reel reviews
movie reviews
July '05

STEALTHMURDERBALL SKY HIGHBAD NEWS BEARSHUSTLE & FLOW
THE ISLAND
THE DEVIL'S REJECTSME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW
THE WEDDING CRASHERSCHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
MARCH OF THE PEGUINS
DARK WATERFANTASTIC FOUR OLDBOY
WAR OF THE WORLDS
REBOUND
KING OF THE CORNER



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

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Stealth
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

So, fresh from winning the Oscar as Best Actor, what does the hot-as-a-pistol star Jamie Foxx decide to do for a follow-up? He takes a supporting role behind Josh Lucas and Jessica Beil! (Jamie’s agent must have been asleep at the wheel.)

Stealth is a science fiction action thriller that could aptly be described as a cross between Top Gun and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Directed by Rob Cohen, Stealth is a “put your brain on hold, full steam ahead” opus that makes Cohen’s last two films, The Fast and the Furious and XXX, seem like documentaries.

The action takes place in the near future. Lucas stars as a cocky Naval lieutenant who believes he has enough talent to ignore protocol and do things his own way. He is the leader of a trio of stealth pilots that also includes Biel and Foxx, and they fly their elite aircraft on ultra secret military missions.

One day their commanding officer, played with understated authority by Sam Shepherd (The Right Stuff,) tells them that their crew is about to be expanded by one member, a robotic plane called an EDI (Eddy for short) that uses artificial intelligence instead of a pilot.

Naturally, our human fliers are dismayed, but they acquiesce under orders. On their first mission (bombing a terrorist site,) EDI “learns by example” as Lucas disobeys an order. When EDI is struck by lightning and undergoes a system reconfiguration, he develops a mind of his own.
When EDI starts using his weapons for mischief, it is up to our intrepid humans to bring him down.

As you might suspect, audiences will have to suspend a lot of disbelief in order to enjoy Stealth, but Cohen and company are almost able to pull it off. Cohen knows how to mount action sequences and, once he gets started, the pace is pedal to the metal.

But Stealth has some serious problems. First of all, the flying sequences never look real. These scenes have that crystal clean appearance of hyper-reality that computer generated imagery has wrought. This movie needed to have a gritty, realistic look in order for us to take it seriously.

Secondly, the film takes some laughably absurd twists and turns, and is saddled with some dialogue that the folks at Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have had a field day with.

And finally, Foxx is wasted. Stealth delivers the action, but misses its chance to be a compelling cautionary tale. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 7/29/05)



Murderball
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

The word “disabled” is a tricky one. Yes, it is the politically correct description of someone who suffers from a physical handicap, but the word doesn’t always apply.

A case in point could be the wheelchair athletes who compete in the rugged, grueling and fiercely competitive sport of wheelchair rugby or, as it is better known, “murderball.” One could argue that, on the court at least, these guys are hardly disabled.

Murderball was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the audience award for Best Documentary. It demonstrates the pride and determination that these athletes possess…as well as their pettiness and human frailties.

It is a sports movie, and it isn’t. Yes, numerous games are presented, but the film offers more. Its best trait, perhaps, is that it takes us places we don’t expect.
The film’s focus is on the American team that competes in the Paralympic Games. As one of the participants points out, this is real, hardcore competition. “It’s not like the Special Olympics where you get a pat on the back.”

The wheelchairs are reinforced to the point of resembling the gladiator robots from Junkyard Wars. It is legal for one to knock his opponent over, ramming his wheelchair and slamming him to the court. And they do this without padding.

Although several participants are profiled, there are two central characters. One is Mark Zupan, a biker dude who is tough as nails. He was paralyzed when he was thrown from the back of a pickup, driven by his best friend Christopher Igor. (Both were drunk and Igor was unaware of Zupan lying in the truck bed.) Their reconciliation is just a part of the story.

The other main character is Zupan’s rival, Joe Soares. A long-time star of the American team, he was dropped due to age and dwindling ability. Angry over this turn of events, he went to Canada to coach the rival team…and carried it to victory over the Americans. Considering Soares a traitor, Zupan says, “If he was on fire, I wouldn’t piss on him to put him out.”

Yes, these guys are hardly shrinking violets. Their language is harsh and they talk frankly about paraplegic sex. There’s no room for pity in their lives.

Directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro have pieced together a unique and unsentimental movie that demonstrates that the competitive spirit can survive the loss of limbs. (R) Rating: 3.5 (posted 7/29/05)



Sky High
Reviewed by Deborah Young

What’s the pleasure of watching a superhero with a nearly ordinary life? None whatsoever. By their definition, superheroes are hyperbolic. They’re more than human and more than heroic, their emotions usually complex, their desires conflicted.

But that’s not the case with the heroes of director Mike Mitchell’s latest movie, Sky High. Besides having superpowers, the Stronghold family and their superhero acquaintances muddle through their existences like the rest of us.

Steve and Josie Stronghold (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) sell real estate for a living, but in times of crisis they morph into The Commander and Jetstream and take on the world’s villains. At the beginning of the movie, a voiceover tells us that they’re not only super heroes, they’re super realtors. In terms of perfection, they’re the Ward and June Cleaver of the superhero community.

They’re worried about their son Will (Michael Angarano), though. Shortly after he enters a high school for the offspring of superheroes, he informs his parents that he hasn’t gotten his superpowers yet. Of course, Steve is distraught over his son’s shortcoming. It’s the equivalent of a football hero whose son is afraid of the ball.

Will does eventually get his powers and a girlfriend, both of which create disturbances in his life. As with most teen-related flicks, there’s a little love triangle involved, a vicious rivalry between two male characters, and a troubling class situation at the school.

In short, these characters are the Jetsons with special gifts. Unfortunately, these characters aren’t as inventive as the Jetsons or as fun to watch. The movie’s jokes are too subtle for this genre, and the action scenes lackluster.

What Sky High has going for it is that it’s family friendly. Perhaps that will be enough to get people in the seats. (PG) Rating: 2.5 (posted 7/29/05)



Bad News Bears
Reviewed by Deborah Young

It’s no surprise that the creators of the remake Bad News Bears stayed close to the original script of the 1976 film The Bad News Bears. The first film garnered a Writer’s Guild of America award for its screenwriter, Bill Lancaster.

Like its predecessor, Bad News Bears features a multicultural group of inept little-league baseball players, led by a drunken coach named Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton).

At first Buttermaker doesn’t seem to care much about the kids. He just wants to spend the allotted time with them so that he can earn his paycheck.

But after Buttermaker forfeits the team’s first game because his players are losing miserably, an opposing coach (Greg Kinnear as Bullock) suggests that the team’s players hang up their helmets.

Then it’s on.

Buttermaker enlists the help of a star girl pitcher (Sammi Kraft as Amanda) and a young delinquent athlete (Jeff Davies as Kelly). With the help of the newcomers and a little training for the others, the team begins to stink less and starts to dream of winning a trophy.

Unfortunately, this modernized version of the classic has put more bad words in the mouths of the little ones and added sexual content (although it’s pretty tame) that has nothing to do with the story.

The latest incarnation of Buttermaker is all about the ladies. He gets a gentleman’s club to sponsor the team, and the club’s strippers show up to root for them.

Matthau’s Buttermaker cleaned pools for a living. But this new Buttermaker exterminates rats and bugs, a profession obviously chosen by the filmmakers for its gross-out factor.

The first time we see Buttermaker he’s coming out of a client’s basement preceded by a bunch of rats. In other scenes, he’s disposing of the dead critters in rather unsanitary ways.

I don’t like to think of modern as synonymous with sex and gross-out humor, but these filmmakers have chosen to translate the concept that way. They’ve made Buttermaker more horrible than he was in the first film, a choice that seems a perfect fit for Thornton (who turns out to be much more flamboyant and believable in the role than Mathau was).

But even though the filmmakers have chosen to harden Buttermaker’s character and add quite a few naughty words, they made one notable, politically correct departure from the first film. In the first film, there was a scene in which Buttermaker passed out beer to the kids. But there’s none of that in this new version, which has the coach passing out “non-alcoholic beer.”

Such are the paradoxes of the modern world, which has some interesting twists, as does this remake. But the more traditional world of the first film has more heart and more depth. In that world it was clear that these kids were more than just bad ball players; they were representatives of groups that society treated as second-class citizens, the ethnic minorities and the women. In this remake, the young team members are little more than comedic devices. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (posted 7/22/05)



Hustle & Flow
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Occasionally, an actor will come along who paints a portrait so effectively that the performance leaves an indelible memory with audiences.

Terrance Howard, a talented thespian who made a strong impression earlier this year with his intense work in the film Crash, has all but sewn up an Oscar nomination with a riveting turn as a Memphis pimp in the new drama Hustle & Flow.

