Monday, April 28, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Benjamin Wood
walrusgod movie reviews
http://www.walrusgod.com

Score: 2.5/5

When it comes to martial arts stars, there is a very short list of those at the top who have been able (or decided to) use their skills to break into Hollywood. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris (don't laugh, he started his career as a champion martial artist and even trained with Lee) were two of the first. Now, Jackie Chan and Jet Li constitute the top martial artists in movies. Even having said that he's retiring from martial arts, Jet Li has teamed up with Chan for The Forbidden Kingdom.

The story is apparently roughly based on the ancient Chinese story "Journey to the West," while the individual characters (or at least their names) have been taken from Chinese mythology and pulp novels. For a rough synopsis, Jason (Michael Angarano), a young Boston kid, finds an ancient staff in a local Chinese pawn shop which transports him from Boston to a mysterious land. There, he runs into the possibly immortal, always drunk Lu Yan (Chan), who tells him that the staff is to be returned The Monkey King, who needs it to defeat the ruthless Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). On their quest, they run into the young minstrel girl Sparrow (Yifei Liu) and a mysterious monk (Jet Li) .

The Forbidden Kingdom is not overly concerned with the story, delegating it mainly to being told through two or three segments where one of the characters explains what is going on. And, although many action/martial arts movies have dialogue that is nothing special, The Forbidden Kingdom's is especially bad, sometimes even inducing a cringe or two at how bad it actually was. The only good dialogue is the occasional one-liner, uttered mainly by Lu Yan, and the humor is not nearly as prevalent as it should be, considering it is easily the strength of the writing crew. The action is entertaining and fantastical, and serves it's purpose well, being visually impressive and keeping the audience entertained.

Unfortunately, the actors around Jackie Chan and Jet Li are not nearly as charismatic or entertaining as the two stars, and the film suffers in almost every scene they aren't in. The film lags terrifically during the "storytelling" portions, and the centerpieces of the movie, the lengthy action sequences, don't quite compensate for the horrible story pacing and the extremely bad dialogue.

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American Gangster (2008)

Benjamin Wood
walrusgod movie reviews
http://www.walrusgod.com

Score: 4/5

A couple times a year, a movie comes out that is unapologetically epic. Generally, these movies also sport the talent of those who are no stranger to movie's of epic stature:
- Ridley Scott, director of cult classics Alien and Blade Runner, the iconic Thelma & Louise, as well as more recent blockbusters Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven.
- Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for Training Day and should've won an Oscar for his epic portrayal of activist and leader Malcolm X.
- Russell Crowe, who won an Oscar in Scott's Gladiator and has also starred in blockbusters L.A. Confidential, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man.

Add to these names the up-and-coming talents of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Josh Brolin, and American Gangster was poised from the start to be larger-than-life. However, it was not guaranteed to be good. Of those epic movies that come out every year, as many live up to the hype as fail, and considering the mediocre reception given to Scott's last two directorial efforts (the aforementioned Kingdom of Heaven and the Russell Crowe-led romance/drama A Good Year), I had to approach American Gangster with caution.

Like most epics, American Gangster requires patience, and uses two-and-a-half hours to tell the story of the rise and fall of Frank Lucas (Washington), who became the most successful African-American gangster in United States history. Being thrust into a position of power early on with the death of his mentor, Bumpy Johson (Clarence Williams III), Lucas knew that success wasn't made by simply standing still. Lucas knew the power of drugs in the ghettos where he worked and grew up, and knew that there was an extraordinary amount of money to be found in selling heroin. Traveling to Asia to buy the drugs directly from the source (so as to avoid the complications of using a middle man), Lucas was able to not only achieve wealth for himself, but was also able to raise his friends and family up as well.

Washington, sometimes derided for not having a great range as an actor, is able to portray Lucas' arrogance and charisma perfectly, infusing him with much of the same life with which he infused his portrayal of Malcolm X. Crowe, portraying detective Richie Roberts, is less effective in his role, but is in no way bad. Rarely sharing a scene with Washington, Crowe is often expected to keep our interest even when Washington is not on the screen, and he just doesn't have the charisma to pull it off. Brolin and Ejiofor do solid supporting jobs, although their characters are a little-too one sided to be completely believable.

The surprising story of American Gangster, however, is Ruby Dee's brief role as Lucas' mother. Given only a few scenes to work with, Dee is nonetheless able to make Mama Lucas multi-faceted, both gracious for her son's generosity while fearful of how he earned his vast fortune. It's quite the feat when one is able to give a character with about ten minutes of screentime such character, and is even more impressive considering Brolin and Ejiofor were unable to do the same with much, much more to work with.

American Gangster, like many movies this long, suffers from its own scope, starting to flag near the two hour mark. Scott has never been a favorite director of mine, and many of the complaints I have had about his previous movies (Scott has an uncanny ability to linger too long on some scenes, and to have lead actors who are ill suited for the roles they play) can be applied to this one as well. Gangster probably could've been shorter and still had the same power, and Crowe isn't quite able to perform at the level required for the story. What ultimately raises American Gangster above Scott's previous work is the quality of the story (gangster stories, when told right, have no trouble reeling the audience in) and Denzel Washington, who manages to give one of his best performances, and more than makes up for Crowe's deficiencies.

While not quite as strong as it could have been, American Gangster can nonetheless be considered a success. As long as viewers are able to take it as it is, and don't try to compare it to the more violent (and superior) The Departed, they will most likely be pleased, if not blown away.

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Training Day (2001)

Benjamin Wood
walrusgod movie reviews
http://www.walrusgod.com

Score: 3/5

Looking back on Oscar winning performances is always a difficult ordeal. On one hand, the nuances of a commanding performance become more evident to those who would ordinarily miss them, and the strength of the performance can be heightened simply by knowing the actor won an Oscar. On the other hand, it is also common to try to critique every flaw of the performance, to judge whether this performance was truly as spectacular as the Academy seemed to think it was.

Training Day was Denzel Washington's first lead actor Oscar, and his second Oscar overall (having won for his supporting role in Glory in 1989). And his performance as rogue detective Alonzo Harris is definitely powerful, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that this was a "make up" Oscar, one given to strong actor who had previously been snubbed for past performances. In this case, it seems that the Academy was trying to say "I'm sorry" for giving the Oscar to Al Pacino in 1992 instead of Denzel's performance as Malcolm X.

Overall, Training Day is a mediocre movie that is bolstered by great acting. Denzel's performance was electric, and during the first half of the film is positively attention-grabbing. Ethan Hawke's performance as rookie narcotics cop Jake Hoyt seems pedestrian for the first half-hour of the film, but it seems that his performance gets more powerful as his character slowly starts to take control of the situation he's in. By the end, both actors are carrying the film on their shoulders, trying their damndest to keep the film from failing under the weight of its average plot and sometimes sub-par dialogue. When one of the scenes directly leading to the finale centers around the line "Have you ever had your shit pushed in?", I can't help but wonder how much better this movie would've been with someone who could write decent dialogue.

The main problem with the plot is the conventionality. Jake must stay amazingly oblivious through the first two-thirds of the movie, and seems to ignore blatantly obvious signs that things are amiss. The movie also never really hides the fact that Alonzo is a dirty cop with something to hide, nor does it reveal his true motives with subtlety. Alonzo is portrayed as rotten from the start, and revelations about his character seem to be introduced with a sledgehammer rather than threaded in with a needle. In a movie that deals so much with deception, it's a shame that the characters seem to be revealed halfway through the movie, making the second half an exercise in waiting for the moment when the characters finally realize what the viewers have known for a while.

This plot mechanic may have worked well in film-noir, where those revelations made by the audience are frequently dashed by even further plot development, but Training Day has nothing beneath its surface. It's a straightforward police thriller masquerading as something more. It grabs the viewer's attention with the performances from Washington and Hawke, and yet does nothing with them. It's exciting and tense, yet afterwards seems unnaturally empty. It builds and builds, yet delivers the payoff way too soon, and by the end delivers us plot twists so contrived that they border on being Deus ex Machina revelations, and the ending can only be described as unnecessary and vaguely insulting to viewers who were expecting much, much more. If it had just been a standard action movie, it probably could be hailed as great, as an example of some of the best the genre has to offer. Training Day is not content to be called simply an empty action movie, however. It tries for something more, and completely misses the mark.

On a final note, I can't help but address the fact that Denzel won an Oscar for his portrayal of a crooked, violent, stereotypically boisterous Black cop, instead of Black community leader Malcolm X. I hope not to imply that the Academy made this decision with racist intent, but rather that, in the future, they might need to be a little more careful when doling out condolence Oscars.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalow

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

I know that "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" is completely immune to critical reviews. This movie... no matter what critic, no matter how scathing, how cruel and cold... when it comes to movies like this... the press is powerless.

Really, who cares what the critics say? This is not the newest political biography by Oliver Stone.

Movies like this are just meant to make you laugh.

And this one does. But Definitely not enough.

I was really looking forward to this one. I was in the mood for a "Dumb & Dumber" or "Kingpin" type of comedy and I saw some of the ads for this one and it looked fairly funny. So when it first came out on video, I rushed out to get it.

I've enjoyed most of Sandler's stuff, the Farrelly Brothers movies and just about every movie from the comic film firm of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker. So, surely, I'd like this one.

"Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" is a vomit bag of a movie. Granted, that's more or less what I was looking for... but it was the WRONG kind of vomit.

THE PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Goofy, homely and pathetic fish-tank cleaner Deuce (who's also a fish specialist) winds up playing house-sitter and "fish doctor" for a luxurious gigolo. Disaster hits (of course) and in a last desperate resort to raise some much needed money very quickly, Deuce becomes a prostitute. And encounters every misfortune possible.

