reel reviews
movie reviews
May '05

THE LONGEST YARDTHE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILLLADIES IN LAVENDER
MADAGASCARSTAR WARS III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
JIMINY GLICK IN LA LA WOOD
MONSTER-IN-LAW KICKING & SCREAMING
THE BALLAD OF JAKE AND ROSE
PAPER CLIPSHOUSE OF WAXCRASH KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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The Longest Yard
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

After his disastrous remake of Frank Capra’s tenderhearted classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, many film buffs hoped Adam Sandler was through with movie remakes. No such luck.

Of course, his abysmal update of Mr. Deeds made truckloads of dough at the box-office. That’s all that really matters, right?

Now Sandler’s production shingle offers us a new version of Robert Aldrich’s 1974 hit, The Longest Yard. Saints preserve us.

Granted, Aldrich’s The Longest Yard was an audience-pleasing action comedy and not a sentimental fable like Capra’s, and therefore is a more appropriate vehicle for Sandler’s talents. Still, this uneven mess pales in comparison with the original.

Sandler plays Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former star NFL quarterback who was disgraced in a points-shaving scandal. While on parole, he takes his girlfriend’s car and leads police on a drunken, high-speed chase and winds up in a Texas prison.

He lands in a jail run by a Machiavellian official (James Cromwell) with eyes on the governor’s office. The nasty warden manipulated the system to get Crewe in his institution so that he could lend his expertise to a semi-pro football team made up of the prison guards.

When Crewe balks at aiding the warden’s efforts, he is “persuaded” to reconsider. Crewe then comes up with an idea to have a team made up of convicts play an exhibition game against the guards.

That basic setup is not unlike the first film, but that’s where the similarities end. This version takes place in an alternate movie universe, a sitcom plane quite different from Aldrich’s original. Although the 1974 version had its share of broad humor, it was rooted in the real world. One could believe that this confrontation could really happen.

Not so here. All of the attempts at humor are so obvious and over-the-top that we have to accept it as an Airplane-style satire. When the movie then tries to take a serious turn (one of the central characters is murdered), it becomes a train wreck.

Thankfully, Sandler has assembled a game supporting cast that enliven things considerable, including the ad libbing Chris Rock and a bevy of former sports stars. Even Burt Reynolds, the original film’s star, makes an appearance.

So, is it funny? Thanks to Rock’s witty asides and a game cast, it sometime is. Will it please Sandler fans? No doubt about it. Will there be more bad remakes? I’m afraid so. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (posted 5/27/05)



The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Upon hearing the premise of the new documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, one might be tempted to dismiss it as the profile of an eccentric. You’d be partly right to make that assessment.

Judy Irving’s film follows a “homeless” man as he observes and interacts with a flock of parrots in San Francisco. There is an unexpectedly poignant element to the film, however, that makes it more than just a glimpse into the life of a kook.

The fifty-something Mark Bittner, an amiable and portly fellow with a long ponytail, moved to San Francisco over 25 years ago to become a musician. He never achieved any success with his musical efforts and has worked only sporadically in temp positions. As the film shows, Bittner gets many of his meals through the largess of café owners, and he lived rent-free in a backyard cottage for years.

But Bittner denies that he is lazy. He simply couldn’t find anything to spark his career interests…until he came upon the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, a heavily wooded and upscale residential area of San Francisco.

Many of the forty-odd birds in this flock are former pets that have been set free or have escaped from captivity. Some are second generation and are truly wild, the offspring of birds imported from South America. These parrots are mostly red-crowned conures, intelligent and brightly colored birds.

Bittner made it his avocation to study, befriend and care for these unusual creatures, and his efforts made him a local celebrity. His keen observations demonstrate that the human-like behavior of the colorful birds is more than just anthropomorphism.

Among the birds we meet are Picasso and his mate, Sophie. This highly co-dependent couple relied completely on one another, as Picasso was blind in one eye and Sophie suffered from a nerve disorder resulting from a viral infection.

