CATCH ME IF YOU CAN - January 4, 2003
Starring: Tom Hanks, Leonardo diCaptrio, Martin Sheen, Christopher Walken
Directed by: Steven Spielbergh (Ocean’s Eleven)

An enjoyable movie, a nice diversion. Not a Spielberg epic, but that’s okay. diCaprio is an excellent, excellent actor. Even if you don’t like the guy, because you just get sick of hearing about him, he’s dynamite to watch. An interesting story about a 16 year old kid who spent 3 years forging cheques around the world, while posing as a lawyer, a pilot, a doctor, and so on. He made $5 million doing that. Hanks plays the FBI agent chasing him. I sense that the screenplay and director intentionally avoided histrionics, or any attempt to glorify the story or the character. A recent interview with Frank Abignale, upon whose book and life the movie is based, began with many negative remarks about his escapades, and what a rotten thing it was, ending with a sincere-sounding statement that the last thing he wanted from his story was to get youngsters interesting in trying the same stunts.

Maybe that’s why this one won’t make it to the top of the list: in the effort to underplay the glamour, the film doesn’t rank up there with the kind of chasing/ritzy/playboy lifestyle thing that you and I ahve come to expect from so many movies these days. Save it for when you just want a relaxing night out.

ICE AGE—DVD - December 11, 2002
Starring: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven)

Denis Leary: ya love him or ya hate him. He plays the evil sabre-tooth in this truly funny animated movie. My favorite scene is the tiger trying to make the kid laugh, but he only succeeds in scaring the poop out of him and the audience at the same time.

There is a ton of stuff included on the second disc in this DVD package. The kids can play games after watching the movie, right on the tube (very easy too, and interesting for all ages, using the remote), or take the disc to the PC and access fun stuff there, too. An extra cartoon movie is included as well as some interesting behind-the-scenes looks. No matter how you slice it, for $22 this is a heckuva package, and a keeper. This movie is a classic.

SOLARIS—December 11, 2002
Starring:George Clooney, Natasha McElhone, Jeremy Davies
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven)

Now here’s an interesting one: the people I saw this movie with almost went to sleep, they were so bored. And it was a decidedly slow movie. Yet I liked it: it’s been a long time since I saw a real science fiction story. So I should explain that: to me, a movie like Aliens (which I love) is not sci-fi. It’s an action movie in space. the science fiction I grew up reading, always borrowing books from my Grampa’s personal stash, always being looked at funny in Library class by the other students, wasn’t just about the hi-tech toys (yet I love those, too). Real sci-fi made you think, made you ponder the universe, made you stretch out a little. All the other stories ahd already been done: every kind of western, every romance novel, every spy thriller. But not science fiction. There was always something new to make you wonder about.

Such is the case with Solaris. George Clooney’s character dreams his dead wife back to life, thanks to the mysterious mists around some mysterious planet. And then he has to deal with the question of her “reality”. The “slow” feeling of the movie is brought on by his confusion, his pondering, his internal arguing about whether loving an undead friend is a good or a bad thing. I think the focal point is really about Life and Death, myself. Saying anything more might be giving away some of the movie. But I’m glad to see a flick that makes me go “Hmmm.”

Don’t go unless you have had your fill of action flicks lately. There’s basically none of that in Solaris. But if you enjoy a good story, yes, you should see it.

GHOST SHIP—October31, 2002
Starring:Juliana Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Desmond Harrington, Ron Eldard
Directed by: Steve Beck (13 Ghosts)

Ghost S**t…I’m sorry, Ghost Ship, looks like a pretty well-written, well-acted movie … from the previews. But previews do LIE!! The people who wrote the script must have been so completely bored one day that they decided to tell their kids a bedtime story about a haunted boat, and then had the brilliant idea of making it into a movie. All this movie did was make me think of Titanic, but a lot less sappy, and a little more blood.

And how smart was it to release this movie at the same time as “The Ring”, for obvious reasons. 

Once you see The Ring, other so-called “scary” movies kind of make you think of the Teletubbies, so it’s no fun to go to any other freaky movies. They just won’t scare you as much as they might have if you hadn’t have seen “The Ring”. Even if you haven’t seen The Ring Ghost S**t is still retarded . I personally LOVE getting the crap scared outta me…too bad Ghost S**t really didn’t do anything for me but make me laugh at some of the stupid stuff they have in it.

Actually, it also made me want to smack the writers over the head with a pipe iron and call them idiots.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean there are a lot of people out there who will like this movie, even love it, but it’s not the pick of the litter. Me and my friends were just glad that I work at the movie theatre so I got us in for free. My advice: wait until the video, or until you yourself get free passes, cuz this baby won’t be afloat for long!!!

RED DRAGON—October9, 2002
Starring: , Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson
Directed by: Brett Ratner (Rush Hour)

I liked it. My thoughts before seeing it were that it would be just another “blockbuster sequel” designed to line the pockets of the studio... and while that may well be the final result, for the movie-goer it is a fitting means to that end. Mr. Hopkins is delicious, to use one of his own words from the film. The rest of the cast is remarkable, and Red Dragon shows no signs of having been slapped together.