Sounds funny, doesn't it? And in the hands of some genuinely talented writers and directors, yes, it damn well could have been.

But it's handled so terribly, so clumsy, so over-the-top, the humor dies out quickly and at the end, we lose faith and trust in summer gross-out comedies.

And we desperately need those, don't you agree?

There's a running joke involving a hard-ass police detective named Chuck Fowler (William Forsythe) who's more or less an unfunny comic take on Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive." David Alan Grier made his work in "3 Strikes," but having him constantly show his penis to Deuce (which is apparently pathetically thin).

Or at least thin) is just not funny because no one here seems to know how to make it work. Schneider and co-writer Harris Goldberg ("D3: The Mighty Ducks," "I'll Be Home For Christmas") incorporate a butt-load of funny ideas into this script, but no one here seems to know how to make it work.

Director Mike Mitchell does not have the Midas touch when it comes to comedy. Gold, hell, he can't even settle for a bronze PLATING.

Everything is so obnoxious, so gross, so overplayed, it'll give you a headache.

It wouldn't be fair for me to say that there's no laughs to be had throughout the whole movie and it was totally without ANY merit: Oded Fehr is perfectly cast as the experienced smoldering prostitute. And Arija Bareikis is appealing as the love interest. And Schnider occasionally (early on) does deliver a chuckle with his performance.

There's a funny bit where an aquarium salesman appears to be either gay or a pervert and continuously makes double-ententes to Duece's confusion. And comedian actor Edddie Griffin (of whom my mother is a huge fan of) gets some of the movie's only laughs (belly-laughs) as a pimp named T.J.

T.J.:"I prefer to be called a male madame. Wait, that didn't sound right." He gets (probably) the movie's biggest laugh when he explains the prostitute food chain to Deuce, using Antoine's fish to illustrate his point.

And there are some really funny moments to be had early on and with some of the women Deuce services. Hey, you think the kind of MEN who pay for it are scary. Just imagine the kind of WOMEN who'd have to pay for it. But the movie stops trying less than halfway through and feels like it's on auto-pilot. Not just the director, but everything.

Look, I'm gonna say it right here, right now: Schnieder is just not a leading man, pure and simple. He does not have the looks, the height, the physique and charisma to carry a whole picture.

Even though it seems like this is the kind of lead that's perfect for Schnieder (an ugly, goofy, sexually-repellent man who could never get it for free, let alone be able to charge for it), he just can't quite pull this one off. Although this material (which he's partially responsible for could've derailed anyone).

Even if this one contained the best cast in the world, how much good can it do when you're working from a script you found in a condemned, rotting, stinking gas-station men's room on the urine-soaked floor? Look, Rob Schneider is just not the lead, pure and simple. He's the one joke character ("You con dew eeet!") and a supporting actor ("Judge Dredd, "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," "Surf Ninjas" and "Knock Off"). He's just not a head-liner, pure and simple.

Co-billing, maybe, MAYBE. He should stop writing movies... or at least stop trying to carry them. Maybe a ensemble vehicle would help.

Schnieder was never meant to be an Oscar-contender, I know. But a box-office darling? Now Sandler, I can see, but...

Seriously, really... avoid this one. For good gross-out summer comedies, I recommend the following: "Dumb & Dumber," "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary," "Scary Movie" and the "American Pie" trilogy. Check out Sandler's "Happy Gilmore," "Big Daddy" and "The Longest Yard."

FINAL WORD OF ADVICE: Avoid anything with Schnieder's name looming over the title.

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Very Bad Things

danessf@yahoo.com

"A wild, thrilling savory (acquired) taste. In-your-face, down-your-throat, in-your-stomach and out-your-ass THRILL RIDE"

by dane youssef

Well, now here's one that feels like doesn't just feel like another machine-made piece from off the assembly line. Here is a movie that feels like it has it's own ideas, thoughts, edges and all.

The studio execuives didn't dig their claws into this one, sucking all the nerve and originality out of it just to make it inoffensive and more filt for mass consumption.

All the more making this a move that's really worth seeing for those who don't like movies that just connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers. In other words, a movie that desperately needs to exist. And be seen.

A bizzare combo protein-shake of black comedy, thriller and horror show, this is one of those Slow Saturday Night cult films that the weirdo clerk behind the counter is always personally recommending for those customers who ae kind of like his pals.

"Very Bad Things" is a film that plays out like a worse-case scenerio. One of those movies that puts a group of relative people in a situation where everything that can possibly go wrong... does. Hopefully, with results that translate to a good movie.

I found the movie to work on multiple levels. As an angry, aggressive, and assertive male-bonding comedy. As a thriller. As a white-knuckle, nail-biting action film. As a nightmare.

Writer/Director Peter Berg remarks he came up with the idea for this movie when he was at a bachelor party and saw the rowdy and over-the-top behavior from a lot of the other guests. These guys were looking for trouble, he said. What would happen if they found it? More than they could handle.

The movie is all-over-the-map, but I like that about it. Berg sets up some cynical suburbanites and their rowdy behavior and puts them in several life-or-death situations, which despite what many say, is thrilling to watch.

Christian Slater gives the strongest performance as the devil-may-care Robert Boyd, a man who seems to have no moral threshold. We never doubt his actions for a second. Slater knows how to play this character as plays him to the hilt.

Daniel Stern plays his usual nebbish. From the "City Slickers" movies, the "Home Alone" movies and all his others, he's appropriately nervous and uneasy--especially after what's occurring right now. There's are massive murders bobbing up and the body count is still rising.

Cameron Diaz is also effective doing an evil turn on the wedding-obsessed loon she was in "My Best Friend's Wedding" as a woman who doesn't care about anything else but having her big day. As far as she's concerned, the guests and the groom are secondary. She nitpicks and she bullies and berates. Many guys see this as the epitome of the woman who's about to have her big day.

Jon Faverau isn't as "money" as he's been in other roles, but maybe that's because he's supposed to be the straight man. He's a little too straight. Too stiff. You kind of wish they had spiced him up some more. He appears to just be in shock and going along with the flow most of the time, like a tag-along.

The movie plays out as a dark comedic thriller and at times a morality tale. What I like the most is the anarchy of the film and the performance of Christian Slater and especially the different ways the men and women in the movie react to him.

Watch for his scene with Tripplehorn when they go one-on-one. The homages to "Good Fellas" and "Reservior Dogs" are cute and memorable too.

Like I said before, this is a must-see for anyone who hates generic, paint-by-numbers movies. If this sounds like your cup of tea (and it damn well should), you're someone after my own heart. Then this is a must-see.

Check it out. Check it out now.

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Stealing Harvard

STEALING HARVARD

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

Submitted via our Submit A Review page.

Was this supposed a comedy?

Hell, was this even supposed to be a damn movie?

Hell, I have no idea.

It must have been trying to be one.

Watching this one is like looking at a blank screen. It features talented high-caliber name actors, but they never seem to really be acting in a movie. They're just up there on the screen killing time with their monotony.

The plot is basically something for a fun Saturday-night buddy movie. But there's no energy, no spontaneity, no drive... no life. "Stealing Harvard" doesn't even have a heartbeat.

The movie stars the riveting and charismatic Jason Lee ("My Name Is Earl," "Dogma," "Chasing Amy," "Kissing A Fool") as John Plummer, a home-care worker at home health-care corporation called "Homespital," not unlike the hospital founded by Patch Adams.

Lee's engaged to and just looking for a house to settle down and have a family with. His fiancée's father is also his boss.

He's a bland, ordinary "John Everyman" who engaged to a sweet, cheerful woman (somewhat deranged, of course) named Elaine (played by Leslie Mann).

His boss as "Homespital" is going to be his father in law and naturally hates John as any true father-in-law should.

"Have you slept with my daughter?" John practically swallows his whole throat.

He smiles and says with too-friendly a tone, "If you have, I'll give you immunity and that if he have slept with her, he should tell him there and now and they'll let it go."
And John himself goes blank.

Then, looking like some kind of animal caught in oncoming headlights, John wisely lies.

Mr. Warner smiles and responds: "Good! Godammit, that's good! Because if you had, John, I was gonna kick your balls up into your head and let them rattle around in your skull like dice in a Yahtzee cup!"

He and his fiancée Elaine Warner (Leslie Mann from "George of the Jungle" and "The Cable Guy") have managed to scrape up $30,000 to buy a new house. But when his scholarly niece actually manages to get into a college, an old promise that John comes back to bite him in the ass.

This is the third movie directed by former "Kid In The Hall" Bruce McCulloch ("Dog Park" and "Superstar") and it's his third misfire. His films are always dull, flat, incapable of generating any energy.

Or maybe he just refuses to let them. He always has one really flamboyant character to generate some energy into an otherwise lifeless slog. Here, it's Tom Green.

TV shock-Meister (and expired flavor-of-the-month) turned day-actor Tom Green plays his best friend Walter Duffy, a landscaper who has his own business. with an angry, obnoxious personality and a single digit IQ. He's basically just Tom Green if he went into landscaping.

His style as a landscaper is to rip up fresh green, colorful and replace them with old, dead, ugly-looking tacky ones. Well, it's a look, I guess.

At one point, his boss takes him aside and asks him the same burning question that every consumes every father to the core and to the point of hysteria:

How to get a butt-load of money really, really fast? John's comes to his longtime buddy, Walter "Duff" Duffy who suggests... a robbery.

The kind of movie you round up your weekend buddies, go to a bar and have a few and go to see during the late-showing.

The film has all the energy of a 70-year old snail on an overdose of sedatives. Jason Lee, an actor I have the utmost respect for ("Chasing Amy," "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky") who combines the best of Jimmy Stewart and Adam Sandler, is so cheerful and likable, he's boring here.