Bittner’s favorite was a blue-crowned conure named Connor. Because he was of a different species from the others, he could never become too close to any of them. He, however, was the first to come to the aid of birds that were in need or were picked on by others in the flock.

Another bird we meet is Mingus, one of the few who preferred life in Bittner’s cottage to the wild treetops. As Bittner learned, the differences between humans and animals are fewer than some of us might like to believe.

Sweet natured and amiable, TheWild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the profile of a fine-feathered friend. (G) Rating: 3 (posted 5/27/05)


Ladies in Lavender
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

There’s nothing like a dame, and here’s a movie offering proof.

Ladies in Lavender stars Dame Judy Dench and Dame Maggie Smith in a film that serves one simple purpose. It gets them on the screen together.

This adaptation of a short story by William J. Locke is the sort of well-meaning, stiff-upper lip British drama that has become an art house mainstay.

Stalwart English thespian Charles Dance (Gosford Park) makes his writing and directing debut, taking Locke’s ambiguous story and fleshing it out into a full-length feature. “Padding” it out into a full-length feature might be a better description.

Dench and Smith play elderly sisters who live together in a seaside Cornish village in the 1930s. Smith is Janet, a WWI widow, and Dench is Ursula, her spinster sibling. Their quiet lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a stranger in their midst.

One day, a young, good-looking Polish man named Andrea (Daniel Brühl from Good Bye, Lenin) washes up on their shore. Exhausted and near death with a badly broken ankle, Andrea is lovingly nursed back to health by the ladies and their hard-as-nails housekeeper, Dorcas (Miriam Margolyes.)

For inexplicable reasons, the ladies never question their guest about how he came to their shore or what he plans to do. Although some villagers suspect that the man may be a spy (this was the time between the wars, after all), the only thing we learn is that he is a gifted musician who plays the violin like Isaac Stern.

But the “conflict” in the story lies in Ursula’s obsession with the young man. She develops an attachment that borders on the sexual. She becomes jealous and resentful of others who take up her newfound friend’s time.

All of this could have been more compelling, but Dance takes a very low-key approach that is probably in keeping with the original story’s tone. He eschews real tension in favor of a more relaxed presentation. This makes some of the leaps in logic even more difficult to dismiss.

So, what we have left is a well-produced period piece that is best appreciated for its ensemble acting. (The cast also includes David Warner, Freddie Jones and the stunning Natascha McElhone.)

Luckily, Smith and Dench are a joy to watch. With a demonstration of acting subtlety worthy of classroom discussion, they make the movie worthwhile. These are two really classy dames. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (posted 5/27/05)



Madagascar
Reviewed by Deborah Young

What would the world be like if animals acted like people? That’s a scary thought if you dive beneath the surface of it. Imagine sly cats slinking through the halls of Congress, somber beavers mulling over tax returns – many of them driven primarily by ego and social politics.

But in entertainment, the concept of nonhumans acting human appears to be a popular one. If you don’t believe it, just consider movies such as E.T., in which an alien has the personality of an insecure child; Shrek, in which a donkey and an ogre antagonize each other in the tradition of human comics such as Laurel and Hardy; and Star Trek, in which every race of alien seems to be an exaggeration of some human characteristic. Even “non-fiction” animal programs on television often use narrations to project human emotions and motives onto wild animals.

These programs entertain us because we like seeing nonhumans created or recreated in our image, and Dreamworks’ latest animated feature, Madagascar, pokes fun at this human tendency.

Madagascar follows an episode in the lives of Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) and his friends Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith). The four friends live like pampered stars and New York’s Central Park Zoo, where they put on daily shows for their fans. After hours they enjoy spas and pampering, and the egotistical star Alex gets all the steak he can eat.

But Marty’s not entirely happy. He dreams of being in his idealized version of “the wild.” In the movie’s opening sequence we see him running in slow motion across a wide green field as the soundtrack plays “Born Free.”