Those who criticized the movie for being a ripoff off Michael Mann’s “ManHunter” have no shame. It is neither a copy nor is it the same movie reworked. The Hannibal Lechter character definitely figures in the novel, and the structure of the story -with Edward Norton as the latest FBI agent in the series- is perfect. Less pedantic and more entertaining than “Hannibal”, this is one you won’t want to miss.

Hopkins says he's through playing the role: "I've done my act, and I've got no more to show." But he also tells friends how much he loves playing the part...

 

SWIMFAN—September 21, 2002
Starring: Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Shiri Applebee, Dan Hedaya
Directed by: John Polson

I’m not in the habit of stealing reviews, but this one was too good to pass up (taken from The Filthy Critic):

It takes balls the size of dump trucks to make a movie as trite, cliched and predictable as Swimfan. It takes testes like Yosemite granite to put so much labor into something so shitty, and to do it with so little care or effort.

Most crap-ass movies have some kernel of an original idea in them somewhere. Not in Swimfan. Not only is there nothing new, nobody even tries. I can see the Hollywood pitch meeting now.

Producer: What have you got?
Writer: Okay, I spent, like, three minutes at Carl's, Jr. coming up with this.
Producer: I like it already.
Writer : Ready? Are you sitting down?
Producer: No, wait, yes.
Writer: It doesn't matter anyway. This won't surprise you. Now, imagine a world exactly like the world you've seen a million times before. And imagine a plot exactly like a million plots before. A jilted lover turns psycho and stalks the jilting boy and tries to ruin his life.
Producer : (on the edge of seat) Sounds like a lot of other bad movies. I'm listening!
Writer: It's like Fatal Attraction meets Fatal Attraction, only less scary and way shoddier.
Producer : (picking up phone) Dixie? Please bring in one of those giant cardboard checks we give to writers. Make sure it has lots of zeroes on it. And pronto! (slamming down phone) I'm sold, kid! This is exactly the kind of tired, worn-out, bland thinking we love to reward in this town.

On the other hand, since I’d already written my review, I’m including it here anyway...

In the past ten years there have been a rash of teenage "revenge" involving plots about spurned or unrequited love, and the myriad horrible ways the spurnee attempts to get back at the spurnor. Often this concept is stretched to include the Freddies and the Mike Myers (Hallowe'en's masked protagonist), but just as often they are limited to your "average" teenagers. The big difference in the two movie structures is that one tends to show a lot of axe-choppings and spurting blood; the other tends to show a lot of youthful nudity. Unfortunately, Swimfan shows neither. In fact, I got the impression that the director was trying to present the case of the psychotic girlfriend in a realistic light, to provide an insight into the deteriorating moral standards of a lost soul. What happens instead is that the movie is drawn out and boring... even though the bad girl's psychoses is pretty believable. But who wants that in a revenge movie? We can get that on Biography, or the Discovery channel. Not worth it, unless you're under 20 and bored.

Undisputed—September 11, 2002
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames
Directed by: Walter Hill

Fun prixon boxing movie. Snipes plays a lifer in a high-security penitentiary; Ving plays the Heavyweight Champ of the Woild. Both have committed bad crimes, or maybe not... their life histories are not important to the plot.

Walter Hill directed Alien Resurrection, which I thought was the best since the original in the Alien series (of course, he also did all the other Alien movies...). Then, too, he did Bordello of Blood... .

It’s strictly filmed from a tough-guy point of view, plausibly done, and all dedicated to leading up to the big fight. The movie is fairly short and kept moving, so we don’t have to suffer through a lot of maudlin emotions or heroics about prisoners and wardens. And it barely manages to avoid the cliches of the “prison boss” syndrome, thank goodness. Entertaining, but waiting for the video wouldn’t be the worst you could do....

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones—September 11, 2002
Starring: Bunches of peopleo
Directed by: George Lucas

A fine movie, full of action and centred on a great love story. Designed for the young, but perfectly acceptable for all age groups... unlike that last piece of drivel Mr. Lucas put out... . the kid that play Annakin Skywalker is a real hunko, looks like a James Dean magnetic personality to me. Ms. Portman is growing up nicely. So much computerized backgrounding and animation that you barely have time to notice that it's not real. A very good movie, worth seeing, and this opinion from a guy who never cared that much about the series.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding—September 4, 2002
Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, Louis Mandylor
Written by: Nia Vardalos

“Toula--a young Greek-American woman--falls in love with a non-Greek and finds herself conflicted”. Thus goes the premise for this made-in-Canada, very warm and funny movie. One of those sleepers, the film cost $5 million and has earned more than 10 times that in its few weeks of release. This will make everyone very happy, and undoubtedly spawn a whole pack of new, made-in-Canada warm and funny movies. Too bad, because that also means we’re going to be subjected to a lot of dreck next summer. The reason Greek Wedding is so popular is not because it is a surprisingly hilarious or hugely wonderful piece of cinematography; rather, it is just a nice little film that looks like it’s not going to be at first, and then slowly pulls you into liking it.