Now you can say all you want that Tom Green is a bad actor. Let's face it, he is. His Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Supporting Actor" of 2001 speaks for itself (he won many other "worsts" that year), but his performance gives the film the lion's share of what little energy it actually has. If it wasn't for Green's obnoxious Duff character, we'd all be going to sleep.

The worst part, I'm afraid, is that despite Mr. Green's inability to act, he does not give the worst performance in this movie. That comes from director McCulloch himself as an attorney near the end of the film.

Rest assured, he's not there for very long, but his acting is so bad, I was amazed at how much worse he made the film simply by entering it.

Megan Mulally appears in a supporting role as Lee's sister, who's trailer-trash through and through. She has different sex partners every night... er, hour of the week. She and John have never really been close. They have a moment together. It's more deep and interesting than any other part of the movie.

Chris Penn pops up in a brief bit as a thug who is recruited by John and Duff to pull off a robbery, which leads to a scene that could have been funny, but just plain isn't. Like the rest of movie, it's so dead and flat-lined, you wish there was some doctor to put electrical pads over the chest of the film and go "Clear!" to bring it to life.

Here's a movie that could have been just big-fun disposable Saturday Night weekend entertainment like "Meet the Parents" or "Stuck on You." But this film needed a team of script doctors straight from the ER.

The brief gags from the supporting performers aren't much either. Big names with nothing to work with. John C. McGinley (TV's "Scrubs") is particularly embarrassing as a hard-nosed detective who's hot on their trail and trying to find out who's responsible for that mini-mart stick-up and is not above breaking the law.

He plays an almost completely unfunny version of his hard-ass cop role from "Point Break." I won't even get into the scene involving Richard Jenkins as the man of one of the houses they break into looking for money, suffice to say it didn't make me laugh and it hurt to watch. So does a scene which made me feel bad that John has had sex with Elaine--she cries during cotis. Good Lord.

Boring, when not irritating. It could have been so much better. So much funnier. With a script doctor, a director with some sight and some energy... well, Que se ra.



"There is nothing sadder than wasted talent" ---Robert De Niro as Lorenzo Anello in "A Bronx Tale."

The Brown Bunny

by dane youssef

"THE BROWN BUNNY" plays out like an Andy Warhol-inspired exercise that was warped into a vanity project. It's like a home movie on a family road trip where nothing is really going on and whoever has the camera is just killing time out of boredom

Some moments are quietly effective and inspire little musings in our heads. But far too much feels like something little that a brown bunny left behind... that's also brown.

Either the bunny or Gallo. He serves as writer, director, producer, composer and cinematographer. I think there's more, but I just don't have time.

The film stars Gallo as Bud Clay, a professional motorcycle racer going on one big long odyssey on the road to his old haunts to rediscover himself.

He will uncover a lot of things along the way, particularly that he is trapped inside a movie that just plain isn't very good.

Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" is a self-indulgent exercise in futility. Although Gallo may consider this a compliment, I mean the making of the film itself, not this hero's story. So masturbatory, I actually wished I was blind before I was even 1/4 of the way through.

But it could have been. If Gallo had cut more of the scenes (and I don't just mean a few), put some music down on the soundtrack, shown more of the beautiful outdoor landscapes... and less of the interior of the car, Gallo himself just sitting there, preening. Striking a model-like pose in long, long, unbroken shots that feel endless.

Like they're a half-hour long. Gallo is a strikingly good-looking European man, but not nearly so that we can watch him for that long without getting itchy and restless.

You kind of wish the filmmaker (and there's only one--Gallo himself) had conjured up more music and put it on the soundtrack. Some more music might have helped pump up a lot of the stillborn scenes.

My description of the first 3/4's of the film torturous boredom doesn't even begin to do it justice. Gallo keeps the entire "Brown Bunny" moving at the pace of moss growing on a tree or rock.

There's a lot of flat, still dialouge with a lot of dramatic pauses (in a pathetic attempt to pump it up), the acting isn't much (except for Gallo and Sevigny) and the long, unbroken static shots with Gallo is staring off into the distance (which there are more than TOO MUCH of) inspired me to itch so much, I thought I came down with a horrible rash.

Hell, at one point, I actually wanted to throw things right at the screen. No lie, it actually came to mind--I would rather see some of the lowest points of "Howard The Duck" than look at Gallo's god dammed face for three more seconds.

Yes, that's how bad it got.

I know that the cut of the movie that was screened at Cannes (the film was not finished yet, but Gallo was pushed into releasing it) was indefinitely worse. But although I think that much of the editing was for the better (from what I've heard, it was vital), Gallo still needed to cut a few more scenes out of the movie and lay some more music here and there.

Despite talent on Gallo's part and some ambition to tell a worthwhile story, "Brown Bunny" moves at the pace of moss growing, no one throughout the film as a character is particularly intriguing or well-developed, not even Gallo's own character (the exception is Chloe Sevign) and there are too many slow spot where we're just waiting for something, anything to happen.

We don't have any idea exactly what Bud is thinking most of the time (or God help us, Gallo even). Maybe we're supposed to figure it out for ourselves. Perhaps Gallo wants our minds to speculate and wander. Is he leaving the thoughts of this odyssey up to our imagination? Or did he just not think this one through.

I was often bored and shifting back-and-forth in my seat, all throughout (except for the ending). I thought the movie needed more scenes of dialouge, more moments where Bud and those he encounters on his journey interact.

Also, much of the dialouge throughout every scene throughout the film was written is so badly recorded, I couldn't understand a word they were saying. I had to turn on the SUBTITLES just to understand what the hell they were saying.

I'm capable of appreciating a deep, slow-paced movie. But this one isn't just slow, it's d.o.a.

Many European filmmakers know how to make a slow movie work like a chess match or a staring contest, so that even when nothing is happening, it FEELS like Hell itself is breaking loose. Gallo obviously hasn't mastered that himself. He should have seen more of their work and studied it before putting "The Brown Bunny" into effect.

The late, great Stanley Kubrick himself defined and cornered the market on quietly brooding, suspenseful films. I would suggest Gallo pop in some of HIS movies in if he ever wants to make another movie in this vein.

But Gallo himself has admitted he is no filmmaker--or artist. In any sense of the word. He is a hustler. A Midnight Cowboy of sorts. He has acted, modeled, directed, wrote, painted... have I painted enough of a picture myself?

He is a man of innumerable talents. But he has no major. He hawks his skills to whatever at any given moment. He may not be a household name, but those that do know his name... look at him as something a little more than mortal.

Ted Curson, Jackson C. Frank, Vincent Gallo are credited for the musical score. At least Gallo admitted he needed some outside help there.

Reformed supermodel Cheryl Diggs doesn't really provide anything else but filler to kill the static. Hey, maybe she serves a vital purpose after all.

Chloe Sevigny ("Kids" and "Trees Lounge") is such a good actress and has such a touching character, it's a damn crime against cinema she doesn't have more scenes.

She should have been such a more substantial part of the film. She is a part of the fourth act where the comatose "Brown Bunny" almost bursts to life.

At the end of it all, there is the smallest ray of hope. Not just for Gallo's character, but for Gallo. And us. And his film. And what of that brown bunny that sits in the cage? That holds the film's prominent title? What of it? What's it's story?

I would have loved to see this world through it's eyes. What would it have to say? Do you wonder... ?

Submitted via our Submit A Review page.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Just when we've written Lucas off as a sell-out and a businessman, he reminds us what he stands for in this business. The saga and Lucas have been re-born...

by dane youssef

It's all over. The saga is complete. Lucas has come full-circle and so has the universe and it's inhabitants.

After "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones," Lucas had been accused to selling out on his creation and one of the greatest serial-movies of all time.

He had lost the way. Lost his voice. He had become the worst thing an artist can be... a businessman. With all the technology and control in the world... he had become lazy.

Unmotivated.

Even unimaginative.

Being branded just another "businessman" is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.

At times, the movie feels unnatural and at times, I would call this one of the best thing Lucas has ever done.

But this is truly a movie not to be missed.

Ever since I was a little boy, when I first saw Darth Vader, I asked myself, "Is he supposed to be a robot? An alien? Why does he wear that strange suit? It's probably just to make him look scary." For those who've all wondered the same, Episode III answers that and a lot of others. And you will never look at "Star Wars" the same way again.

George Lucas seems to be trying to make amends for his later and lesser films, and I for one, think he succeeds wholly here.

Lucas totally the gamut totally here and shows the world (just like he did in THX 1138 and American Graffiti) that he is a force to reckoned with, even feared. The force is not merely with him, he is controlling it here.

Of course, throughout his whole career and even now, poor Georgie boy has never been able to write so much as a line of realistic dialouge.

But I forgive him. Don't we all? When it comes to the creative writing process, there are two schools of thought and different ways to go.

those who conjure up great, thrilling worlds (like Mr. Roald Dahl) and those who capture the sparkiling art of conversation (Kevin Smith).

The two just don't ordinarily mesh together very well. They just mix like oil and vomit. And Lucas is a dreamer, so we can understand him wanting to do it his way.

I don't like to give things away in movies, but really, what's to give away? EVERYONE who has seen "Star Wars" and anyone who's seen any of the first three released chapters knows EVERYTHING COMING.

We know that Anikan will convert to the dark side and become Darth Vader. We know that the traitor in the midst is Chancellor Palpatine, who will become the Emperor. And that Padme will bore Luke and Leia. Even in Episode IV, Darth Vader tells us how a showdown between him and Obi-Wan turns out.

But to see how it all came to be is just plain shocking and even a little disturbing. There is such cruelty and sadness in this chapter. Haven't we all grown up laughing and smiling and looking to "Star Wars" for fun and upbeat cheer? "Star Wars" has always stood for escapist fantasy.