Four penguins turn out to be Marty’s ticket out of the zoo. Through a series of unexpected events, Marty and his four friends wind up in the wild, which isn’t exactly as Marty envisioned it. After all, wild animals live in the wild, and Marty and his comrades are wild only in the sense of human eccentricity.

Madagascar entertains because it takes our species-centered view of the world and plays with it. We see animals enjoying captivity, showing off for zoo visitors in some scenes. In others scenes, we see animals wanting to eat each other. Some of the animals enjoy the wild, others don’t. Like human desires, there’s nothing standard about the behavior of these characters.

The film also provides a healthy serving of allusions to literature and movies of the past, ranging from The Twilight Zone to Castaway. It’s good family-oriented fun that gives us an excuse to laugh at ourselves (under the guise of laughing at cartoon animals). (PG) Rating: 3.5 (posted 5/27/05)



Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Forget for a moment the huge spectacle that accompanies the Star Wars franchise. Forget the hype surrounding the release of a new episode. Forget the long lines and packed theatres. Forget the six preceding episodes and the cult following. It’s not necessary to comprehend or buy into these accoutrements to enjoy Revenge of the Sith.

Even the uninitiated can enjoy this movie because it’s more than just a sequel. The story of a good guy turning evil draws us in, and writer/director George Lucas has included enough backstory to inform the uninitiated what’s at stake: a man’s soul and a society’s freedom.

The movie’s strength lies in the filmmaker’s ability to tell a simple story that appeals to our needs to root for the good guys, pity the conflicted hero and abhor the villains. Plus, Lucas includes enough compelling action to keep us on the edges of our seats at least part of the time. Although the characters aren’t very deep and the dialogue tends to be brief and shallow (which is typical of the franchise), the characters’ childlike seriousness about their very basic philosophies imbue them with naïve charm.

At least four of the film’s quirky characters have the uncanny ability to leave a lasting impression. At the top of the list is the wise little green creature known as Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) with his odd habit of twisting sentence structure (known as Yoda, he is). Then there are the droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) with their beeps, squeals and good-natured ribbing of each other. And last and most memorable, the conflicted hero Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen).

Anakin wins us over with his loyalty and bravery from the start, but his ambivalence about walking toward the light is just beneath his boyish surface. His slow but complete turn to the dark side is the film’s main attraction, not special effects, which have become a cinematic staple.

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith has its slow moments (mostly the first 30 minutes), and you can spot the foreshadowing a mile away. The characters are as uncomplicated as Ward and June Cleaver, and the plot can be easily summarized as a fight between good and evil. But those facts and the hype aside, the movie does what good films do: it gives viewers enough information, enough conflict and emotion to kick-start empathy and ire. Even people who don’t get caught up in the Star Wars hype might be pleasantly surprised and entertained by this latest installment. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (posted 5/20/05)



Jiminy Glick in La La Wood
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

In the opening sequence of the showbiz satire Jiminy Glick in La La Wood, comedian Martin Short appears in heavy makeup as director David Lynch. His impression of the eccentric filmmaker is dead on.

This begs the question: Who is this movie for? Just how many people are going to appreciate Short’s impersonation? Is this a film that is exclusively for hardcore movie buffs and showbiz insiders? The answer is, probably, ‘yes.’

Jiminy Glick in La La Wood is based upon the character from Short’s Comedy Central series, Primetime Glick. One can’t help but think that the character was created by Short strictly to amuse his friends.

Short’s showbiz pals are subjected to press junkets that are organized to promote their films. The celebs must endure an endless parade of “interviewers” who often ask insipid and repetitive questions. Glick is an amalgamation of the worst traits of these so-called “junket whores.”

Representing a TV outlet in Butte, MT, Glick is an obnoxious, portly and utterly shallow fellow. He often doesn’t bother to see the film he’s discussing with the stars and is far more interested in snooping into their personal lives.