Howard plays Djay, a southern hustler who has some troubles with one of his feisty ladies (Paula Jai Parker)…and seems to have a bit of difficulty making ends meet. He decides to attempt to go “straight” by pursuing a career as a rap artist.

Djay enlists the help of a pal named Key (Anthony Anderson) who works as an engineer for church choir recordings. The put together a makeshift studio in Djay’s house, much to the chagrin of Key’s wife and a couple of Djay’s girls.

One of the more forward thinking ladies is Djay’s new acquisition, Nola (Taryn Manning,) a perky white girl from a small rural town. Naive and easy-going, she’s considered a hick by some of the other girls. She manages to pull in enough dough to help Djay fund his dream.

Yet another supportive streetwalker is the sweet-natured Shug (Taraji P. Henson.) She provides some hook vocals that Djay uses to back his raps.

Once the tracks are recorded, Djay tries to find another rapper to help him market his recordings. He sets his sights on a successful, locally raised performer named Skinny Black (Ludacris) and makes plans get him to hear the tracks. Things go very wrong when Djay meets Black at a local club.

Writer/director Craig Brewer (Resolutions of the Complacent Man) has concocted a simple narrative (some have dismissed this film as a rap Rocky), but has populated his movie with an impressive acting ensemble.

Henson is especially memorable, giving a guileless performance while providing the vocals for a couple of very catchy tunes, It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp and Whoop that Trick. Ludacris is equally impressive as the self-centered hip-hop star.

But this movie belongs to Howard who, along with Brewer, creates an original and vivid character. It is a complex role, a truly multi-faceted human being who can be warm, violent, thoughtful, funny or scary. In the hands of a lesser actor, Djay could easily have been a one-dimensional thug.

But Howard makes him someone to root for, a highly flawed but agreeable everyman. (R) Rating: 4 (posted 7/22/05)



The Island
Reviewed by Deborah Young

In the world of science fiction most things that glitter are radioactive. So it’s not hard to guess that something sinister lies beneath the organized and sterile environment in which Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) live.

When we first see Lincoln he’s in the midst of a disturbing dream that involves a beautiful woman dressed in white and a boat and an island. Then he wakes up in a bare, white room. He’s given instructions over an intercom. It’s time to get up and get dressed.

The drawers in Lincoln’s room contain white socks, white pants, white shirts and white tennis shoes. He wonders aloud who puts the clothes there and why they’re always white.

Then he’s off to an elevator with a group of similarly dressed men. A newscaster announces that someone just won the lottery and is about to go to “the island.” A picture of a tropical paradise appears on a screen in the elevator, and one of Lincoln’s peers gripes that he’s been here longer than some of the previous lottery winners were before they won the lottery. Why hasn’t he won?

Something about the ambiance of the setting hints that something is awry. While watching, my mind immediately jumped to that Twilight Zone episode in which aliens visited earth and tried to communicate with people. Linguists analyzed a book the aliens had brought, and all they could translate was the title, “To Serve Man.” They were on a spaceship with the aliens before they realized that the book was a cookbook.

Fortunately for Lincoln and Jordan, Lincoln senses that something’s wrong before they get on the proverbial spaceship. So they run for their lives.

What follows are a series of car and helicopter chases and lots of running, shooting and choreographed stunts. After the first half-hour the film is mostly action, very little substance. All the actors have to do is duck, dodge and look good, which doesn’t appear to have been difficult for either of the leads.

A good film usually has more going for it than a few complicated stunts. But this film is long on action and short on dialogue. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (posted 7/22/05)



The Devil's Rejects
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

There is only one audience for The Devil’s Rejects, a gorefest from heavy metal rocker-turned filmmaker, Rob Zombie. This is an entertainment for sadists.

Sadly, there are a lot of them out there. Zombie’s previous effort, House of 1000 Corpses, did well at the box office, leaving one to ponder about just what that means for our society.

Zombie brings back the psychotic and bloodthirsty Firefly family, the clan responsible for countless grisly deaths in Corpses. This time out, state troopers raid their rural compound, but some family members escape.

Otis Driftwood (Bill Mosley) and his sister Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) slip out of an underground tunnel and, as previously planned, aim to meet up with their pop, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and dig up a stash of guns so that they can continue their killing spree.

The rest of the film is a parade of stabbing, bludgeoning, garroting and gore. The only real creativity on display lies in the variety of ways in which people are dispatched.

The plot of Zombie’s film involves a state trooper (William Forsythe) who makes vengeance against the Firefly folks a personal matter. He takes the law into his own hands, giving Zombie exactly what he wants: an opportunity for the audience to root for the killers.