There are a lot of Greek-descended families running around North America: I worked with one young lady who taught me how to swear in Greek, which involves a lot of tongue -and-tonsil trilling and is rather unique to hear in this English/French city of ours. I was surprised to realize that the backstory (another cool Hollywood critics’ term, meaning “secondary plotline”), about being Greek in North America, is something we don’t get a look at too often. Yes, we see lots about Italians and the Irish and the Polish, and sometimes it’s easy to forget they aren’t the only “Old Country” people. Not since Zorba the Greek will a movie have such an impact on and for the Greek community.

Me, I liked it because Michael Constantine appeared in a lot of scenes, and he’s a fine actor we haven’t seen too much of since Room 222 left TV. And John Corbett, who keeps trying hard. Go; you’ll like it.

One interesting note: the young guy who plays the heroine’s brother: I could have sworn he was the son of Joe Penny, whom you might remember from a series called “Riptide”, co-starring Perry King (stupid show by Stephen J. Cannell, trying to recreate Surfside Six). Here are pictures:

But it turns out he is actually the brother of another Greek actor, Costas Mandylor, who played Kenny the Cop on Picket Fences (brilliant show from David E. Kelly)

PLUTO NASH Eddie Murphy

For this review, no pictures, no links, no nothing. Don’t bother considering it; not even hiring John Cleese as an electronic car computer can save this stinker. Pee-yew!

LOFR: THE DVD—Released August 2002
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, John-Rhys Davies, Cate Blanchett, Live Tyler
Director: Peter Jackson

One DVD to rule them all,
One DVD to find them,
One DVD to bring them all,
And Chris is gonna tell you all about it.

Lord of the Rings (the novel by JRR Tolkien) is more than just the classic story of good over evil. Reading the trilogy gives a sense that the land and the people in it really could have existed, and amazing stories about mysterious creatures could have happened, but is now a part of a lost history. Readers get caught up in the possibility that Middle Earth existed in prehistory, and would have existed where Britain and Europe are today. It is this fantasy and the people that are the fans of this fantasy that had everyone convinced a movie  could never be made that would capture the sprawling story that is LotR and at the same time satisfy the expectations of its fan base. When director Peter Jackson proved everybody wrong, the fantasy took a step closer to reality.

The LotR, Fellowship of the Ring DVD contains two DVDs: the movie itself on one, and several hours of featurettes on the other, including "Quest for the Ring: a FOX TV Special", and "A Passage to Middle Earth: a SCI-FI Channel Special". Fifteen more featurettes are on the 2nd DVD from lordoftherings.net. A music video from Enya is included. The song is "May It Be", a poem from the trilogy made into a believable song. Also included is a behind the scenes preview of the upcoming 2nd installation of the movie trilogy, "The Two Towers", as well as a preview of a game by EA, based on the second movie, "The Two Towers". For those who like to collect memorabilia, the package comes with a "discount & savings" booklet offering a chance to purchase books, figurines, Sting, Frodo's Orc-detecting sword, the Elvin brooch worn by the 9 members of the fellowship, and, of course, "The One Ring" can also be purchased. You also get a nice glossy brochure listing the numbered scenes in the first movie.

The drawback to this package is, it's not the big screen, and that's where the movie should be seen. This is the full-length feature, but if you wait until November, a new DVD edition featuring 30 more minutes of movie will be available.

The Lord of the Rings is currently available almost everywhere on DVD in both fullscreen, and widescreen. A VHS version is available featuring the fullscreen version of the movie.

X-FILES: Season ONE on DVD—Released 1998
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson
Creator: Chris Carter

With the end of the X-Files as an original series on TV, and before the next theatrical movie, what’s a fan to do? Why, ask for a $150 DVD gift set for his birthday, of course. We sat down to watch the first episode ever of The X-Files last night, and it was truly a memorable experience. Duchovny and Anderson were younger, less confident actors, and in retrospect you can tell they were just starting to try their characters on for size. For example, the Mulder deadpan asides were there, but in Episode One, he generally looked around for approval from whatever audience he happened to have. As time went by, of course, Mulder would drop his gems and he didn’t care who heard ‘em or smiled: it was all part of the job.

Scully’s hair was a lot longer, she wore skirts, and her voice and demeanor were much softer and sexier... as if she had to prove she could play the babe agent. As with Duchovny’s, her character grew into a much more mature, aware and dare I say it, sultrier personality, even though you only saw her in pants. Heck, this first show even called for her to drop her clothes for a medical “inspection” by Mulder, hinting at the many years of romantic paddle-ball to come.