The film deals with Glick’s trip to Canada for the Toronto Film Festival. With his gassy wife Dixie (fellow Saturday Night Live alum Jan Hooks) and tubby twin sons in tow, Glick drives to the movie celebration and promptly finds himself involved in a murder mystery that closely mirrors the famous Lana Turner scandal of the 1950s.

Elizabeth Perkins (The Ring 2) plays alcoholic star Miranda Coolidge, whose daughter Natalie (Scooby Doo’s Linda Cardellini), may or may not have stabbed Perkin’s ostentatious manager/lover, Andre Devine (John Michael Higgins from A Mighty Wind.)

Because of a strange set of coincidences, Jiminy lands an interview with elusive star, Ben DiCarlo (Corey Pearson in a funny send up of Hollywood bad boy, Colin Farrell.) Now in demand, Jiminy gets to converse with (and annoy) A-list stars like Steve Martin, Kurt Russell and Susan Sarandon.

Short serves as writer for this entry, and much of the dialogue is improvised. The film’s best moments involve his interview sessions, where he and the stars banter about cursory topics and attempt to keep a straight face. (The closing credits include some amusing outtakes.)

Jiminy Glick in La La Wood will NOT appeal to everyone. If you’re the type to tunes in regularly to Entertainment Tonight or one of its many imitators, this may be right up your alley…others, beware. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 5/20/05)



Monster-In-Law
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Jane Fonda has been missing from movie screens for fifteen years. The internationally famous cinema star, activist and fitness guru still carries too much political baggage for some, but she’s still a formidable actress.

So, how does the two-time Oscar-winner return to the big screen after spending way too much time as Mrs. Ted Turner? Sad to say, it’s by lending her ample supply of star power to a third-rate sitcom script.

Monster-In-Law stars Fonda as Viola Fields, a Barbara Walters-type TV interviewer who is bumped from her network in favor of a sweet young thing. After having a nervous breakdown (a comic moment in this type of film), she settles into unwilling retirement. Thankfully, she has her only son to lean on.

Problem is, her physician son Kevin (Michael Vartan from TV’s Alias) has taken up with a “temp.” The comely object of his affection is Charlie Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez), and he pops the question to her right in front of his exasperated mom.

So, Viola is a stone-cold bitch who doesn’t believe that Charlie is good enough for Kevin. With plenty of newfound time on her hands, Viola decides to derail the engagement in any way possible.

The rest of the movie is made up of a series of incidents in which we are given the chance to see Viola and Charlie do battle. They spar over wedding details, food, travel…you name it. Faking illness, Viola moves in with Kevin and Viola in an all-out attempt to drive Charlie nuts.

The movie comes sporadically to life, but you can’t credit Any Kochoff’s mediocre script or the pedestrian direction by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde.) Comic Wanda Sykes, playing Fonda’s no-nonsense assistant, helps a lot, providing some ad lib asides that add some desperately needed zip to the proceedings.

In an all-to-brief moment, stage veteran Elaine Stritch shows up in the role of Viola’s corrosive mother-in-law…and abruptly steals the picture. Her presence (and Viola’s reaction to it) nearly provides enough character background for us to make some sense of Viola’s neuroses. Had this plot element been developed, we might have been able to understand why this long-successful journalist suddenly became a raving lunatic.

But the act of bringing this sitcom back from the dead rests squarely on the shoulders of Fonda, and she’s almost up to the task. It’s nearly worth sitting through this nonsense to see her try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 5/13/05)



Kicking & Screaming
Reviewed by Deborah Young

The tagline for this movie lets us know that Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) has spent his whole life dreaming of being on a winning team. Now his time has come.

Phil's time may have come, but viewers' time in the theatre will drag — through a stream of lukewarm jokes.