His movies are about visual worlds and dreams, not sparkling, chatty conversation. Lucas pretty much does it all here, so he exposes all his talents and faults clearly. But he is truly a dreamer. Perhaps Lucas wanted to do it all so he could see (and the whole world could as well) just how good he truly is and what good he's at.

I truly believe that if Lucas wasn't a filmmaker, Lucas would be that older guy sitting around the campfire telling stories. Old, long forgotten legends of ancient lore and spinning some new ones. Lucas is a dreamer, a homage-payer in his movies.

The battles are so amazing, we can forgive everything Lucas has done wrong in his career so far.

He creates beautiful galaxies and worlds, especially the planet Mustafar. Another moment comes in a showdown between one of the great Jedi masters and the great Sith masters.

Perhaps one of the problems was Lucas has all but done away completely with sets. All of his movies since 1999 are filmed in front of green-screens (or are they called "green-rooms"? I forget).

You can finally see why Lucas has abandoned real sets and muppets and locations in favor on green-screens. Finally, after all this time... you've never seen a movie like this! The first-class FX are all seamless. I know that this is all a movie... all actors, sets and props... but Lucas made me forget.

Christensen and Portman feel more natural here than they did in "Clones." Probably because their lines here are only half as awkward. And the movie doesn't gloss too much over cheap "romance" scenes. Lucas and his team have NEVER excelled there.

Well actually, the dynasty between Han and Leia was worth it's weight in gold. Han and Leia. Hell, Luke and Yoda. But Lucas attempts to handle all of the production of this one (and the earlier two) himself.

Some artists are talented and blessed enough to be able to just go into a movie and single-handedly make a masterpiece. Some artists do their best as soloists. (Orson Welles, Edward Burns, Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, etc).

Others just... need a helping hand.

When Padme' tells Anikan she is pregnant from what they've been doing together (see "Episode II." Or rather DON'T), Anikan seems like this'll get in the way of his becoming a true Jedi knight.

Lucas has problems directing dramatic scenes and even more writing them. As for love scenes, Good Lord, he sure as hell can't write them. But a moment where Padme' expresses her pain at where Anikan is headed and we see his reaction....

The ending is so sad, so heartbreaking. We have to remember that this is only Episode III of VI.

The average American household (or any other country in the world) has Episodes IV-VI waiting for them at home. After Episode III, IV would be good to wash away this downbeat feeling.

"Star Wars" has always been a hallmark of childhood fantasy, but in this entry, everyone does a lot of growing-up. You'd think all this reality and contemporary sadness would ruin the memory of "Star Wars."

But no. It doesn't ruin "Star Wars." As a matter of fact, it deepens it.

This is a movie that needs to be seen by every "Star Wars" fan.

This is a movie that needs to be seen by every movie fan.

This is a movie that needs to be seen by everyone.

See it now.

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)

Does this movie even have a pulse?

by dane youssef

Um.... did ANYONE like this movie? Anyone, anywhere... ever? This one seems to be ranking right up there with his "Howard the Duck."

But at least people had some kind of strong passion for that one. Any extreme movie (exterme in any way) is a likely candidate for the "cult following." But this one is just boring.

I wanted to kick it as hard as I could, not out of anger, but just to see if it's even alive.

If it is, it's flat-lining.

I remember when George Lucas announce that he was going to release the last three "Star Wars" movies (which ironically were the first three), the whole wide world jumped up.

When "Episode I" was finally released, it was met with lukewarm reviews (from critics and fans alike). From the fair-weather to the hard-core, industrial strength fans.

And everyone in between.

Many people ride Lucas and get on his case about his inability to write dialouge (myself included).

Hey, let's face it. The man couldn't write dialog for a mime. Which is why he always hires a script doctor whenever he makes a film from his own screenplay. Hey, this is just called just plain common sense.

Many filmmakers try to re-make the kinds of movies that they first fell in love with when they were young. That not only applies to Lucas, he is the very definition of that. With futuristic Orwell tales ("THX 1138"), period action-adventure summer matinées ("Indianda Jones"), sci-fi space operas ("Star Wars," of course) and medieval sword-and-sorcery flicks ("Willow").

His abilities are in composing a movie lie in production values and state-of-the-art, groundbreaking, revolutionary special effects. Bringing everything about a genre together in one film and playing it to the hilt.

So Lucas brought on Johnathan Hales ("The Scropian King" and TV's "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles") as script doctor. Lucas' wise decision helped them take home the 2002 Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay. Hey, FUCK the Oscars.

This was apparently the very first major-motion picture not to be shot on film, but on a special digital video movie camera that SONY designed specifically for Lucas himself.

I saw the movie on DVD, so being shot on digital video and being run on digital video disk, the movie was so sharp and so exact and so precise and so full of detail, I was amazed. When I saw "Episode I" in theaters, it didn't stand out this beautifully.

However, that momentary feeling eventually disintegrated and I was left with a feeling of indifference, then some boredom, then finally contempt.

The first released chapter in the "Star Wars" saga (Episode IV: A New Hope) showed a lot of the movie's themes came from old westerns and samurai pictures. In "Episode II," I got the feeling the movie got a lot of it's inspiration from war movies. You know, "Gettysburg" and the like.

The could make for one hell of a little movie, except for the fact that this one is completely on Valium.

Breaktaking visual scenery and first-rate FX (the entire movie was filmed in front of a blue screen) can't compensate for performances by actors who understandably seem have to have almost no love for a script that could have been written by a coma patient and a director who's far too assured that "it'll all be fixed and filled out in editing and special effects later."

I know damned well Hayden Christensen is capable of acting. I've seen it. He seems to be channeling his role from "Life As A House" (no doubt that's why Lucas chose Christensen in the first place. It's like hiring Marlon Brando to play a powerfully-made mafioso with a speech impenement.

But the script and lack of direction seem to suck all the potential out of him. He never seems to be truly there at all.

Nor does scholar and sometimes-actress Natalie Portman. I feel kinda guilty saying this and all, but I never truly believed her as a action movie heroine in "Episode I." She just lacks that spunk and fire.

You know, the kind that Carrie Fisher really had for almost every second she was on screen, especially when she shared scenes with Mr. Harrison Ford.

Portman simply can't do a Bidget Fonda or Pam Grier or Karen Allen. She's too sweet and vulnerable. Well, at least she seems more at home here. Although as sweet and beautiful as she is, there is no passion. Not in what she says or anything they do together.

They never seem to be in love so much as just sitting back practicing Shakesphere-style acting and mood for a theater performance.

It's nice to know good IL' Bobby Simone, yes--Jimmy Smits (Of TV's "L.A. Law" and NYPD Blue" fame) is still out there and plugging away as an actor. He gets a bit in here as a Jedi Master on the council.

The only action sequences of any interest throughout take place when a Sith and Jedi masters have a powerful duel which leads to further hate and anger.

The dark side is claiming more and more Jedi by the second.

And all this could've great for another great "Star Wars" classics.

But the movie is has no life or energy. It seems almost indifferent. Like Lucas didn't have his heart (or anything else in this one).

He basically just wanted to get this one out of the way. The only thing he had in this movie is his wallet.

This whole damn movie feels like something he had to just something mandatory he had to get out of the way so he could bridge episodes I and III and continue with the rest of the series.

With the others, you know the filmmakers are giving it everything they had.

Here... no one cares.

Not even Lucas.

Now that's a real tragic story.

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Howard The Duck (1986)

"Do bad movies go to hell? Or someplace worse?"

by dane youssef

Oh, Jesus...

What can possibly be said about this movie that hasn't already be said a thousand times? It almost seems redundant and tiresome to keep shooting such an already over-satirized target... though this movie took moments off my life I will never have back. I watched it simply to see what all the fuss was about.

I understand now...

Ughhhhhh....

Easy target as it may be, I must now express my contempt and hatred. After the severe deforming scar it left on my psyche, it's the very least of my

I actually lost seconds of my life as well, dear children. I actually feel like I'm suffering from motion sickness just THINKING about this movie...

Special FX Master George Lucas disowned this film. I know "Willow" wasn't great... and neither was "Radioland Murders" Or "Star Wars: Episode II"...

But here is a movie... that brings us all together... unifying us... in anger, disgust and hate... and annoyance...

Too stupid and lame to be fun and thought-provoking... takes itself too seriously to be campy fun (even by the standards of schlock '50's sci-fi/action movies--now some of THOSE are fun!) But with none of the charm, innocence, sweetness, much grosser, much raunchier... and special FX that even for their time, look cheesy and crummy. They borderline on rolling static.

Too poorly filmed and horribly shot and embarrassingly acted to a fun family movie, too awkward and straight-faced to even be unintentionally funny...

....and the bestiality thing with Thompson and the duck...

well, there's just NO genre for that, now is there?

This was not a good day for film. It's like a full-length version of "ALF...."

No, wait... I LIKED "Alf." I will not smear his legacy by associating it with this interplanetary bird-flu.

The fact that Howard knows a type of martial arts ("Quack Fu," as he calls it) is hurtfully unfunny.

And this came from Lucas, who's special FX company ILM is the finest on the planet? The effects are phony and ugly and hideous and horribly unconvincing... and that's the last thing we'd ever expect from George Lucas. The special effects look like they're from the '50's, like the very same surving production values from "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Including the acting and screenplay. It's like if Jar Jar Binks got his own starring movie... actually, that might have been better.

It's "all too easy" (to quote the great Darth Vader) to point out what a hideously mismade, tacky as can be blunder. One can go on and on about what a monumental waste of film, time, money and other precious human resources. Hell, look at all the time and effort Lucas' other company, Industrial Light & Magic put into this one. Why didn't they just set it all on fire and dump it all into a cesspool? Would've saved time and cut-out the middle-man.