The story is pure X, taking place in the woods of “Oregon” under a constant, pouring rain, with bright lights burning through the leaves and all manner of unexplained phenomena. Scully saw her first alien and managed to explain it away as a diseased ape corpse. Ah, the sweet bitterness of these two characters. Even when the stories were weak (which wasn’t often), the relationship was the thing, eh? And to think I’ve got 23 episodes to go... .

Triple X—August 10, 2002
Starring: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento
Director: Rob Cohen

Triple X lives up to its promise of being a different kind of spy movie; I’d say it is definitely a grunge/alternate rock/youth film. This is not a bad thing, unless you can’t handle the screaming music in the soundtrack, which for me just pumped up the ol’ adrenalin, just like it’s meant to. There are lots of spy toys, a la Bond, and even a spy-toy inventor, who adds the requisite humourous look at an otherwise serious role for secret agent requirements. Vin Diesel is a big muscular guy who is terrific to watch, and this movie will propel his career to the next level. Natch, it has sequel written all over it, but I’ll be looking forward to it. (Quadruple X?) There are tons of stunts and they are extremely well photographed, with nary a hint that there might be a stunt double doing all this sky-flying. Some of the motorcycle jumps are totally unbelievable, but they look totally convincing.

There is a plot, yes, and unfortunately for me it veered off eventually into “the whole world” level of presumptiousness, but what the heck: so does every Bond movie, and tha’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? If Austin Powers can play on that time-honoured theme... . this is an action movie at the top of its genre, and delivers exactly what the ads promise you: pulse-pounding, riveting, wild movie editing. Vin is due out soon in a reprise of his character Riddick from Pitch Black, and I expect he will soon be known as the new king of action. A word of advice, though: don’t try searching for XXX on the web... unless you like lots of dirty pictures.

GOLDMEMBER August 6, 2002
REIGN OF FIRE
SIGNS

Austin Powers: Goldmember is hilarious. This third film is better than the other two combined. Even though there are lots of really bad groaners, Mike Myers pretty much looks right in the camera when he tosses them out, with a kind of “You’d be upset if I didn’t say it” look, that makes most of them okay. And there are lots of really gross scenes. But there are also tons of sight gags that are just killers. This guy is the new Jerry Lewis, Abbot and Costello and Three Stooges all rolled up into one Canadian. You won’t believe the opening segment. And the shadow humour with Mini Me (one character that I used to abhor) had the entire audience gasping, literally gasping, for breath during uncontrollable fits of laughter that lingered long after the movie was over.

Reign of Fire is a kick-ass action film about a future that is ruled by fire-breathing dragons. These remnants of the dinosaur era have driven man to hide underground and behind concrete walls: dragons like to eat people. Matthew McConaughy is a hoot as the cigar-chompin’ American travelling through the badlands of England trying to end it all. The dragons are far more real looking than anything in Star Wars 2. It’s a dark movie with a strong back-story (reviewer talk for subplot), that unfortunately gets a little weary as the last half is dedicated to monster smashing. But still a highly recommend movie.

Christian Bale looks good in a beard. I think this is because his face is so bland. In American Psycho this worked to his advantage. In Captain Corelli’s Mandolin he needed the beard. He’s a fine actor, just not a star, maybe?

SIGNS is going to disappoint people. The only reason for this is because they are all going to be hoping for that big M. Night Shamayalan twist. But this is a movie that asks: what the hell would you do if aliens suddenly dropped in and started attacking, not by firing huge blasts from their saucers, but by sneaking into your neighbourhood and maybe doing nasty things. Like hiding in the closet at night. OK, they don’t do that, but I can’t tell you any more. Suffice it to say this is an extremely well-done and nerve-rattling psychology play, with lots of fun stuff thrown in to keep it from being tacky. It if was me, I sure as heck would be scared.

 

THE BOURNE IDENTITYJuly 3, 2002
Starring: Matt Damon, Clive Owen, Franka Potente
Director: Doug Liman

There is a rash of spy movies this summer, but so far so good, because they’re all top-drawer entertainment. The Robert Ludlum novel from many years ago has been, like The Sum of all Fears, updated so that it takes place in contemporary society. But the premise, while political, is hardly based on tensions between superpowers. Rather, it concerns what happens to the movie’s namesake as he tries to stay alive: we pretty much know that he must be a spy, but he doesn’t even remember who he is. So why are all these people out to kill him... and coincidentally, the girl to whom he pays a huge wad of cash to drive him to his hidden past in her dinky Mini (the “classic” car, not the ad-for-self-awareness-on-wheels $30,000 newer version).

Bullets fly and cars chase the wrong way down busy international streets as part of the fun. The heavy is played by Chris Cooper, and he is usually in the chasing car. Matt Damon is the hero, and he is much more fun to watch as the driver of the car being chased. In fact, while I enjoyed the movie as a whole, “the screen really lit up”, as they say, when Damon came into view. And it petered away into restlessness when he was not the focus of the scene.