Phil is an athletically challenged dad who decides to coach a losing soccer team because he wants his young son, Sam (Dylan Mclaughlin), to get field time, even though the boy isn't a very good player. Sam used to play for the team coached by Ferrell's father, Buck (Robert Duvall). But winning-obsessed Buck would never let him play.

However, Phil’s not only looking out for his son’s interests. He’s also seeking a way to beat his father, who’s always upstaged him, in sports and in life. We learn through flashbacks that Buck told Phil about his plans to marry a much younger woman on the day Phil planned to announce his wedding plans, and Buck beat Phil to the punch. Later, the aging Buck becomes a father again on the same day Phil’s wife delivers.

The two men constantly compete with each other, which makes them seem more like rivaling siblings than father and son. Unfortunately, the competitive episodes aren’t usually funny. Phil usually winds up hurt and bruised while Buck chuckles and gloats.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t mentioned anything about the kids in this movie. That’s because the children served little function besides providing a vehicle for Phil and Buck’s shenanigans. The filmmakers show us little of the kids’ personalities. About all they tell us is that two of the boys are butcher’s apprentices who play great soccer, one enjoys cracking wise (or so he thinks), and one is shy and has lesbian mothers.

The main attractions are Ferrell (who ends up running amok on a coffee buzz throughout much of the film), Duvall (who’s given little to do but seems to be enjoying himself), and Mike Ditka (who plays himself as Buck’s cranky neighbor and a reluctant assistant coach to Phil).

Kicking & Screaming offers few surprises, except that the children don’t excrete any gross substances as I recall. Basically, it’s as harmless as it is inane. Kids under the age of 10 might even get a big kick out of seeing a grown man act younger than they act. (PG) Rating: 1.5 (posted 5/13/05)



The Ballad of Jake and Rose
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

One has to wonder what kind of relationship filmmaker Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity) had with her late father, playwright Arthur Miller (The Death of a Salesman.)

People will certainly be reading a lot into the younger Miller’s latest film, The Ballad of Jack and Rose. It is a father-daughter drama that seethes with familial conflict.

Miller’s real-life husband, actor Daniel Day-Lewis (The Gangs of New York) stars as Jack Slavin, the last of the hippie movement. He lives on an isolated East Coast island with his 16-year-old daughter, Rose (newcomer Camilla Bell.)

Their home is a former commune where Jack had hoped to develop an eco-friendly society free from materialism. Jack’s wife abandoned him (as did all of the other commune dwellers), and he raised young Rose on his own, home schooling her and living off the land.

Problem is, Rose is coming into sexual maturity and has a complete fixation on her dad, one of the few people she’s had contact with. Jack, who is having severe health problems, realizes that he’s got to change things before their relationship goes too far.

He invites his mainland girlfriend, Kathleen (The Interpreter’s Catherine Keener) and her two sons to come live with them. Rose sees this intrusion as a slap in the face and an utter violation of their relationship. The presence of these newcomers sets off a series of incidents that eventually lead to tragedy.

Not only is Jack pre-occupied with the encroaching housing development promoted by businessman Beau Bridges, he is also increasingly concerned with his declining health and his daughter’s erratic behavior.

Day-Lewis is, as always, excellent, and there is some genuine intrigue in this uniformly well acted drama. (Ryan McDonald as Kathleen’s kind-hearted teenage son is particularly memorable.)

But there are some notable flaws, too. In one sequence, Rose says to her father, “If you die, then I’m going to die. If you die, there will have been no point to my living.” (How’s that for bonding?)

But the film’s strange conclusion seems to dismiss that foreshadowing. The unsatisfying denouement seems contrived when compared to the careful composition of the rest of the film. (Many have speculated that the ending may have been changed after screenings with test audiences. This is probably untrue given Miller’s fierce independence, but it seems odd just the same.)