This little piffle was written by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who are no strangers to Lucasfilm projects, having written several Lucas' projects ("American Graffiti," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Radioland Murders"). They're obviously favorites and friends of Lucas and clearly they wanted to make a special-effects sci-fi extravaganza of their own. And you have to love Lucas for giving them the shot.

But it's a disaster. Willard Hyuck has proved to be necessary and crucial script doctor polishing Lucas' stuff so he seems like a superhuman Greek god of film. But every film he's ever directed is not just bad, it becomes renown for being such a low point in cinema history.

His "catastrophes" include "Best Defense," "Dead People" and this steaming pile. (OK, I'll concede "French Postcards." Hell, I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day).

Kids love taking animal characters, paticularly muppets and the like. Their favorite are the traditional wise-cracking, pratfalling types. Well, I'm sorry to say that Howard lacks humor or charm really of any kind. Honestly, he lacks any kind of interest whatsoever.

Does anyone here remember the scene where Jeffrey Jones as the Dark Overlord in the biker bar... the final showdown where the demons may enter through the portal to our dimension... the scene where Howard brawls with the guy managing the group... all had me shaking my head in disbelief...

I know most of this goddammed review isn't exactly written in a deep, compelling way. But if the filmmakers didn't put any real interest (or much fun) into this one, how can anyone talking about it? Well, maybe at it's expense. That's the best thing you can do with a bad movie.

And for this one, the rolling credits over the musical montage concert at the end... didn't come soon enough.

Former accomplished ballerina-turned actress Lea Thompson has recovered from this abomination thankfully. Though I certainly have not.

It still haunts me...


danessf@yahoo.com

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Kissing A Fool (1999)

Formulaic romantic comedy meets dumb sitcom

by dane youssef

Now here is a movie that wants to be something successful by combining everything successful.

"Kissing A Fool" wants to be too many things. Can you mix successful ingredients and get the best of every world?

"Kissing" tries to be a '40's-style romantic comedy, a modern sex comedy and a sit-com at the same time.

Co-writer/Director Doug Ellin is a friend of David Schwimmer's and Schwimmer has gone on and on about exactly how great it feels to shed his Ross-image and play the complete anti-Ross.

Jason Lee stars as Jay Murphy, a sensitive nice guy who's a romance novelist and is recovering from his latest breakup with a model named Natasha (played by TV's "Weird Science" Vanessa Angel).

He has a sweet boy-next-door demeanor about him and his real problem is he's too nice and sensitive for his own good.

The worst part about being sensitive is that the world is so full of crap and garbage, people are such assholes that your feelings get hurt too often, too easy, too much. Better to be as cruel as the world or even more so and give worse than you get.

Believe me, I know of what I speak of.

David Schwimmer co-stars as Jay's best friend Max Abbitt, a sportscaster who's a womanizer who plays the field more than the teams reports on. A total creep and always with a dumb expression of his face, a self-satisfied drawl and his own cool-guy salutation: "What' up?" Always a toothpick and a "too cool" drawl dangling from his lip. He has many groupies and nails them all with much aplumb.

He is the prototypical quarterback of the high school football team and the alpha-male of the frat house.

Mili Avital is unfortunately given the second-to-weakest developed character in the whole film. She's sweet, perky and photogenic... but nothing else, really. She and Lee could have some great chemistry if only the film allowed it. But this movie is written in a way that's so made-to-order, it's embarrassing.

Bonnie Hunt plays the narrator that is publishing Lee's book. She's also the narrator. Why does this movie need a narrator?

The narration actually manages to make the movie EVEN LESS SUSPENSEFUL, if that's even possible.

And Vanessa Angel, who broke through in TV's "Weird Science" and almost stole "Kingpin," is given the least interesting character. She plays Natasha, a model and Jay's heartless ex-girlfriend who has dumped him and left him a pathetic neurotic mess.

Hers is not a character, but a plot device.

Angel herself has said in an interview that she was so pleased to play such a devilishly fun character.

I nearly choked when I read it. Yeah, her ass. I groaned at her scenes.

Can you even picture it? Why would these two have ever gotten together in the first place?

Unless the painfully obivous one--
the heartless bitch who is so cruel and horrible to the sweet-hearted hero so more of our sympathy goes to him.

We've seen this in a billion other movies ever since this genre exsisted. For all of the mindless, useless lemmings who need to be spoon-fed foul tripe and will fork over their hardly earned cash for this privilege.

Wait, are we?

You know, it's funny, but every single character in this movie... they all remind you of people you knew in high school. The whole universe seems to be set in high school politics.

And it reminds you why you were so damn eager to graduate and GET THE HELL OUT in the first place.

As for the movie's dialouge, well it's not always plot-driven or cutesy-poo, like most romantic comedies are (although sometimes it is).

Most of the script is written in an observational sit-com kind of way. Like "Seinfeld" or "Mad About You" (or yes, even "Friends"). But the dramatic/romantic scenes are embarrassingly maudlin.

Is it just me or is the entire cast of "Friends" been trying to mimic Kevin Smith?

* The Object of My Affection
* Kissing A Fool
* Three To Tango

Smith's groundbreaking romantic comedy "Chasing Amy" was revolutionary, insightful... and made big waves for Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Lee and Smith himself. A romantic comedy, a sex comedy and a relationship story.

Not merely a love story, but a life story.

Lately, Hollywood has been trying to make Smith-like slick Hollywood movies. So far, they failed terribly. Smith's movies are great because they are daring and avoid formulas. And they master the art of sparkling conversation. This film does neither.

Nor do any of the other Kevin Smith-wannabes.

Lee's character has been through the ringer and things are looking bleaker. I really liked him here and felt for him. And identified with him more than I wanted to.

I knew guys like Max in high school, but in the outside world? Who knows? I was kind of like the Lee character myself. In a way, I still am. Too sensitive. Too easily vulnerable. Such a whipping boy. I did understand what Jay meant when he said, "You know, I wish I had your heart. Then I wouldn't have spent so many sleepless nights...."

The plot seems cruel and creepy, yet too sit-com-like at the same time. "Test my fiancée''s fidelity?" Almost seems like a sick ploy to throw Jay & Samantha together, doesn't it?

Oh wait, it is...

Anyone who has ever seen a movie will know what the ending will be. It's almost like waiting for the coyote to fall off the cliff.

Schwimmer's Max Abbit character seems to dumb and dull and annoying to be interesting. He must be sick of playing the same type ("The Pallbearer," "Six Days, Seven Nights" and TV's "Friends"), but this movie will do nothing for him. Still, at least he tried.

I kept (back in 1999 when I first saw this movie) seeing a mad Ross trying to be bad whenever I looked at him, but now looking back on it and putting Ross out of my head (I really dislike the show anyway), Schwimmer does an effective job... however he doesn't really have dimensions and depth.

He's just not an interesting womanizer. Apparently, a lot of Schwimmer fans felt confused by his role here.

It feels like Schwimmer wants to play someone completely different without risking losing his hard-core audience.

Schwimmer does do a much better job breaking typecasting in the forgettable "Since You've Been Gone" and the memorable "Band of Brothers."

MEMO TO Hollywood: If you're gonna keep making bad Kevin Smith-knockoffs, at lest quit putting "Friends" actors in them.

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Just A Kiss (2002)

"An ambitious, inventive and intriguing.... misfire"

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

"Rocky" and "Good Will Hunting" are the best of examples of what happens when out-of-work actors write.

In these situations, they can write themselves work. And with some talent, some and a little luck, these unemployable actors are never unemployed again.

Nervous nebbish actor Patrick Breen wrote this experimental WAY Off-Off broadway (so far off, I believe it didn't play in halfway houses) play "Just A Kiss" about how one single event can completely can change not just the lives of the kissers and their significant others, but people outside their little circles.

A whole chain reaction. One kiss. Between two people who shouldn't be kissing. And then hell breaks loose. Not just the kissers and their significant others. But people outside the circle as well.

A promising idea even though we have seen it before. One person and one desicion. That's all it takes.

Oddball character actor Fisher Stevens is a friend and collaborator of Breen's and makes his directorial debut with this experimental film and the often-dubbed "character actor" does some experimental character direction here with this one.

Perhaps the film is trying to be too many things at once.

Maybe the real problem with "Just A Kiss" is it takes too many targets. Social commentary on love, life and relationships (especially in NYC). A black comedy. An experiment. A drama. A dramedy, perhaps? And if that's not enough, the movie tries too hard to be "hip" and "stylish" and "ground-breaking" with it's technique.

"JAK," which could probably be best described as an "Anti-romantic comedy." What bothers me the most is that it's not a succesful one. But boy, it sure could have been.

Dag (named after a former U.N. secreatry, who's a real dog) is a commercial director who's dating Halley (a woman who saved his life) and living with her.

He's unfaithful quite frequently and seems to be prone to having flings with some of Manhattan's more mentally ill chicks. It's a shame Dag can't be faithful to Halley because she's the sanest woman he can come across.

Maybe it could have had it been... less ambitious? That's not the right attitude. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Should we HATE everybody for trying?

His friend Peter, a commercial actor (who also wrote this film) is having relationship trouble with his mentally unbalanced ballerina girlfriend who has a steady habit of cheating on him with everybody, she also has a married man named Andre (Taye Diggs) who comes over to sleep with her regularly and HE winds up having sex with Halley and bcomes her boyfriend. Peter has a quick one with Colleen, Andre's wife.

And... people start dropping and dying pretty quickly. Couples couple up with other people and the body count rises as people kill themselves or each other.

But now the problems with the movie: A lot has been made about the film's use of rotoscoping. An animation technique that was a favorite (and perhaps partially invented) of X-rated adult animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi. His "adult" cartoons often blended animation with live-action. This movie does the same.