Clive Owen, perhaps most recently seen in the playing-on-TMN movie Croupier, is suitably dangerous-looking as an agent out to get Bourne (that means he is well-cast in the role, but I think when they use a term like that in the real reviews it is a tad sarcastic. Me, I’m not trying to be sarcastic... he really does look nasty). Here is another character actor who is just plain old interesting to watch, regardless of what he is in.

Notice how I always like to highlight the lesser-known elements in my reviews?

There are a few points where you might have to make a leap of faith to maintain the “suspension of disbelief” factor (like, how did he make all those car alarms go off at the same time? and I’ll betcha James Bond never flew down 10 flights of stairs using a dead guy as a landing cushion so that he could fire off a round at the bad guy running up those stairs). But I must assume it’s only because there isn’t enough time in a movie to go into all the detail that a book can bring out. Go. See. Enjoy.

ENOUGH- June 30, 2002
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Billy Campbell, Fred Ward
Director: MIchael Apted

Not my first choice as a movie, but I’m glad I went: I love a revenge flick. And what you see in the commercials for this show is pretty much what you get. Billy Campbell (brother of cult favorite Bruce Campbell, unlikely hero of the “Evil Dead” series, which I consider to be the ultimate classics of American schlock horror flicks) usually plays a good guy, but he is a real nasty this time. I liked his characterization, and the whole build-up to the finale, because it wasn’t hokey. It is not a case of a whimpy woman turning all heroic suddenly. There is a long, slow, twisting build-up.

Of course, the fact that his whole life no one ever noticed he is a psycho, and that her whole life she never knew she was really Charles Bronson in disguise, doesn’t detract from the excitement for even a moment. There’s some real good ass-whuppin’ in here. It might be gone by this weekend from the theatres, but it will make a fine rental.

And it’s got Fred Ward, who keeps turning up in odd little roles just made for him and his intrinsic weirdness...

 

Minority Report June 25, 2002
Starring: Tom Cruise (as if you didn’t know)
Director: Steven Spielberg

I don’t care what you say, I’ve always liked Tom Cruise. In the movies, he almost makes me forget who he is. But he’s a big star, in a big summer movie , helmed by a big director, and you just know they’ll be throwing the big bucks around. And they do.

There have been so many huge “blockbusters” attempted, some good, many poor, and all heavy-action based, that I find it exceedingly difficult to get worked up about them any more. The sad fact that Mr. Spielberg’s last big outing, AI, disappointed on so many levels (that’s one o’ them movie -reviewer type phrases that makes you think I’m smarter than I am without actually having to say anything), got me thinking right off the bat that Minority Report would be his answer to all those critics who lambasted him. Take a good story, pour his own efforts into it (in case you missed it, AI was the long -suffering baby of the late writer/director Stanley Kubrick, and not Spielberg, who tried to honour the other fella’s vision), and mix in the best computer graphics money can invent... and blow us away.

And it does.

THE SUM OF ALL FEARSJune 22, 2002

Just when you think you’re tired of Ben Affleck, AND you’re tired of Tom Clancy stories about Jack Ryan... along comes a smart, engaging movie about the young Jack. Harrison Ford, move over... but don’t worry. You are still THE Ryan, although Ben can safely say he is the NEW Ryan. Playing the main character with a mix of wonder, smarts, and naievete, Ben Affleck suits the role of a neophyte-turned-professional CIA agent very well.

The story is updated from the book, so that it reflects current times, but this change actually works to the filmakers’ advantage. I’ve found that a number of “cold war” stories made since the fall of both the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall have left me sort of, well, not believing any of it. By moving the setting to the 2000s, everything fits into place. Not having read the novel, I can only imagine the effort that went into tieing up all the potential loose ends.

Will I be giving anything away when I say the Bomb actually BLOWS in this film, unlike every single other movie on the topic where the hero is able to save the day? No, I don’t think so, because it is a major part of setting the scene for what is to come in the life of younger Jack. I will also point out that due to the events in New York last year, I was very unsettled by the whole thing, something that hasn’t happened to me since The Exorcist. I fear now that the worst is yet to be unleashed.

If you like a good movie, with very little “Oh, I could see that one coming”, this is a story that is well worth seeing at the cinema.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON FINALEJune 22, 2002

It’s sad to note that one of the best shows on television will probably never be praised by the industry with an Emmy. I think it did win a People’s Choice, though, and that tells me a lot about the biz.Buffy the Vampire Slayer is consistently and powerfully one of the best action-drama shows on the toob. The acting is incredible, even when the stories are silly (mud-monstes coming out of grave walls at the bidding of a good girl turned witch?). And the story lines may seem unbelievable, but they race through the hour with coherence and passion that isn’t often seen outside of the early days of The West Wing.

But I think the producers took the whole Special Effects budget for the coming season and threw it into the final two-hour episode a few weeks ago. There have never been more monsters, fight scenes, destroyed interiors, dead bodies, exploding demons and costume changes than this chilling season-ender provided. As three geeks managed to gain the Evil Powers of the Orbs, leading to the ultimate death of one of the main characters and a world-ending climax, emotions ranged from silly happiness to painful, excruciating loss. These people should all get Oscars.