What we’re left with is an intelligent and well-intentioned near miss. One wonders what the elder Miller would have to say about it. (R) Rating: 2.5 (posted 5/13/05)



Paper Clips
Reviewed by Deborah Young

The documentary Paperclips is as paradoxical as human nature. The film tells a story that alternates between narrow and expansive, between self-absorbed and compassionate.

The story takes place in Whitwell, TN, population of approximately 1,600. In the early moments of the movie, middle school principal Linda Hooper explains that the students of the Whitwell Middle School are all alike, for the most part. They're white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, with the exception of five black students and two Hispanic.

In 1998, the principal decided to broaden her students' world by teaching about the evils of intolerance. She chose the Holocaust as her vehicle.

When Hooper explained that six million Jews had been killed during the Holocaust, one student mentioned that six million is a hard number to imagine. Long story short: the students decided to collect six million paperclips, which would stand for their opposition to bias and intolerance.

The project started slow at first, but then East Coast journalists got involved. After the publicity, millions of paperclips started rolling in. Along with the paperclips came letters from Holocaust survivors and those who knew people who'd died during the Holocaust or lived through it.

After that, the project seemed to take on a life of its own. Holocaust survivors visited the town and touched town residents with their stories of pain and abuse. The camera recorded bits of the survivors’ stories, some of the students' reactions and the comments of one male teacher who admitted being prejudiced. He said he'd been a stereotypical southerner but that the project had changed him, made him a better father.

At times, the lessons of the Holocaust seemed to get lost in the trivial chores related to collecting the paperclips. But that's the way human nature works. One moment we're doing “God's work,” the next we're caught up in trivial pursuits.

But this human tendency doesn't render Paperclips any less touching and inspirational. The movie is shot as simply as a home movie, nothing spectacular. What makes it special is the story, the people, and the underlying message of tolerance and respect despite differences of any kind. No MPAA Rating. Rating: 4 (posted 5/13/05)



House of Wax
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Consider the case of Paris Hilton. The hotel heiress has all the money in the world. She’s had a best-selling book. She stars in a hit TV reality series. She has a chain of nightclubs, her own perfume and is working on a CD.

Naturally, she’s ready for a major film role. So, what does such a wealthy, successful woman (one who could easily finance her own movie about any subject under the sun) chose to do? Why not a striptease in a sleazy slasher film?

Hilton is one of a group of attractive youths who are menaced by homicidal maniacs in House of Wax. (When I recently asked her why people should see this movie, she replied, “Everyone in it is good looking.” This may be a sign of the Apocalypse.)

House of Wax is an in-name-only updating of the classic 1953 Vincent Price horror film that was screened in 3-D. Here, the gimmick is Hilton…and it isn’t enough.

The story involves a group of young people on a road trip. (Sound familiar?) They stumble upon some creepy folks in an isolated rural area. (Getting déjà vu?) Crazed maniacs terrorize them and several of them end up being killed in ultra gory ways. (Stop me if you’ve seen it.)

Elisha Cuthbert (The Girl Next Door) gets top billing as a lovely miss who, along with five friends, travel by car to see a college football game. When they pull over to camp out for the night…well, you know. The only real difference in this picture and a dozen like it is the elaborate house of wax attraction, where the exhibits are life-like for a reason. They’re really wax-covered corpses.

In fairness to first-time director Jaume Serra, the film has a few well-executed scares. But it is in the final ten minutes that the movie kicks into high gear.

Thanks to the skilled production crew (who created the whole town as a set on an Australian back lot), the movie has an unusually gripping finale. Unlike the 1953 House of Wax, this entire edifice is made of wax. When a fire is sparked, our kids in peril not only have to flee the killers, but they must escape from a melting museum!

Aside from the finale, the only attraction in House of Wax is the guessing game. Who will get killed and how? When one character is impaled through the forehead, the audience erupts in applause. Guess who plays that part. (R) Rating: 2 (posted 5/6/05)



Crash
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Just what is the cause of racial prejudice? If Paul Haggis’ vision is correct, then it is fueled by misunderstanding and fear.