Great horror films are scary because we empathize with the victim. Zombie doesn’t go that route. Like in many slasher films, Zombie sets the stage so that a certain element of the audience will relate to the killers and get vicarious kicks out of seeing people tortured and killed.

In spite of Zombie’s statements to the contrary, there is clearly intent to pander to a base instinct for bloodlust. The movie doesn’t exist to scare us. It exists to titillate us. It’s as if he has created a fictional snuff film.

From an ethical standpoint, that should probably be enough to dissuade most people from seeing The Devil’s Rejects. But Zombie’s ham-fisted direction is another reason to skip it. He just doesn’t know when to quit, allowing the ugly scenes to go on much too long.

The only element that works is the movie’s tongue-in-cheek salute to the 1970s. The look, feel and sound of the film is right out of the grindhouse, drive-in tradition of the era’s exploitation flicks.

And Zombie eviscerates the era’s music, too. You’ll never again be able to hear “Freebird” without thinking of Zombie’s wretched movie. (R) Rating: 0(posted 7/22/05)



Me and You and Everyone We Know
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

The first feature film from renowned performance artist Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know will undoubtedly reap critical praise. It deserves it.

Well written, smart and with enough genuine heart to fuel a dozen chick flicks, July’s movie is an original, rough-hewn gem.

But it also has some disturbing elements involving children that may make some question July’s ethics.

A quirky, eccentric movie from a quirky, eccentric performance artist, Me and You and Everything We Know stars July as a quirky, eccentric performance artist.

July plays Christine, who works as a cab driver to support her artistic aspirations. Lonely to an almost frightening degree, Christine sets her sights on a shoe salesman named Richard (John Hawkes), a fellow with problems of his own.

Richard, despondent over the fact that he has separated from his wife and has limited access to his two young sons, sets his hand on fire. In Christine’s eyes, this is an endearing quality.

Focusing on establishing a relationship with Richard, Christine begins to stalk him, hanging around at the mall where he works and, at one point, jumping into the car with him. (Hey, sometimes a girl has to make the first move.) Naturally, Richard is freaked.

But, as in all good romantic comedies, the bumps in the road are eventually smoothed out. Here, however, you can never see what’s around the corner on this crooked road.

But the troubling aspects of this film involve the children. Robert has two sons, a 14-year-old named Peter (Miles Thompson) and a seven-year-old named Robby (Brandon Ratcliff.) They get some early lessons in the zany subject of sex.

Two of Peter’s classmates (Natasha Slayton and Najarra Townsend) are quarreling about which of them is the better performer at oral sex. They decide that Robert should be the judge. This duo also engages in sexually frank “tease” talk with an adult, and the man reciprocates…to a degree.

Peter introduces little Robby to Internet sex chat. Although he has little knowledge of the subject, Robby nevertheless carries on some steamy conversations by cutting and pasting words that make sense to him. His experience culminates in a strange (and funny) face-to-face meeting with his correspondent.

Some will argue that these scenes are approached artfully and done in a non-exploitive way. That may be true, but the question remains as to whether or not they should be done at all.

If one can see past these objections, then July’s unaffected and engaging little film should provide peculiar pleasures. (R) Rating: 3.5 (posted 7/22/05)



The Wedding Crashers
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Sometimes a movie comes along that forces you to admit, however reluctantly, that it made you laugh.

Those of high ideals and moral rectitude may not want to confess to the fact that a lowbrow comedy — filled with dirty words, naked breasts and a generally lewd attitude — tickled their funny bone.

But, hey, that’s what happened with American Pie. The same can probably be said of The Wedding Crashers.

Vince Vaughn teams with Owen Wilson in this guilty pleasure about a couple of pals who turn the science of wedding crashing into an art.

Weddings, you see, are replete with free food and drink. But more importantly, they abound with single, horny females. It seems that simply viewing a nuptial is enough to send a woman’s hormones raging. Ply her with booze and a few smooth lines, and she’s yours for the taking.

Vaughn (Be Cool) plays Jeremy and Wilson (Starsky and Hutch) is John, a couple of divorce mediators who assume false identities and crash as many ceremonies (and bed as many women) as humanly possible during the Washington DC wedding season.

They happen upon one very special event, the “Kentucky Derby of weddings.” It is a lavish affair that involves the daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken.). Posing as brothers involved in a socially responsible venture capitalist endeavor, they pull out all the stops to score some high society babes.

