reel reviews

Bon VoyageThe Day After TomorrowI'm Not Scared
Mayor of the Sunset StripShrek 2Soul Plane

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Soul Plane
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

A few years ago, you may have heard a deafening protest about a movie like Soul Plane. The filmmakers liberally exploit racial stereotypes, drug use and raunchy sexual references in an all out blitz aimed at the funny bone.

Today, most objections will probably be met with a resounding, “Lighten up! It’s a comedy.”

A ’blaxploitation’ twist on the Airplane spoofs, Soul Plane is an over-the-top farce about a young African American man named Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart from TV’s The Big House) who is injured in an airplane lavatory accident. After suing the airline and collecting a $100 million settlement, he starts his own airline, the Afro-centric NWA.

The company’s plane is a purple, pimped-out 747, a low rider with spinning chrome hubs and assorted bling-bling. It features a dance club, multiple Jacuzzis, a hip men’s room attendant (D.L. Hugley), scantily clad stewardesses and a high and low class section.

The pilot (Snoop Dogg) is a stoner who is afraid of heights. Security officer Jamiqua (Mo'Nique) is a man-eater with an unhealthy interest in cavity searches. Blind passenger John Witherspoon uses his disability as an excuse to feel up the passengers. A flight attendant named Flame (Gary Anthony Williams) is, as his name implies, an effeminate homosexual.

Tom Arnold, his two kids and girlfriend are the token white people on board. He’s concerned because his daughter is about to turn 18 and ready to explore the adventures of sex. Adding to his worries is the fact that his son is a wannabe thug and his girlfriend is eyeing a well-endowed stud.

NWA’s maiden voyage is fraught with complications, but disaster looms when the pilot is apparently killed after overdosing on mushrooms.

Director Jesse Terrero (The Clinic) has obviously seen all of the Zucker Brothers’s films and he aims for the same vein of comic absurdity. Screenwriters Bo Zenga and Chuck Wilson show little restraint in their search for laughs among the racial and sexual pigeonholes.

Most of the comedy in Soul Train seems terribly forced and excessively low brow. There are long stretches between the laughs and when the laughs finally come, they’re often accompanied by feelings of guilt. One might be tempted to look around and ask, “Should I really be laughing at this?”

Depending on your point of view, Soul Plane may be either an offensive step backward or a knew-slapping riot. The truth lies somewhere in between. (R) Rating: 2; Posted 5/27/04

The Day After Tomorrow
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

With films like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and When Time Ran Out to his credit, the late producer Irwin Allen became known as the ‘King of the Disaster Movies.’ But Allen has been dead for over a decade and another filmmaker is earnestly making a bid for his crown.

Roland Emmerich, the filmmaker responsible for Independence Day and the update of Godzilla, now offers us The Day After Tomorrow, a special effects extravaganza that serves as a cautionary tale about the possible consequences of global warming.

The story involves a climatologist named Jack Hall, played by Dennis Quaid (The Alamo), who makes a startling discovery. While gathering ice core samples in the Artic, he witnesses the breakaway of a major ice shelf.

After running some computer tests, he realizes that global warming is causing an ice melt that is lowering the salt content of ocean water, thus disrupting the warm Gulf Stream current that keeps the North American climate moderate. His projections indicate that this will trigger a new Ice Age... not within decades, but within weeks.

Naturally, he’s right, but his warnings are ignored. Cataclysmic weather patterns develop, including giant tornadoes in Los Angeles, blizzards in India, hailstorms in Hong Kong, hurricanes over dry land and monstrous floods on the East Coast. Chaos ensues as the word gets out about the impending deep freeze and millions of people attempt to flee to warmer southern countries.

Jack doesn’t head south, however. Instead, he braves the elements and treks northward in an attempt to save his son (October Sky’s Jake Gyllenhaal) who has holed up with friends at the ice-bound New York Public Library.

The computer generated eye candy on display is first-rate, impressively depicting the disastrous tempests as they lay waste to famed landmarks like the Hollywood sign, the Capital Records building and the entire island of Manhattan.

To Emmerich’s credit, he also builds verisimilitude with his careful elucidation of the science behind the events he depicts.

Sadly, all of this is nearly undone by a corny script with dialogue that is laughably clumsy. (Perhaps Emmerich should have written the script in his native German.) The incredible disasters shown in the film are far easier to believe than the actions of the cardboard characters.