Except with a live-action cast who only "occassionally" animate and do things that are glossed with cartoon frosting.

Why does this movie employ rotomation? Perhaps because the characters are cartoon characters themselves. They're so overplayed in a big, broad slapstick sort of way. Imagine Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny sitting around doing Neil LaBute or Todd Solondz material. It can be cute. For a few seconds. Maybe it's a metephor. Maybe it's supposed to mean this movie is more of a metephor than commentary. Or maybe it's just supposed to be stylish and hip.

But it just doesn't work here, pure and simple.

That is not to say ALL the rotoscoping in the movie is a bad idea. The intro in the title sequence is pretty great. But it just makes the rest of the badness so much more clear.

We hear Dag telling a story where he and Peter are in the back of a cab and speeding through NYC. We see rotomation at work outside illuminating the already-lit Manhattan after-hours club scene. Inside, everything is hopping... and litterally glowing. So are a lot of the people. A woman with a slavic accent screams at a man in a Porsche and makes death threats.

Dag moves towards her as the Porsche drives away. Onlookers think it's a bad idea. Who cares? She's vunerable.

They have passionante animal sex (complete with rotomation highlighting visuals). The morning after they wake up. She turns out to not have an accent. She's American. She sobs, I'm engaged! Dag just decides they should just forget last night, get her things and show her out the door.

Oh, she's crazy. Right before she takes that step out, she smiles and says (in a NEW accent), "She does this kind of s*** all the time." And we see her eye turn a frightening color. She's got multiple-crazy. This is a nice touch. Good little montage there, Steve.

But unfortunatly, this isn't a movie where they're satisfied with the little touches.

I love how diabolical the soundtrack is. This music is truly inspired. And kind of fitting for this movie, I guess. The thing how the movie is that it's so promising, it plays out like a notebook of theories and ideas by a first-year philsophy major.

The cast is great and than more able to play these characters. But the movie is directed like it's farce and slapstick when it's supposed to be serious. It moves at the pace and is styled like an MTV music video--which is all wrong for this material.

One bright spark is Marisa Tomei. Ever since "My Cousin Vinny," she's been typecast into playing that one role. The sexy, sassy and quick-tempered girlfriend who's kind of the whole point-of-sanity for her hair-trigger, on-the-edge boyfriend.

She got the Oscar for the role. Ever since, she has never been allowed to play another role. But in this movie, she has been granted the opportunity.

She plays a mentally unstable and potentially homicidal waitress. She makes small talk with Dag, plays his confidant. She reads fortunes in rings left by cold beer bottles. She reads his. He needs a one-night stand to help him to forget. She throws herself at him. "Leave your number." He does. This only makes things worse in a way I can't quite reveal here.

There's one potentially funny "Seinfeld-ian" moment as Peter makes a cellular call on a plane right before landing. The radio transmission interfears with the control tower. The plane breaks in half and passengers die. Now that really made me laugh.

The tourist class (business and coach) all die horribly whereas the first class skitter across the runway and land safely close to the gates. No here is an inspired bit. With a director able to juggle multiple tones a little better, this could've been a success.

But the actual final product plays out like an exercise or a list or experimentation of different cinematic styles. Which, actually, I guess, it is. Steven has always been a character actor, and now he's a character director. Let's hop his next character is at least somewhat better.

Lets also hope their next collaboration is better. Hell, it'll be easy to top this one. "Just A Kiss"... just doesn't work.

Better luck next time, guys.

Submitted via our Submit A Review page.

In Bruges (2008)

Benjamin Wood
walrusgod movie reviews
http://www.walrusgod.com

The dark comedy is a difficult genre to get right. Make it too dark, and it fails to be funny and even supposedly humorous moments are amazingly uncomfortable (The Weather Man), while if you make it too funny, the dark moments seem to undermine the humor and actually work against the movie (The Meaning of Life). Fortunately, In Bruges manages to balance the comedy and darkness in a way that's both shocking and enjoyable.

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), two hitmen, have been banished to the medieval town of Bruges by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), after a hit gone wrong. Ken, armed with tour guides and a zest for something new, is willing to take the trip in stride. Ray, however, is immediately turned off by Bruges' lack of modern amenities, and spends most of his time complaining or making fun of the locals (as well as other tourists).

While a story about hitmen, or more specifically a botched assassination, is not new, the way in which In Bruges is presented is. Martin McDonagh, a theater writer known for his caustic sense of humor and no-holds-barred strategy at writing, infuses the dark story of In Bruges with ample doses of politically incorrect jokes. In the first ten minutes, Ray claims, "If I'd grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn't, so it doesn't," and then proceeds in the next couple minutes to insult a group of overweight American tourists, claiming that they can't go on a tower tour because they won't fit up the stairs. Throughout the movie, jokes abound about fat people, "midgets," black people, gay people, people from Bruges, tourists, and just about anyone else that can possibly be thought of. In many circumstances, I would've just gotten up and walked out, but In Bruges manages to paint the crass nature of the jokes in contrast with the characters behind the jokes (mainly Ray and Harry), and tries to show that it is not necessarily maliciousness that creates these jokes, but rather an ignorance about things outside of their own experience.

The subject matter is not the only possibly controversial part of In Bruges. The profanity is plentiful (Ralph Fiennes' character, who only has a major part in the last third of the movie, probably says the word "fuck" over a hundred times), and the violence is fairly graphic in a couple parts of the movie. It's not the profanity of the crassness that ultimately retracts somewhat from the movie, but rather the way the story is put together. On their own, most of the movies' scenes are strong, but sometimes you just have to wonder "Why was that there?" Case in point is a prolonged scene revolving around Ray, Ken, a "dwarf" (don't you dare call him a "midget") named Jimmy, and a couple of prostitutes. Although the scene is funny and disturbing (Jimmy describes in cocaine-fueled detail a war that will soon happen between the "blacks" and the "whites"), but other than revealing the characters' general lack of inhibitions (and Ken's growing annoyance with Ray and the kind of people he hangs out with), the scene seems disconnected from the rest of the movie. The humor, at times, just seems tacked on to liven up otherwise slow sections of the story.

This decision to spice up some areas of the story is a shame, for the humor probably would've been more effective and, in the end, more shocking had it been used sparingly. As is, by the time you reach the amazingly dark ending, your mind has been on such a rollercoaster of humor and darkness that it's tough to fully comprehend whether the movie you've just seen is brilliant or utter shit. Unfortunately, In Bruges' inability to seamlessly integrate it's comedy and it's darkness ultimately means that it's rather somewhere in between.

Submitted via our Submit A Review page.

Vagina Monologues (1996)

Fascinating... yet disgusting.

by dane youssef

"The Vagina Monologues" is something that was inevitable. And essential to it's target audience. Or should I say, it's "built-in audience?" A built-in audience which makes up more than half the population on this planet.

One thing I could not understand for the life of me...

Now keep in mind...

I understood why so many women got into it. I understood why it was a big hit, even the foundation for a revolution. And I understood why the thing eventually This thing won an Obie for Best New Play. Why? This is NOT a play. This is nothing like a play. It's a bunch of, well... vagina monologues. Jokes and stories about... "the smell," jokes and stories about sex, bleeding and whatnot. The vagina is an opening to the woman herself.

Not merely her body, but who she truly is as a person. An opening into another whole world... her world. I couldn't finish it cause I got too creeped out by what was going on. Yeeesh. I told my sister Brie about some of it and what I was reading and she was horrified. "That's sick! I don't wanna hear about any of that nasty stuff!"

Hey, she was right. This is the kind of thing that is for women who are comfortable with their... you know.

"TVM" contains... well, exactly what the title promises. Musings, insights, poetry... even stories of sex, rape and abortion. All deep links as to... what's going on "down there." And how it connects... to everything else around.

Most guys would rather hear a group of women talking about their monthly... you know... than hear this.

I recommend this for women... who want to hear touching female stories and experiences. But not for any guy. Anywhere. Ever. It's "The Vagina Monologues." You know what to expect. You know if you're the audience.

You know who you are.

NOTE: I HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE. BUT I HAVE READ THE PUBLISHED WRITINGS FROM COVER-TO-COVER. THIS IS A REVIEW ENTIRELY BASED ON THE WRITTEN TEXT. AND SINCE THIS IS REALLY JUST A WOMAN READING STUFF OFF A PAGE, I BELIEVE THAT IT WOULD BE APPROPRIATE TO WRITE A REVIEW JUDGED BY READING THE PAGE MYSELF.

Submitted via our Submit A Review page.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Happiness

The pursuit of... but never the actual...

by dane youssef

Contributed via our Submit A Movie Review page.

The writer/director of this one is Todd Solondz, so you all know what to expect. For those who saw his heavily acclaimed (by critics and audiences alike) "Welcome To The Dollhouse" a movie about the hell almighty on earth that is junior high school.

I was not one of the film's many admirers. Yes, I felt like just about everybody else that the film did have some poignant truths, but... I pretty much already knew them all. It all felt kinda redundant.

I was in high school at the time and every scene I was watching, I thought, "Yeah, no shit" and "God, these people are either ass-holes and idiots." I mean, I know it's supposed to be a satire, but I felt too much like I was watching what I already knew and thought and what has been said too many times before.

His next film, "Happiness" about three sisters and their lives... and how adulthood is more or less as mentally unbalanced as junior high school. About three sisters and how their lives aren't as well-adjusted as they seem. Actually, the sisters are just the core of the storyline.

The seemingly ideal perfect sister is dry, secretly dull and lives such a sterile life that when an obscene caller gives her an obscene call... and she likes the idea of what he says so much... that she starts stalking him. Guess she hasn't done much slumming in her life.

Just thought you'd all like to know what you're getting into.

The best line in the movie "Happiness"... that almost encapsulates the entire film:

Helen Jordan: "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you."

