good and evil in weekly television episodes of Scooby Doo cartoons.
Filmgoers who missed the first live-action Scooby Doo release
in 2002 may be surprised to find that the sequel is still graspable, although
some background information might illuminate the intricacies of the plot.
It should be understood that Shaggy and Scooby are not cross-dressers
ordinarily, but must surrender their own self-identity by masking their
masculine identities in order to unmask real villains. Furthermore, women’s
clothing and African-American hairstyles are inherently amusing, and by
extension, so are the people that sport them. This serves as a fanciful
message to the young audience. Similarly, the candid product placements
work both as a gentle reminder that solving mysteries is thirsty work
and as metaphor for the undying thirst for meaning.
In Monsters Unleashed, the reputation of Scooby and the gang
is threatened when an anonymous bad guy wreaks mayhem on the city of Coolsville.
A monster machine re-creates a number of classic foes like The Black Knight
and the Pterodactyl Ghost, and the beastie outbreak leaves Shaggy (Matthew
Lillard) and Scooby (the voice of Neil Fanning and CGI script realized
for this purpose) questioning their roles in Mystery, Inc. Their mutual
psychological pain is distressing, but intrinsic to the depth of the story,
serving as a good life lesson for youngsters. Meanwhile, brainy brunette
Velma (Linda Cardellini) becomes smitten with museum curator Patrick (Seth
Green), also a key suspect, while Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Daphne
(Sarah Michelle Gellar), although under pressure from an implacable investigative
reporter (Alicia Silverstone), look really great in their outfits while
attempting to determine the identity of the Evil Masked Figure.
Just as Citizen Kane employs playful paradoxes, at its surface
Scooby Doo 2 is as much fun as any movie ever made, yet its depths
defy easy understanding. Adding richness to the personal story is the
history of a period. The color coordinated vinyl knee-high boots and the
idea that a man’s best friend is his talking dog encapsulate universalities
that have carried Scooby and his friends through the decades. And like
Citizen Kane, Scooby Doo 2 will be forever recognized
as a defining example of American cinema. (PG) Rating: 5; Posted 4/1/04