In the compelling new drama Crash, writer/director Haggis employs a terrific ensemble cast to focus on race relations in contemporary Los Angeles. The picture is not a pretty one.

Kansas City native Don Cheadle (who also serves as producer) leads the cast as a haggard police detective who investigates an automobile accident. Through a series of flashbacks, several intersecting stories are told that explain the events leading up to the crash.

Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock play the LA district attorney and his petulant, nagging wife. They’re carjacked at gunpoint by two African-American thieves, played by Lorenz Tate and rapper Ludacris.

Their story is told simultaneously with that of an affluent African-American couple (Terrance Howard and Thandie Newton) who are pulled over by a racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his naïve partner (Ryan Phillippe.) When Dillon goes way beyond acceptable limits by “frisking” Newton, the rookie cop, who desperately wants to do the right thing, simply watches helplessly.

Another story involves a Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) who has a misunderstanding with a shopkeeper of Middle Eastern descent. Their confrontation nearly leads to tragedy.

Haggis, best known for his Million Dollar Baby screenplay, takes a page out of the Robert Altman manual by weaving the various stories together into a satisfying whole. Although the screenplay for Crash, which he wrote along with Bobby Moresco, may have a few too many coincidences, it is essentially realistic and gripping.

Cheadle brings a quiet dignity to his role as the put-upon cop, and Bullock gives the performance of her career in a rare unsympathetic role. Dillon, who hasn’t had a great part in years, gives us a fully fleshed-out villain. Even though his racism is abhorrent, we ultimately realize that he’s not all bad.

But the acting honors go to Howard. He is riveting as a black man whose dignity is gradually stripped away by the torrent of pervasive racism surrounding him. This is an actor to reckon with.

Although bleak, the movie offers us a glimmer of hope. Some of these hapless characters actually rediscover their humanity.

But Haggis isn’t interested in offering solutions. His intent is to encourage discussion. Like the best cinema, Crash will generate plenty of post-movie coffee talk. In that respect, it is a resounding success. (R) Rating: 4.5(posted 5/6/05)



Kingdom of Heaven
Reviewed by Jason Aaron

The producers of Kingdom of Heaven surely must have puzzled over just how to make an action movie about the Crusades without seeming insensitive to the current state of affairs in the Middle East. Their answer was to layer their pathetic popcorn flick with a heaping helping of pretension so a storyline that serves only to set up scene after glorified scene of Christians and Muslims slaughtering one another still somehow tries to come across as a diatribe on religious tolerance.

Director Ridley Scott was brought on board to recreate the success of his Oscar winning period piece, Gladiator, undoubtedly the most overrated film in the history of the moving image. Scott does imbue Kingdom of Heaven with the same gritty intensity as Gladiator, and the film’s costumes and set designs are lavish and spectacular. But the sprawling battle scenes aspire to the same massive scale as the Lord of the Rings (the current benchmark when it comes to killing people in colossal numbers) without capturing any of that landmark trilogy’s magic or grandeur.

The story follows the murderous, atheist, illegitimate son of a noble (played by pretty boy Orlando Bloom) who’s a simple blacksmith one day and the next all that stands between the city of Jerusalem and 200,000 angry Islamic warriors. While Bloom’s career, which basically consists of one sword-swinging blockbuster after another, has hardly been a challenge of his acting skills, his performance here is a definite improvement over his turn in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean, when he seemed to be carved out of wood compared to Johnny Depp.

Kingdom of Heaven’s supporting cast features plenty of capable actors including Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons, but the clumsy, contrived script makes poor use of them. Some of the characters are randomly dispatched with, others simply disappear and none of them ever achieve any sense of resolution. Instead, they’re merely paraded through an endless orgy of macho posturing, stirring speeches that fail to stir and epic battles that muster significant body counts but negligible emotion. (R) Rating: 1(posted 5/6/05)



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