Joy Jordan: "But I'm not laughing."

I preferred "Happiness" to "Dollhouse," perhaps because "Happiness" illuminated a side of the more well-behaved supposed "perfect ideal" middle-class suburban lifestyle. It's sort of like a more pessimistic and repulsive "Hannah and Her Sisters"--- it deals wit three sisters and their lives and the misery in which they have to deal with in their lives.

It satirically attacks that supposed ideal upper-middle white class which seem successful and ideal... and peel back the layer and reveal how closeted, emotionally deformed and miserable they truly are.

(Spoilers here, brace yourself)

The pedophile material about the father who molests his son's best friend at a sleepover is really going to get under people's skin and make them gasp.

Bill (the father who's also a child psychiatrist, for probably the nature of his obsession) wonders about his own son's sexuality, but his is really the dangerous one. The father-son material is Solondz risqué-satire as it's absolute best. It's sad the movie bombed theatrically (mostly because the pedophile material got the movie an NC-17. So the movie was released with no rating at all).

As much shit as the Garden State takes for all the pollution and being a total lifeless bore next to the Big Apple, maybe if the town hadn't bore Bruce Springstein and Bon Von Jovi, it wouldn't be such a place to look down on.

Solondz is fascinated and obsessed with the darker and more quiet secrets that fester from behind those white-suburban doors. He's from Jersey, from that class of neighborhood that he lampoons so often and so well.

Here is the one man from Jersey who dares to make something of himself. I know, I know, I know. It's such an easy target, Jersey. Hell, even NY makes fun of Jersey. Nobody gives it respect--except Kevin Smith.

He's the only one who shows his town some love. Not many filmmakers come out of Jersey. Now Jersey can proudly claim Solondz and Smith.

As of right now, Jersey has officially redeemed itself for Bon Von Jovi and Bruce Springstein. So sayeth Dane Youssef, so be it.

CLOSING NOTE: This movie contains frank sexual talk, coarse dialouge, and molestation (taking place off-screen) and some serious emotional abuse. I really enjoyed it. I strongly recommend it. But you should all really know what you're getting into.

The movie originally got an NC-17 rating. It has not been edited. Solondz simply released it with no rating at all. You have all been warned.

Gods and Generals

Like a history lesson. But not as informative...

by dane youssef

Contributed via our Submit A Movie Review page.

Many sequels suffer from repeating and rehashing the majority of the material from the original. Some suffer from not being enough like the original. Some are lucky and...

Sometimes movies are bad because they are simply moving at a slow pace with little to no interest or substance. Sometimes sequels just have too much to live up to.

This is an example of just about every bad quality I've mentioned. It doesn't outright stink and suck, nor does it leave you cross-eyed with perplextion or indifference, either. But it doesn't really inspire any paticular feelings for you at all, really. Positive or negative.

"Gods and Generals" is a movie that might be perfect for recovering war veterans in trauma wards. A movie that moves on a quiet, comatose pace. "Gods and Generals," a prequel to the famed and magnificent "Gettysburg" has little or no energy. Everyone just appears to be back to set things up for "Gettysburg."

This whole movie is a 2 1/2 hour set-up for a punchline we've already seen---with nothing happening or really going on here.

Oh, I'm not saying it's horribly made. It's put together with skill---the whole look and sound of the civil war. It might be the kind of movie that would be shown in a history class.

It's complete with big-name actors like Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall in full civil war garb and giving famous and poetic quotes as if they're striking a pose. They appear to be posing throughout the entire movie. It's a civil war re-enactment.

But they're just goofin' like any other group of men doing a civil war re-enactment.

There is one real battle sequence where everybody lines up and charges to die and to kill. The body count begins to pile up---like ANY war movie worth it's salt should.... but it doesn't capture the true stink and ugliness of war in a "Saving Private Ryan" or "Braveheart" sort of way, or even the original "Gettysburg."

Perhaps because all those were R-rated movies and this movie doesn't want to lose it's PG-13 movie, it's more about poetic stories and makes the civil war a backdrop for all this.

At least in my opinion, the actual problem with the fact this movie runs at the pace of a comatose snail. Still waters run deep? Not here.

The movie moves so slowly at times that these people seem to have started the civil war simply out of sheer boredom and so they could say thing that would become historic. This is part I to a III-part series ("Gettysburg" was part II). I look foreword to the next in the series.

"Gods and Generals" all felt like set-up where "Gettysburg" delivered the actual punchline. I hope the final in the series (these are all adapted from books) doesn't just tie up loose ends.

Let's all hope, shall we?

On the film scale--every scale--"GODS AND GENERALS" rates as two stars out of four, 3.5 out of 10, a dozing viewer in his seat (that's the rating system from the Chicago Examiner"). Eh...

SPECIAL NOTE HERE: Matt Letscher, a really good actor ("Gettysburg," TV's "Good Morning, Miami" and "The Mask of Zorro") at least is given more to do than his nameless and bit character in the original movie--but it's still just not a good movie, I'm afraid.

Joe The King

Whaley attempts therapy onscreen

by dane youssef

Contributed via our Submit A Movie Review page.

Frank Whaley's "Joe The King" has been called by the filmmaker himself "semi-autobiographical." And such a story about so much pain and misery just makes to almost want to see it just to see how thie guy got where he is today.

It so damn downbeat, you have to ask yourself, "How does all this turn out? This poor little guy... Is there a happy ending?"

Like a lot of actor-helmed vehicles, this one is loaded with big name walk-ons. They work, but at the same time, they disapoint. None of these characters are on the screen enough to make enough of an impact.

"Joe The King" is chock-full of trite and truths to life--the lead that seems to be born into the hard-luck life, the abusive, alcoholic loser father, the weak-willed, weak-spirited, whimpering mother who doesn't care if her husband pounds on her kids as long as he doesn't pound on her, the guidance counselor who's all thumbs--aren't they all? Not just a cliche' in movies, but what guidance counselor has ever been worth in damn in life? Was yours?

There is a moment where it is "Careers Day" in an elementry class where it is revealed that Joe's dad is the janitor. He is ridiculed an lashes out (very mildly) at an obnoxious litle teacher's pet and the Dickensian teacher drags Joe and spanks him in front of the entire class. The knife is further pushed and twisted when she makes the whole thing personal by muttering angrily so he can hear, "Just like your father..."

Whaley is clearly dealing with old wounds and knows how to use them so they feel fresh and make you cringe (or worse, relate).

The movie is full of downbeat moments and times where life shows it's ugly face. It seems as if God is very skillfully finding ways to torture Joe... and then skewering it further in smaller ways. In a moment of desperation, Joe attempts to do what his parents can't seem to... save the day.

Joe is not only starving, he descends into petty theft. Then takes it even further. He attempts to dodge his father's outbursts and reach out to his brother, who is trying to eke his way into the "in-crowd" and doesn't want Joe's jinx streak to rub off on him, even to the point of at one point getting out of bed and going to go sleep the closet to get away from his brother's sad vibes.

But "Joe The King" is not just one long crying jag. There is humor, sweetness and tenderness. People may differ about the nature of the ending, but in the strangest, saddest way, it offers some hope.

The children swear in the tradition of "Stand By Me," the child-abuse or disregard in the tradition of "Radio Flyer" and the atmosphere is reminsent of many other films about working-class life. Unlike "That '70's Show" or "Detroit Rock City" or "Dick," this movie doesn't feel like it belongs solely in the era. It takes place in the 1970's to be sure, but a story like this feels timeless.

Lead actor/title character Noah Fleiss gives on the the best performances he's probably ever given, although how many movies has he really made? And how many of them really have allowed him to shine? This is definately the one.

Val Kilmer gives a just plain awesome turn as Bob, Joe's stinking, deadbeat drunk of a dad who's one of the biggest problems in Joe's life. He owes money to more than half the town. He dodges his creditors like bullets, drinks himself into a pathetic stupor and lashes out monstrously at his family.

Kilmer, known for playing dazzling roles and pretty-boy parts, puts on a great deal of weight and shows nastier edges that he has since "The Doors."

Since writer/director Whaley and Kilmer first worked together in that film, Whaley obviously saw how powerfully Kilmer could play a violent sadist, always under the influence of drugs. Kilmer has had trouble getting working because he's so damn dificult to work with, so the two were clearly doing each other favors. Another pal of Whaley's, Ethan Hawke plays a friendly, but utterly useless guidance counselor who hopes to get Joe out of his slump at school. And because it's Joe, he makes things a lot worse.

Karen Young is adequate in a brief supporting part as Joe's mother. And hispanic wunderkind John Leguizamo, a natural comedic talent, takes a more dramatic turn here as a flamboyant busboy in an extended cameo at the local rathole diner where Joe is working illegally. When the ***** hits the fan and Joe is at the center of it, it doesn't really come as a surprise that he's the only one who knew all along.

Whaley seems to capture the flavor for this kind of working class life and he seems to bring out the best in child actors, as well as his more distinguished adult friends and peers. He also sends us back to the era without hitting us hard with period music on the soundtrack from the day.

I myself was kind of surprised that this screenplay won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (along with Audrey Well's "Guinevere"). The Open Palm nomination for the film itself, that, I can see. The dialouge is altogether realistic, without being nessicarily sharp or too memorable. And the characters are believable without being too fresh.

Writer/director Whaley does an effective job of capturing the atmosphere of this Upstate New York working-class life and bring out the best in child actors and his big-name celebrity walk-throughs.

Whaley has said that much of the story is inspired by the childhood of himself and his older brother, Robert Whaley, who is featured on the soundtrack and has a bit part.