Jeremy links up with Gloria (Isla Fisher), an unbalanced nympho, and John sets his sights on Claire (Rachel McAdams), both daughters of Secretary Cleary. Trouble ensues when Wilson falls for the beguiling Claire and begins breaking all of the “rules” of wedding crashing.

The duo are invited to a post-wedding gathering at the secretary’s island compound, where they’re subjected to the wacky world of this Kennedyesque clan. Claire’s preppy boyfriend continually derails John’s plans, and Jeremy discovers that Gloria is an obsessive nutcase.

Director David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights) and writers Steve Faber and Bob Fisher can’t quite shake the sitcom feel that their movie displays, but they had the good sense to hire the right guys for the leads.

Wilson’s deadpan delivery serves him well here, McAdams has a fresh-scrubbed appeal and Fisher is memorably scary. But the movie belongs to Vaughn. As the fast-talking, energetic Jeremy, he steals every scene he’s in. Plus, he and Wilson seem to have genuine chemistry that helps humanize these jerks.

The Wedding Crashers is silly, bawdy, trite and overlong by a half-hour. But thanks to Wilson and Vaughn, it also delivers the laughs. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 7/15/05)



Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Magic, whimsy and fantasy come alive in the Willy Wonka of the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. But the 21st century and director Tim Burton have brought a darker, brooding, borderline psychotic version of writer Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.

In the ’71 version, Gene Wilder portrayed the eccentric candy-maker as a mysterious, childlike man who loved the children but disapproved of their bad behavior. Wilder hopped about at times with youthful exuberance, exuding both charm and mischief. At other times, he cast loving but playfully disapproving eyes on the sadly indulged cast of errant kids who toured his elaborate chocolate factory.

But in the latest version of Wonka (Johnny Depp) appears repulsed by the little ones. A heavily made up Depp looks like an oversized China Doll in a pageboy wig. He could easily be Edward Scissorhands’ evil, androgynous twin.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory does include more of Dahl’s original story. The filmmakers delve into a bit of Wonka’s family history and explain how the Oompa Loompas came to work in the factory.

When Wonka gets a faraway look in his eye we’re off to a flashback. At times, Depp winces at thoughts of his childhood before the action slides back in time. Many of the flashbacks abandon the magic that was at the center of the 1971 movie for dysfunction. At one point Wonka says the word “parents” like it’s a four-letter word, and then he’s in a trance, thinking about how his dentist father treated him when he was a child.

Burton has managed to retain some of the magic of the chocolate-factory tale. He’s done so with elaborate sets. The children wander through green fields littered with exotic confections and gaze in awe at the chocolate river and the chocolate waterfall as they did in the 1971 movie.

The children still get their comeuppance for their childish transgressions (watching too much television, gluttony, brattiness and chewing gum, which by the way seems like a very minor infraction in today’s world). And Charlie’s unselfishness still gets rewarded.

But the magic of the confectionery fantasy has been rendered less spectacular by the mere presence of this new creepy version of Wonka. {PG) Rating: 3 (posted 7/15/05)



March of the Penguins
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

At theatres around the country, a quirky film has been playing to packed houses. On a per screen basis, it is outperforming all of the other films released this summer. Is it War of the Worlds? Batman Returns? The Fantastic Four?

No, it’s March of the Penguins, an odd little documentary about the waddling, tuxedo-clad birds that live in the harsh environs of Antarctica.

So…why is a modest, leisurely paced, French-made nature film clicking with American audiences? Theories abound.

Maybe it’s because moviegoers have warmed to documentaries in general. The recent commercial success of Fahrenheit 911, Spellbound, Super-size Me and the current Mad Hot Ballroom may have whetted our appetites for nonfiction fare.

Perhaps it’s because people have always found penguins to be so cute. (They’re also the hit supporting characters in the animated offering, Madagascar.)

It could be that, like the popular documentaries Winged Migration and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, the filmmakers have exploited our affinity for birds.

The fact that it’s a G-rated movie may come into play. After all, not a single R-rated title has been able to break into the box office top 10 this year.

Well, here’s another hypothesis. March of the Penguins is a well-made, thoughtful documentary that elicits an empathetic response from audiences. Unlike a lot of other animals, we can relate to the penguin.

In the English translation of Luc Jacquet’s film, Morgan Freeman provides the narration for the penguin’s remarkable story. The titular march refers to the trek that the Emperor penguins take each year in order to mate.