SWEET NOVEMBERJune 22, 2002

So, what can you say about Keanu Reeves? Can he act? If not, how does he keep getting the good gigs? I don’t know. But who cares. This is a movie that I enjoyed in my living room; it’s playing this month on the Movie Network. I wouldn’t have wanted to see it at the theatre, though. It is more like a diversion from the rest of the crap that’s on TV on Friday nights during the summer season.

Not that there is anything intriniscally wrong with the acting or the story... although this is one where you do see the punches telegraphed long before they get to you... it’s just not a very interesting one. The concept must have sounded good during the pitch at the studios (“She takes on a different boyfriend every month, see, and tries to help each guy through his personal demons before releasing him back into his world and moving onto the next guy, see? So we can have lots of sex scenes (which they don’t), and lots of interesting people (which they don’t) and lots of weird goofiness (which they do). The only characters worthy of note are two serious actors who portray downstairs neighbours, two guys who also just happen to be transvetites. You may recognize them both: Jason Isaacs as the really BAD guy in Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, and Michael Rosenbaum who I get a real kick out of watching as Lex Luthor on the Smallville series. In Smallville, his character is bald; in Sweet November, not only does he have hair, but it’s coiffed at the local beaty shop as one of the ladies. Yikes.

You could rent it; it’s not bad. That’s all.

May 22, 2002 — ABOUT A BOY
Directors: Paul and Chris Weitz
Starring: Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult

Everybody is going to say “What a departure for Hugh Grant”, but my feeling is that he is the same adorable, charming guy... just in a tougher story. And that’s not bad: About a Boy link to websitehis English goofiness works even better when he’s being serious.

The plot focuses on a whole bunch of dysfunctional, mostly single, people... except for the kid in the title who, although he is the object of major bully kickball practice at school (and dresses like a complete schlepping left-over Earth-child of the Sixties) is the only character who isn’t totally self-absorbed. I mean, does some of the script seem pretty obvious as it leads you around by the nose? Yes, but without fail it also grabs you and shakes you just when you think you know what’s up.

There is a whole bunch of very funny lines in this movie, some wickedly so. It’s a good comedy, the kind of story many of us want these days: funny with serious built in, because that’s what most of our lives are: loony tunes, out of the TV and into the streets. And we want to see the underdog overcome, the bad guy turn good , boy get girl, dog bite man. All that good stuff. About A Boy delivers on every level. Good soundtrack, too.

May 13, 2002 — VAULT DISNEY
Producor: Walt Disney Studios
Movies: Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller, The Parent Trap, Pollyanna

I’m in Heaven: Three of my favorite Disney movies were released last week on double-DVD sets, and they include remastered visuals and soundtracks (Dolby 5.1 and THX), commentaries by the actors and directors , never-seen-since cartoons, “Making of....” documentaries, and tons of other material to help you envelop yourself in the bubble that was the Magical World of Disney. They’re all from a new subset of the Disney Machine: Vault Disney.

We started watching Swiss Family Robinson last night. While the sound was originally recorded in mono, it has been given a wonderful face lift into the world of Surround. The surround is not overwhelming by any means, but it is there often enough to remind you that times have indeed changed. Unobtrusive yet effective.

The remastered film is clear and colourful, as I remember it. Not stunning in the way Lawrence of Arabia’s remastering is stunning, but more than enough to put any TV broadcast or old video to shame. And there are none of those annoying editors’ marks in the corner, or spliced patches, or muddied scenes. All the films in this set are presented in theatre-wide format, too. So you’ll need either a big screen or a chair close to the set to get the most out of it, because on my 36” TV it’s about the size of a very wide 17” tube. I am surprised that Disney doesn’t offer a standard pan’n’scan version, too, but I guess this is a set designed to satisfy what is referred to as “the purists”... .

But enough broo-ha-ha. What the improvements really mean is that you can settle back into your chair or couch and feel like you’re right back in the old days again, pretending you are right there with the family, struggling against the odds, living in that decidedly modernistic treehouse, chasing the pirates, falling in love with the Captain’s daughter. Or in the case of Old Yeller, telling your Dad “I want a dog!”, or crying miserably at the “lesson” that Tommy Kirk learns from Fess Parker, his Dad in the movie, and the final wrenching scenes with Old Yeller.

I was never a big fan of Pollyanna, but I absolutely loved The Parent Trap. Partly because the kids were pulling a fast one on Mom and Dad, but I think now that a lot of it had to do with the actors who played them: Brian Keith as the big, gruff teddy bear he was in all his performances (who wouldn’t want him for a Dad?), and Maureen O’Hara as the hot-blooded Irish woman she always seemed to portray: tough and oddly sexy to a young boy at the same time.

These DVD sets are only $23 at Future Shop, which is a real bonus.