If you can get past the silliness, The Day After Tomorrow can be appreciated for its amazing visuals. Let’s hope that its dire warnings are taken more seriously than the movie itself. (PG) Rating: 2; Posted 5/27/04

Bon Voyage
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Strapped for time? Want to see one movie and experiences multiple film genres at the same time? If so, the Bon Voyage may be just what you’re looking for.

This handsomely mounted flick is a French language art film, a political thriller, a war movie, an espionage caper, an action adventure, a drawing room farce, a soap opera, a murder mystery and a period romance all rolled into one.

Isabelle Adjani (The Story of Adele H) stars as Viviane Denvers, a self-centered actress who kills an unwanted suitor just before the Nazis begin their occupation of France. She attempts to cover up the evidence, unwittingly setting into motion a series of events that could change the fate of the world.

Viviane contacts an old lover named Frederic (Gregori Derangere), a budding novelist, to help her cover up the crime. He inadvertently takes the rap and winds up in prison. Thanks to the Nazi invasion, Frederic escapes and becomes involved with a scientist who is trying to smuggle nuclear secrets out of the country and beyond the reach of the Germans. Viviane, meanwhile, flees Paris with the other socialites, and takes up with a high government official, played by Gerard Depardieu, in hopes of keeping the police at bay.

Although Adjani is at least twenty years older than the character she’s been cast to play, her youthful looks and stunning beauty serve her well. It is easy to believe that any number of men would put themselves at risk in exchange for her favors.

The supporting cast is excellent, including Yvan Attal (My Wife is an Actress) as a prison escapee who becomes a hero, Jean-Marc Stehlé (Adolphe) as the nuclear scientist, Virginie Ledoyen (8 Women) as his valiant assistant who falls for Frederic, Peter Coyote (ET) as a Nazi spy, and the ever reliable Depardieu (Green Card).

In terms of tone, this film is all over the place. That’s not necessarily a flaw, because director Jean-Paul Rappeneau (Cyrano de Bergerac) uses the diverse elements in the story to keep us guessing about the ultimate outcome of his various subplots. One may wish that Rappeneau would choose one genre and stick to it, but, in truth, that might have been a mistake. Individually, the plot strings don’t really amount to much. Together, they weave an intricate, if convoluted crazy quit of a movie.

This variety makes Bon Voyage an amiable trip. (PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 5/27/04

I'm Not Scared
Reviewed by Liz Sweeney

Italian director Gabriele Salvatores is best known in this country for the 1992 hit Mediterraneo, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. His latest entry is the book adaptation I'm Not Scared, which has garnered Italy's Oscar equivalent for Best Cinematography. The two films are alike in featuring languid sunburst landscapes but this more recent one doesn't evoke Mediterraneo's state of peaceful relaxation. Instead, involuntarily screams erupt during I'm Not Scared. More ominous than suspenseful however, is the larger story of a child's lost innocence.

It is 1978, a turbulent time in Italian history and the same year Aldo Moro was kidnapped and killed by the Red Brigade. The political backdrop gives a framework, but at its heart I'm Not Scared is a personal story. When 10-year old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) investigates a concealed hole by an abandoned house, what he assumes is a dead body turns out to be a young boy shackled to the floor. Michele holds his discovery close and returns to visit the captive Filippo (Mattia Di Pierro) with innocent curiosity, at first providing much needed water and food. Filippo's feral state gives way to a little boy so artless that the only way he has to assess his predicament is to believe that he is dead. Over time, Michele's secrecy becomes a matter of necessity as he realizes that the adults in his community are involved in a kidnapping.

Lyrical and slow-paced, most of the drama plays out in small details. The bucolic scenes belie the turmoil and complexities of the small Italian community. Sun-drenched wheat fields make up the children's playground, but snakes cross the pathway, and various birds and small animals connote the theme of predator and prey. With touching inventiveness, Michele recites events to himself as narrative story elements, trying, like Filippo to make sense of his experiences. Performed by a string quartet, the film's score is based on lullabies, and together with both boys' poignant interpretations of events and camera angles from down low, the world of childhood is skillfully portrayed.