Although they spend the summer swimming gracefully and having their fill of seafood, they pop up on the ice to begin a mating ritual that is, at best, grueling. In temperatures that often dip beyond 70 degrees below zero (not counting the 100 mph winds,) the penguins awkwardly trek 70 miles inland to their breeding grounds.

There, these birds — which seem indistinguishable to us — methodically evaluate one another and eventually pair up. After mating and the female delivers her single egg, it is entrusted to the male who keeps it warm for two months without food or water while the female marches back 70 miles to the sea to feed. She then marches back with a belly of food for her chick. The male is then released to waddle back to his ocean home.

Although humans have less of a struggle, we certainly can understand the drive that bonds this kind of family unit. Perhaps we’re guilty of anthropomorphism, but we get it.

Ah, the things we do for love. (G) Rating: 3.5 (posted 7/15/05)



Dark Water
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Sometimes a movie seems to drag, but as time passes viewers begin to feel a connection with the characters. Incidents that at first seemed routine begin to illuminate characters’ personalities and add depth to the story.

Brazilian director Walter Salles pulled off this kind of slow, subtle revelation in Motorcycle Diaries. But the tactic just doesn’t work for Dark Water, a horror film adapted from a novel by Koji Suzuki. (Suzuki also wrote the novel on which The Ring and The Ring 2 were based.)

The slow tactic doesn’t work for Dark Water because there’s no payoff. Beneath the story’s thin surface lies little substance, except genre clichés that lead to a flat resolution.

Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) is going through a divorce and can no longer afford to pay the hefty rents charged in the big city. So she and her daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) leave the city for a dreary island nearby. The mother and daughter move into a rundown apartment complex run by Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly), a slick-talking landlord who would probably try to sell water to a drowning man if he had the chance.

After Dahlia moves into the apartment she notices a leaking water spot in the ceiling of her daughter’s room. The black, leaking spot becomes a source of annoyance for her. Eventually, Dahlia goes upstairs, to the apartment above hers, to look for the source of the leak.

The upstairs apartment is full of standing water (accompanied by eerie music). Dahlia relays this to the handyman, Veeck. Veeck says he suspects trouble-making boys of turning on the faucets and letting the water overflow. But this is, after all, a horror film. So there’s got to be a creepier culprit than pesky boys.

Soon Ceci is talking to an invisible friend so frequently that her teacher (Camryn Manheim) is telling Dahlia that her daughter might need psychiatric help. Dahlia is also suffering from flashbacks to her troubled childhood.

As you might have guessed, a ghost is causing all the trouble. It just wants a little attention.

But the ghost is never scarier that a moldy spot on the ceiling. The pacing is slow enough to allow a few catnaps before the lackluster ending. And by the time the source of the disturbance is revealed, many audience members will no longer care.

The most entertaining aspect of this film is the performance of Reilly as the landlord who’s all sweetness and light until the tenant moves in and asks him to fix something. Then he’s full of lame excuses.

Besides the verbal shenanigans of Reilly’s character, Dark Water offers little by way of entertainment value. (PG-13) Rating: 1 (posted 7/15/05)



Fantastic Four
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Hollywood’s recent comic book adaptations have been steeped in darkness. They’ve featured conflicted heroes such as the chain-smoking Constantine and the angry and guilt-ridden Batman. They’ve portrayed the violence and human degradation of dreary locales from Gotham to Sin City. The tone of their tales have been serious and at times, self-consciously contemplative.

But director Tim Story’s Fantastic Four differs substantially from this season’s previous comic book adaptations. Fantastic Four is more comedy than tragedy. It’s light and playful rather than dark and contemplative.

The movie starts with a team of five astronauts going into outer space on a scientific mission. It’s never clear exactly what their ultimate goals are, although one of the characters does say later that they were looking for cures to diseases.

The space travelers include the attractive and soft-spoken Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her risk-taking playboy brother Johnny (Chris Evans). Then there are the easy-going peacemaker Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), the romantically clueless scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and greedy entrepreneur Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon).

The astronauts get caught in a space storm that injures them all. Then they return to earth and discover that their storm has changed their molecular structure. They’ve gained superpowers. Two-thirds of the film is devoted to the astronauts’ discovery of their powers.

Sight gags come with each discovery. When Johnny discovers his new powers he’s whisking down a snow-covered slope with a pretty blond when his body bursts into flames. His landing creates a hot tub in the snow. He invites his companion to join him in the bubbling water.

Sue discovers she can make herself invisible. But to make the invisibility complete she has to remove her clothes. This is a predictable comic setup but somewhat amusing as executed by Alba. Sue can’t control the power at first, so she strips down and then reappears naked or half-dressed.