May 13, 2002 — DINOTOPIA
Starring: who are these people?
From: ABC TV

I tried to watch the mini-series that started last night, which has been advertised since early January. I guess kids will go for it, but between the stupid characterizations of the (talking!) dinosaurs, and the poor re-recording and lip-syncing of the actors (not to mention the generally lousy acting all around), I just didn’t care. The “special effects” were totally computer-generated and looked it. I prefer the hand-painted look of the pink planetary skies that we used to get as backdrops on the original Star Trek series. There was a good scene with (non-talking) Scalies that looked an awful lot like crocodiles trying to chomp their way through a foot bridge, as our heroes ran across... looking about as scared as if they were late to put another dollar in the parking meter.

Cool website, though. Phooey. What did you think?: Talk To Me.

May 11, 2002 — AMC 24 Cinemas
Where: Kanata Centrum

Now, this is a movie theatre. There is something about the AMC 24 in Kanata that brings it to the top of the list in terms of the “new” moom pitcher buildings. Better seating: more leg room, more comfortable chairs, arm-rests that move out of the way so you can snuggle with your date. Bigger screens and halls: the four main theatres are humongous, and their screens the biggest I’ve seen. Better popcorn: the Famous Players popcorn is almost saltless, and the bags get smaller every six months or so. The AMC popcorn is made the old-fashioned way, and even though they pre-bag it, so it is not usually hot when you get it, they will dump it for you and give you fresh if you ask.

Finally, better prices: if you have a Movie Watcher card, it’s $2 cheaper everytime. It’s also a little cheaper than Famous Players everytime. Even better, before 6:00 Monday to Friday, it’s only $6.50... unlike the so -called “Cheap Tuesdays” at the competition which is just once a week (and void on holiday Tuesdays).

May 8, 2002 — SPIDERMAN, the Movie
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Sam Raimi  ScreenWriter: David Koepp  Exec Producer: Stan Lee

Watching Spiderman gave me the same kind of thrill that I got when I first saw Superman starring the indefatigable Mr. Reeves. It looked absolutely real, and the audience was just carried away. There is absolutely nothing to complain about here,Takes you right to the Spidey page... except maybe a little vertigo as you swoop and swing between buildings in New York City, right there with your Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman.

When Tobey Maguire was announced as the lead, I thought it was an odd choice, considering the kind of person he evinces in his films. But whatever you think of Peter Parker’s personality, you’ll have to picture Tobey from now on in those shoes. He’s perfect: believable, a little surpised at his own good fortune, a little self -deprecating, and fun to watch. really fun to watch is Cliff Robertson, who plays Peter Parker’s uncle: this guy still becomes the focus of the screen whenever he’s in a scene.

Totally nasty as the Green Goblin is Willem Dafoe, in a role that could easily have become goofily-assed and cartoonish, but which he makes a true work of art. And J.K. Simmons (who you might recognize as the bad -ass from HBO’s OZ, or as the shrink from Law & Order( chews good, mean cigar as J.J. Jamieson, Editor of the city paper. With hair yet.

Sure, there are times when the special effects are either too eye-popping to ignore or maybe just a little underdone, but rather than being the focal point they truly add to the sense of adventure. Making Spidey climb up a wall must have been a challenge for the filmmakers, because comparisons to the Batman TV series will pop up in your head, but they’ll be squashed pretty quickly as you begin to think “Man, I wish I could do that”.

Don’t miss it, OK?

May 6, 2002 — Six Feet Under (HBO, Rogers Movie Channel 201. Mondays at 9)
Starring Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Richard Jenkins.... and a bunch of others
Director & Creator: Alan Ball

If you get the Movie channels, you have to watch this; if you don’t get them this show is worth the monthly fee.

You may already know that Alan Ball is responsible for the Oscar-winning “American Beauty”, and the production company is the one that brings us “The Sopranos”. The writing and the fascinating character storylines are what made those items superior entertainment, and the same is true for “Six Feet Under”. This uncensored program about a very dysfunctional family that runs a funeral home started with the Dad (Richard Jenkins being just the best damn actor around and having what looks like a lot of fun doing it) getting creamed by a city bus while driving his hearse to the airport to pick up the wayward son, Nate. Waiting back home are his totally dependent wife, his gay and serious second son, and a teenage daughter who always looks like life just kicked her in the proverbial nuts, even though she’s pretty well off.

What gets me about the show is that even though the characters are pretty oddball, this is not a comedy (although it is often funnier’n’hell), nor does it seem unreal. Everything that happens to these people is perfectly plausible. I mean, it’s entirely possible that today’s funeral business was brought about by someone getting hit square in the head with a golf ball.... or having her head bashed in by a street sign while riding joyously down the Strip and standing up through the roof of a limo.