Good ol' Frank himself also has a directors cameo walk-on as one of many who the deadbeat Bob owes money to. He makes a personal house call, and he seems madder than the others Bob owes money to. He acts as a professional collector--the leg-breaking kind. He seems ready to kill Bob and after it's over, the sins of the father are, once again, visited on the son.

So this is the Whaley E! True Hollywood story. More or less.

There is a painful sadness that runs all throughout "Joe The King," and when you look at Frank Whaley, the roles he's taking on and heard him just talk as himself, you kind of see there's something here that Whaley has in him which he brings to his roles.

Whaley deserves extra kudos for getting as far as he did after being dealt such a bad hand. A backhand, even. What of Joe? What of his friends, family, enemies, acquaintences? If you drink in this one, you can't help but wonder...
"Joe The King" doesn't break any new ground whatsoever. But this is a slice-of-life film, and while technology, trends, art, ideas and ideals are constantly changing, some things remain trite and true no matter what era or part of the universe you're living in.

Whaley chooses some appropriate music for his movie and some nice visuals.

"Joe The King" is kind of an acquired taste, like many coming-of-age stories. It's more of a confessional than anything else.

If you've lived a life somewhat like this, or in this part of the world or in this enviorment remotely, you'll understand...

North

Contributed via our Submit A Movie Review page.

Here is a movie so wrong-headed, wrong-hearted, wrong-made... so worng, you'd think the old axiom of a broken clock that's right twice a day would prove. But nope. It doesn't. Not by a long shot.

One of my most depressing experiences as a child was seeing Rob Reiner's "North." In fact, as extensive internet research has shown me, it was a painful experience for many as children and stayed with him throughout adulthood.

One of the worst movies of the year. One of the worst movies of the decade. One of the worst movies ever made. One of the worst ever. And when I say "worst", I'm comparing it to thinks like the Black Plague, the Holocaust, World Hunger, AIDS and Leperocy.

Elijah Wood is a wonderboy who is constantly ignored by his parents despite his best intentions and efforts that make most parents beam like the sun with pride. He spends a lot of time feeling ignored and sits in a chair in a furniture store at the mall to think. He decides he deserves better parents than the ones he's got (who doesn't?) and divorces them.

His folks are comatose from shock, but who cares? He's already in search of better ones.

He travels all over the globe and finds surrogate folks which are not right for him. Not loving, caring, nuturing... or very funny or interesting.

His best friend from school is enthusiastic about the divorce and gets the word out to all parents that children deserve better and thing better change or else.

I was actually in physical pain watching how badly the film's plot is handled.

While it is a thrill to see Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus together as a married couple and action legend Bruce Willis in an easter bunny suit... believe me, it doesn't last. The bad outweighs the good. Oh, HOW the bad outweights the good.

The big-name celebrity bit-players are many: Dan Aykroyd, Reba McEntire, Jon Lovitz, Bruce Willis, Graham Greene, Abe Vigoda, Richard Belzer, Ben Stein, Alexander Godunov, Kelly McGillis, John Ritter, Scarlett Johansson, Lauren Tom and Alan Arkin. Films with a big-name cast doing walk-ons is kind of tricky. Often this leads to a bunch of actors embarassing themselves in bit throwaway roles for a quickie paycheck and "the sake of work." It all really depends on the film itself--the screenplay and the director.

When a film with such a high pedigree of actors and filmmaker, Mr. Rob Reiner, you have to wonder why this whole damn thing went so incredibly wrong. And then kept going. And going and going. I am reminded of the legendary quote, "Only those who dare to fail greatly, can achieve greatly." And just about all who flaunt this picture have achieved greatly at one time or another. So... there you go. The ying to the yang.

The result can be "Traffic" or "Gosford Park." And the result can be "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" of "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas."

You know, it's funny. When I first saw the trailer for "North," I thought to myself, "Wow. This looks like a good movie. I'm gonna see this one." And yes, the trailer damn well made this look like a good one. It just goes to show you... advertisements can make anything look appealing. Hey, remember "Babe: Pig In The City?" The ads didn't make the movie look like much. But the movie was... wow.

Hey, come to think of it-- I would like to advise to everyone who was unfortunate enough to see any more of this one that what they used for the trailers (so much as a frame more) to go out and rent "Babe II." It's an ideal antidote.

Of course, you may need a few days of bedrest and antibiotics right after seeing "North," but after that... please... don't let this one put you off movies. Or any of the truly gifted people who were associated with this abomination.

Wood is one of the most talented actors ever to grace the business and the man seems unable to do a bad job onscreen. Just check out "Radio Flyer" or " for evidence. But hey, like I need to tell you, right?

But while his acting is on-par with Brando, Guiness, Hopkins and Kilmer, not every movie to come his way compliments his talents. Just after the disasterous misfire "The Good Son," this one floated it's way into theatres like a chunky, nutty, crooked turd after a whole year of improper diet. Adding further insult to injury.

It is perplexing--to the point of going cross-eyed and your whole head exploding "Scanners"-style--trying to figure out what in God's name the filmmakers were thinking.

Seriously, I actually picture Jesus H. Christ himself on the cross, thinking to himself, "I died for this... ? If I'd known, I wouldn't have botherered."

We all make mistakes, even collosal ones. Even the best of us.

Hell, especially the best of us!

Walt Disney was an anti-Semite. L. Ron Hubbard was a pedophile. R. Crumb is a racist and misogynistic sychophant. And I myself...

Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. Honestly, avoid this one about as much as you hepititis A-through-Z. A sulfur plant leaves he auroma of an autumn meadow perfume compared to this one.

In summary, "North" is a childhood trauma that refuses to be repressed. For many, including myself. Don't let it be yours.

Still, we are all mortal. We are all human. We all make mistakes, we stumble, we falter.

No one of us are infallable. Rob Reiner has delivered us "When Harry Met Sally," "The Sure Thing," "This Is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride" and "The American President." Surely, we can forgive "North." Can't we?

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly."

And Reiner has clearly done both. Let us at this as one of humanity's greatest follies... and try to find laughter in it. Not at the movie itself, which is clearly impossible, but at the movie's expense.

Like many Jewish comedians have done with WWII, the Holocaust and the years of slavery they were subjected to in Egypt, this is just one more thing we have to learn to laugh at. Not with, AT.

OK, Mr. Reiner. You are officially forgiven. Good luck... and let's hope another abomination like this isn't in the works.

Peace...

Coonskin

Don't let the title throw you. This is one to see.

by dane youssef

Contributed via our Submit A Movie Review page.

"Coonskin" is film, by the one and only Ralph Bakshi, is reportedly a satricial indictment of blaxploitation films and negative black stereotypes, as well as a look at life black in modern America (modern for the day, I mean--1975). Paramount dropped it like a hot potato that just burst into flame.

But this is a Bakshi film, contraversal, thrilling, and a must-see almost by definition alone. Not just another random "shock-jock" of a movie which tries to shock for the sake of shock. It's by Ralph Bakshi. Anyone who knows the name knows that if HE made a movie, he has something big to say...

Although it's roots are based in cheap blaxploitation, "Coonskin" isn't just another campy knock-off of mainstream white film or any kind of throwaway flick. "Coonskin" wants to be more. It aims it's sights higher and fries some much bigger fish.

The movie doesn't just poke fun at the genre. Nor does it just indict black people, but actually seems to show love, beauty and heart in the strangest places.

"Coonskin" tells a story out of some convicts awaiting a jail-break. The fact that it's even possible to break out of a prison in the "Coonskin" world alone makes it old-fashioned.

One of the inmates tells a story about a trio of black brothers in Harlem named Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, Preacher Fox who want respect and a piece of the action and are willing to get it by any means nessicary. The Itallian mob is running all the real action.

Big name black musicians star: Barry White and Scatman Crothers, as well as Charles Gordone, the first black playwright to take home the Pulitzer. Something big is happening here obviously.

The movie plays out like a descent into this world, this side of the racial divide. From an angry, hip, deep, soulfull black man with a hate in his heart and a gun in his hand.

Bakshi's films never know the meaning of the word "sublety." This one looks like it's never even heard of the word. But maybe a subject like this needs extremism. Real sledgehammer satire. Some subjects can't be tackled gently.

Bakshi is goddammed mercilless. Here, no member or minority of the Harlem scene appears unscathed.

The characters here are "animated" to "real" all depending on what the mood and situation are. The animated characters and the human ones all share the same reality and are meant to be taken just as literally.

Bakshi never just shows ugly caricatures just for shock value. He always has something to say. Nor is blackface is gratutiously. Here, unlike in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," he seems to be using it to try and really say something.

Like 99.9% of all of Bakshi's films, this one incorporates animation and live-action. Usually at the same time. Bakshki isn't just being gimmicky here. All of this technique is all intertwined, meshing together while saying something.

Somehow, this one feels ineviably dated. Many of these types of films (Bakshi's included) are very topical, very spur of the moment. They reflect the certain trend for the day, but looking back of them years later, there's just an unmistakeable feeling of nostalgia (as well as timeless truth).

Even though the music, clothes, slang and the city clearly looks like photos that belong in a time capsule, the attitude, the spirit and the heart remain the same no matter what f--king ear it is. Anyone who's really seen the movies, the state of things and has been in company of the people know what I'm talking about.

Even some of the of the black characters are a bunny (junglebunny), a big ol' bear and a fox. One of the most sour and unsavory racist characters is a dirty Harlem cop who's hot on the trail of these "dirty niggers" after the death of a cop. But for him, it's not just business. Nor is it for the rest of the brothers who wear the shield. It's just pure sadistic racist pleasure of hurting blacks.

The sequence involving the Godfather and his lady is one of the most moving pieces in the whole film, of which there are many. It plays out like an opera or a ballet.

The promo line: WARNING: "This film offends everybody!" This is not just hype. Proceed with extreme caution.

You have been warned...