About two-thirds of Fantastic Four focuses on Sue, Johnny, Ben and Reed discovering their powers and then bickering about how to use them. The villain doesn’t reveal himself until the last half hour.

But the villain does not weight the movie. He seems more an annoyance than a threat. And the ensuing fight between the heroes and the villain is more akin to the three stooges trying to thwart a bank robber than it is to Constantine battling demons.

The characters are likeable, the actors serviceable and the humor predictable but unexpectedly funny at times. But if you’re looking for a witty script, a real plot and a serious rendering of the comic book characters, you’ll probably want to skip this one. Yet if you’re looking for a few laughs and some mindless fun, this might be just the ticket for you. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (posted 7/8/05)



Oldboy
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

If you think that the films of Quentin Tarantino are vulgar and revel too much in the black humor of over-the-top violence (a commonly held belief), then much of modern Asian cinema will send you reeling.

Case in point: Oldboy. An excessive and melodramatic film noir effort from Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, Oldboy nearly defies description.

If Franz Kafka were a Korean filmmaker and had written a manga comic movie script inspired by Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, it might look an awful lot like this bizarrely entertaining oddity.

Min-sik Choi plays a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel room. He has no idea who is captor is or why he’s being punished. He has no contact with the outside world except for television broadcasts he’s able to pick up in his tiny, dingy room.

His food is slipped through a door. Periodically, he is gassed asleep and cared for by unseen forces. This is his life for fifteen miserable years.

With nothing but time on his hands, our forlorn captive hones his body and whips himself into shape, transforming into a formidable warrior who will eventually use his skills to wreak havoc on those who have wronged him.

Naturally, his mental state is not what it should be when he is eventually released by his mysterious subjugator. He’s given a cell phone, some stylish clothes and set free. He then tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle and exact his revenge.

Soon, he meets and falls for a beautiful young waitress who may or may not be a part of the mystery.

And, folks, that’s just the beginning.

For those of you unfamiliar with “manga,” it is an Asian comic book form, the cinematic equivalent being “anime.” Although the term applies to a wide variety of comics, it has become widely associated with dark, melodramatic, violent and brash adult content.

Oldboy certainly qualifies in terms of its theme and execution. It expresses a gloomy worldview that serves as an inspiration to Tarantino and his imitators…and gives the rest of us pause.

To accuse Park melodramatic excess would probably sound like a compliment to fans of the genre instead of a criticism. No one would accept anything he’s put onscreen as realistic. The world of Oldboy exists in the alternate manga universe, a look-alike parallel to our own.

That said, this is one very well made vulgarity. It’s a decadent guilty pleasure. (R) Rating: 3.5 (posted 7/8/05)



War of the Worlds
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Steven Spielberg is a master of visual detail. He uses the smallest details to heighten the emotional impact of a scene or to foreshadow major and minor disasters. In The Color Purple, for instance, there’s a scene in which Mister has trouble lighting the stove. His wife sways back and forth in a rocking chair and watches in amusement as Mister stuffs paper into the stove and mutters to himself. Then Mister goes and gets a kerosene can. The camera pans back to catch a shot of the empty chair rocking back and forth. No words are necessary. Such a skillfully orchestrated picture is enough to elicit laughter.

Spielberg makes good use of his eye for detail in his latest film, War of the Worlds, based on H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel of the same name. Although the film is not one of his best, it definitely has that Spielberg style stamped firmly on it.

We get grand scenes of hoards of people moving through the streets, fleeing the aliens that are firing upon them. But the camera mostly focuses on Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), his teen son Robbie (Justin Chatman) and his young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning).

Ray is keeping his children while his ex-wife and her new hubby go out of town. The day after his ex-wife drops them off, the town experiences what at first seems like a strange thunderstorm. The lightening appears to be cracking open the ground, which leads to destroyed buildings and overturned cars.

Alas, it’s not a storm but an alien attack. And our childlike hero, Ray, is escaping through the streets with his children in tow.

Explanations of what’s taking place are scant. We see what’s happening as Ray does and the meaning of the visuals only begin to make sense as Ray begins to figure out what’s happening.

There’s one scene in which Ray goes upstairs after an attack to assess the damage. He walks into the tossed room and looks off screen. His face freezes in amazement. Close inspection of Ray will reveal that a lock of hair on his crown is moving ever so slightly. It turns out that the house has been demolished. Ray is standing outside looking at the crumbled neighborhood.