The supporting cast is just as fun to watch as the main characters; they consists of nutcase brothers, whacko girlfriends who yearn for prostitute-hood, parents with no social mores at ALL, the Russian mob, and ghosts. Almost every week the dead sit up and start talking to whoever is doing the mortuary duty that day. Sometimes the dead help out with problems, sometimes it just seems like a good excuse to show off a stripper’s really big (but mismatched) knockers. The father, played by Richard Jenkins, is a (dead) world -weary, gambling, cigarette-and-pot smoking, womanizing, loving husband and father, and he is an absolute hoot at pointing out what’s wrong with the way his family thinks as individuals and as a group. I get the feeling that all his running around during his life was by way of compensation for not being able to deal with the stupidity around the house.

Whatever the reason, this show makes going back to TV “a good thing”.

May 3, 2002 — DUECES WILD
Starring Steven Dorff, Brad Renfro, Frankie Muniz, Matt Dillon, Fairuza Balk
Director: Scott Kalvert  Screenwriter: Paul KimatianLink to the Website

It’s nice to see a return to some good ol’ neighbourhood gang movies, even though my own kids think all white gangs were comprised of show dancers and really slim guys with cool hair. This time, we’ve got the Deuces and the Vipers.

The movie stands out, only because (to my mind) there hasn’t been a movie like it in quite a while in the mainstream. Hey, it’s fun to watch, there are some excellent rumble scenes, and the acting is pretty cool. But with this kind of movie, if you don’t have a place to go with the plot, they pretty much all start to look the same. There is the requisite really, really nasty bad guy who leads the Vipers, and this trying-to-be-responsible leader of the good guys. And... the girlfriend.

Everyone does their job well, and the movie is a kick. When it gets going, you really want these guys to get their revenge. I took Matt and Erica, and they thought it was pretty good, too.

May 3, 2002 — AMERICAN BANDSTAND’s 50th Anniversary (ABC)

I still find it hard to believe that Mr. Clark has been on the air since 1952, the year I was born. If he started when he was only 20, that would still make him 70. Not that I wish him anything but the best, but does anyone look that good at 70?

With all the celebrations this month on TV (50 years of The Tonight Show, 50 Years of the HoneyMooners, 50 Years of this Studio and That, 75 years of TV), I figured the Dick Clark show would be the one to see. After all, there is no more powerful list of rock and pop stars than the one collected by Bandstand. Heck, I watched it back when it was in Black & White (but only in Toronto at Nana and Grampa Riley’s, because we didn’t get American TV at home).

And this special sure had a roster of stars. But for the most part, it was Dick being Dick, touching his forehead in surprise and wonder at his own longevity every couple of minutes. Not that he took credit for anyone’s success; far from it. He is still a humble servant of the music-loving public. But jeez, couldn’t they have spruced it up a bit with some performances by the oldies but goodies? All we got were miniscule clips of a bunch of the early groups and singers; the live performances were almost all contemporaries. (KC and the Sunshine Band being a noteable exception, and looking pretty darn good.)

I was glad to see little biographies on a bunch of the kids (all grandparents now) who were regular dancers. I don’t remember any of them, but it was nice nonetheless. The big moments in the show were Michael Jackson doing a helluva dance routine for “Dangerous”... but we’ve seen that before. And the Bandstand SuperGroup, led by Little Richard, for the show’s finale. I’m pretty sure Little Dick was reading his own lyrics off the cue cards; either that or he’d just come back from having eyedrops put in at the doctor’s office. But other members of the band were an eclecticDick Clark Trivia Info mix of whoever seemed to be available for the night: Michael St. Buggins from Spinal Tap, Jerry Springer (!?), Johnny Rivers (I was just wondering whateverhappenedtohim), the Pointer Sisters, Leif Garrett (?!), saxman Clarence Clemons, and a whole raft of odds and enders.

My personal highlight was when Dennis Quaid came on with his band The Sharks and did the Jerry Lee Lewis thing (you may recall he played Lewis in the movie a few years back). He may not have the tonsils of a superstar, but he sure seemed to be having a whole lotta more shakin’ goin’ on than the rest of ‘em that night.

 

April 20, 2002 — FRAILTY
Starring Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughy, Powers Boothe
Director: Bill Paxton  Screenwriter: Brent Hanley

This is one dark movie. The commercials for it are misleading, because they portray it as a horror film, when really it is a psychological thriller. While there are lots of good squishy axe-in-flesh chopping noises, the horror is only implied. That being said, it’s a helluva flick.  It will keep you guessing the whole way through (Bill Paxton as the “bad” guy... but is he really? Or maybe it’s the FBI agent, skeptically played by Powers Boothe... or even our hero Matthew McConaughy).

This is a good movie, but not a fun movie; by that I mean I really enjoyed it, but not because it was a scary ghost ride. It wasn’t. It was a scary tale of a father and two sons, good vs. evil on some pretty basic levels, and I thought my gawd, that would be awful if it were true. And undoubtedly, somewhere, this has happened in real life.

Bill Paxton as director does a bang-up job; not once did I notice an obvious contrivance, self-interested acting bit, or heavy-handed scene. The story flowed nicely, especially considering that it was done in flash-backs.

GO if you like the macabre. I do... :-)

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