While the film's tempo is a refreshing change from others of its ilk, it bogs down at times, lingering overlong on the rustic scenery. The kidnapping plot is necessary to the story, but it becomes distracting and demands a shift from the child perspective. Audiences lured by the title, looking for a full-tilt chiller won't find satisfaction here. Rather, I'm Not Scared should be seen as a coming-of-age tale with bittersweet contours. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 5/21/04

Shrek 2
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

It may not be easy being green, but thanks to the lovable green ogre named Shrek, Dreamworks will generate a lot of box-office green.

Shrek 2 picks up where the wildly popular computer animated original left off. Newlyweds Shrek and Fiona (voiced by Mike Meyers and Cameron Diaz) are off to meet Fiona's royal parents in the land of Far Far Away. The wisecracking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) has come along for the ride.

First impressions are vital, of course, and Shrek makes a very bad one by displaying regrettable etiquette and getting into a fight with his in-laws during a clumsy first dinner together.

Naturally, the King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews) are a bit disconcerted by the fact that their beautiful daughter is now an ogre and is married to an ogre and living in a disgusting ogre swamp. Mum only wants what will make Fiona happy, but dad has a previous commitment that he has to honor.

You see, the King made a pact with a not-so-ethical fairy godmother (Jennifer Saunders) that promised Fiona¹s hand to her handsome but foppish son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). The King then plots to have Shrek eliminated by hiring a swashbuckling hit man named Puss Œn Boots (Antonio Bandaras) to whack him.

Like the original, Shrek 2 features broad, satiric humor and eye-popping computer generated images. Screenwriters J. David Stem, Joe Stillman and David N. Weiss have taken the late William Steig's characters and given them the same spoofish spin that made the first film so popular.

The kids will like the fantasy elements of the fairytale, while parents will enjoy the way it pokes fun at contemporary pop culture. (Far Far Away is a stand-in for Los Angeles, so look quickly for signs on stores like Tower of London Records.)

Like the first film, Shrek 2 features pop tunes, most memorably a new hit by Counting Crows called "Accidentally in Love." There's also a showbiz number warbled by the fairy godmother that includes talking furniture in a sly send-up of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. (Dreamworks co-owner Jeffrey Katzenberg was the head of the animation department at Disney when Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to receive an Oscar nomination as Best Picture.)

Shrek 2 is a rarity. Not only is it a worthy sequel, but also it's one that has appeal for the whole family. (PG) Rating: 3; Posted 5/21/04

Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

America has always been preoccupied, even obsessed, with celebrity. Fame, like the proverbial candle, draws hangers-on like death-bound moths.

Rodney Bingenheimer may be the ultimate groupie. Since the 1960s, he has become a staple of the Los Angeles music scene. First, he was a groupie, then a caterer to the stars and then, for a short time, a club owner. He ultimately evolved into an influential radio deejay.

Now relegated to two hours a week in a radio graveyard slot, Bingenheimer largely lives on the glories of his past—and his association with the famous and near famous from the world of rock.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip is an odd little documentary that, like its subject, is small, superficial and more than a little bit sad.

Filmmaker George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse) takes a handheld digital camera and follows Bingenheimer around, focusing on his brushes with rock elite. He also gets some talking head contributions from the folks like Cher, Deborah Harry and Courtney Love.

Thanks to Bingenheimer's compulsion for collecting memorabilia and this penchant for recording his celebrity encounters on audiotape or video, Hickenlooper is able to piece together a comprehensive history of Bingenheimer's brushes with greatness.

Bingenheimer was taught to love the stars by his mother. When he was a teenager, his mom took him to the home of Connie Stevens for an autograph. She abandoned him there and he didn't see her again for another five years.

As a homeless teen, he went in search of a surrogate family among those he loved the most: rock stars. Sonny and Cher took him under their wing, and a short time later he became the TV double for Davy Jones of The Monkees. In spite of the fact that he was an awkward, mousy guy, he became a groupie leader. If you wanted to get close to a star, you had to go through Rodney.

When he became a deejay, he was the first to play the music of bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and X, ushering in the era of punk, glam and new wave. Today, the stars still show affection for him even though he's poor and no longer on the cutting edge.

Bingenheimer comes off like a deer caught in the headlights of fame. He seems oddly clueless for a guy who has seen so much. Unlike the moth, Bingenheimer isn't burnt. He's burned out. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 5/21/04

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