War of the Worlds is engrossing in spite of its thin plot. Who needs to meander from one plot point to the next when the survival of the human race is at stake? Like much of Spielberg’s work, this film is about expertly executed visuals and about the human struggle that the visuals depict.

And the movie is a reminder that even the minor work of a master is still a work of a master. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (posted 7/1/05)



Rebound
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

It isn’t hard to understand the thinking behind the new film Rebound. The studio execs saw a return on their investment when they green-lit the project.

It certainly fits the formula. Put together a family-oriented, feel-good feature with a modestly popular star who appeals to both urban and suburban audiences…and make it cheaply. Don’t spend too much on advertising and hope for the best. If it doesn’t do well at the box office, then ancillary income (product placement, DVD rentals and sales, cable and broadcast TV rights, etc.) should provide enough revenue for the movie to turn a profit.

From a marketing standpoint, Rebound is probably a sound investment. As a movie, it’s a real stinker.

Martin Lawrence (Bad Boys, Big Mama) stars as Roy McCormick, a spoiled, petulant and overpaid college basketball coach. (Think of a cross between Bobby Knight and P. Diddy.) The only thing he likes better than ridiculing a referee is hearing his own voice.

After one too many outbursts, his job is terminated. Unable to get another gig in the big time, he’s faced with a crisis. His agent, Tim Fink (Breckin Meyer), comes up with an idea. Go back to his old junior high and volunteer his expertise as coach of their basketball team.

Fink’s idea is that if Roy can take this team, a band of misfit losers, and help them win a couple of games, the good press will help him land a new big-time college position.

Reluctantly, Roy acquiesces. But to his surprise, this team is largely made up of the kind of kids that are the last to get picked for gym class volleyball teams. They’re so bad that they haven’t won a game in years. They make the gang from The Bad News Bears look like the Dream Team.

Rebound plays like the recent “uplifting” sports film Coach Carter…if a computer had written it. Clichéd and calculated, the script is so bad that it is surprising so many writers (William Wolff, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore) were willing to have their names associated with it.

Their efforts were weak enough that Lawrence felt the need to ad lib some dialogue as a secondary character he also plays, a neon clad preacher named Reverend Don. Bad idea.

Trite and phony, Rebound is the bland byproduct of a system run by cynics. It contains no offensive material…unless you find banality offensive. (PG) Rating: 1 (posted 7/1/05)



King of the Corner
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Actor Peter Reigert is best known for his roles in films like Animal House and Local Hero. Like a lot of actors, he’s seen the opportunities for meaty roles diminish as middle age sets in. Hollywood is, after all, a youth-oriented town.

So Reigert has taken the bull by the horns and made his own movie, giving himself a terrific role to play. He’s even taking the film on a city-by-city tour to meet with audiences and attempt to generate positive word of mouth.

His film, King of the Corner, is a comic drama about a man facing a series of crises in both his personal and professional life. Without aliens, car crashes or serial killers, it is easy to see why Hollywood would pass on it.

Reigert plays Leo Spivak, a graying Jewish marketing executive in New York who hates his job and is having trouble figuring out what he wants. His teenage daughter is displaying a rebellious streak and his elderly father is being placed in a rest home in Arizona.

Lacking the kind of ambition (or dubious ethics) it takes to get ahead at his company, he’s still making a five-figure income after decades at the firm. He’s now feeling the pinch. To make matters worse, a young upstart is vying for his job.

Yes, the going is tough for Leo. Although he is a decent enough fellow, he just doesn’t seem to have the gumption to deal with the pressures he’s being subjected to.

Reigert, who wrote the screenplay along with Gerald Shapiro, had the good sense to populate this movie with a lot of terrific supporting players. Among them are the legendary Eli Wallach as Leo’s ailing dad, Isabella Rosellini as his wife, Beverly D’Angelo as a woman with whom he has a brief fling, Rita Moreno as his father’s girlfriend, Dominic Chianese as a funeral director, Harris Yulin as his unprincipled boss and Eric Bogosian as a Rabbi-for-hire.

The story is engaging and believable until it takes a brief wrong turn. The subplot that involves D’Angelo just doesn’t ring true. Leo’s actions that involve her…and her husband…seem inexplicable. This element draws you out of the story and reminds you that you’re watching a movie.

That quibble aside, King of the Corner is a well-crafted ensemble film that people of a certain age can certainly relate to. At 57, Reigert is a novice to watch. (R) Rating: 3 (posted 7/1/05)




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