Thursday, August 28, 2003

Forgive me for the lack of updates, but the past few weeks have been rather strange. After struggling through a power outage, flat tires, a cold, and the DVD release of Bowling for Columbine (review now posted!), I'm ready to give this site some attention once again.

A few brief notes before it's time to either shuffle into work or call in sick and head for bed: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is just as good on DVD as it was in the theater; the pacing seems much smoother on the small screen, but the grand scope of some of the action scenes is lessened just a bit. My favorite moment is still just as awe-inspiring as it was on the big screen: Grima Wormtongue, moved to tears by the shear awesomness of Sauruman's army. I love that part.... I saw Seabiscuit: blech. Call it **1/2. It wasn't bad, but it was bland apart from the exciting racing sequences. And what was with the PBS narrator?.... Jonny Depp will be playing Willy Wonka in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, to be directed by Tim Burton. I have no idea how to feel about this -- Depp is good, yes, but I'm no Tim Burton fan (blasphemy, I know).

And that's it. I'll be back tomorrow with a whole bunch of capsule reviews of a month's worth of video rentals.

You're even dumber than you think I think you are.

Back to the Future II

You know, I really remember enjoying this one a hell of a lot more when it was originally released. Maybe its reliance on retreading (literally) the events of the first Back to the Future turned me off a lot more this time; maybe I caught the ludicrous and enormous plot holes and that derailed my enjoyment. Either way, Back to the Future II is a supreme disappointment. The plot is far too complex to get into here (a trip to the future to correct damage farther into the future wrecks havoc on the past and thus screws up the present and makes the entire movie theoretically impossible... essentially), and that's part of the problem -- the beautiful simplicity of the first film is lost under unnecessary plot complications. In fact, at one point, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, as himself) has to pull out a chalkboard and draw diagrams to explain everything to Marty (Michael J. Fox) and the audience. And it all leads up to a cheap-ass "To Be Concluded" non-ending and a trailer for Back to the Future III (a movie I remember liking less than this one, which is why I haven't picked that one up yet). The film's only real achievement is a technical one -- camera technology advancements allowed Fox to play three different characters on screen at once fairly seamlessly. But it's only for a scene or two, and none of the characters are very interesting anyway. If you do decide to watch this one, watch out for Elijah Wood's very first film role at a 80's diner in the future.

Rating: *

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Life of David Gale

There are no fewer than four films featuring Kevin Spacey on my Essentials list, two in the top ten. During the period of my life when it became clear to me that I wanted to be a filmmaker, Spacey churned out incredible performance after incredible performance -- L.A. Confidential, The Big Kahuna, and, of course, his Oscar-winning turn in American Beauty. I watched Spacey bring the house down on Inside the Actor's Studio, and kill in the "Star Wars Auditions" sketch on Saturday Night Live. He was my favorite actor.

But something happened after that second Oscar. Something about his melodramatic role in Pay It Forward made me worry long before that film torpedoed itself into the garbage. The Shipping News? Kevin, you have two Oscars already, you don't need to mine for more. K-PAX? This is a joke, right? Where the hell was Verbal Kint? Lester Burnham? What happened?

I saw the trailer for The Life of David Gale, and didn't want to see it. Never mind that Alan Parker (director of such diverse films as Angela's Ashes and Pink Floyd: The Wall) was behind the camera. And never mind Spacey. I had given up. But something compelled me. Maybe Spacey deserved another chance. So I caved.

I've got good news and bad news. The bad news: The Life of David Gale is an embarassing disaster, and one of the most intellectually offensive films I've seen in a while. The good news: it's not Spacey's fault.

In New York, reporter Bitsey (?) Bloom (Kate Winslet) is coming off a well-publicized jail term for refusing to reveal her sources in a story about kiddie porn. Her integrity under fire has earned her a special assignment: head down to Texas and interview death row inmate David Gale (Spacey), sentenced to die in three days for the rape and murder of his friend and colleague, Constance Harroway (Laura Linney). It seems Gale and Harroway were both high-ranking officials for DeathWatch, an anti-death penalty group, and both very outspoken death penalty abolitionists. Gale has never given an interview before now, and specifically requests Bitsey for the job. And even though "Dammit, you know I work alone," Bitsey is assigned an intern, Zack (Gabriel Mann), to help her work out the various plot twists. They end up in a rental car with a flashing "overheating" light, which would be inexcusably obvious foreshadowing if a brief flash-forward at the start of the film didn't spoil that suspense for us.

Right off the bat, the script (Charles Randolph's first) is downright embarrassing in its liberal bias. Zack says things like "Ninety percent of all serial killers vote Republican." Bitsey talks about Gale's guilt with such conviction that her eventual change of heart is hardly a surprise. And things get no better once we meet Gale: he tells Bitsey at their first meeting, "No one looks through that glass and sees a person. They see a crime." The guards at the prison are heartless bullies who scream at Gale for standing and refuse to turn the volume down on the speakers. Now I'm the last person to stand up for the conservatives, but jeez.

At its heart, the movie is a standard investigative thriller -- Gale proclaims his innocence, and pieces of information pop up that may support his side of the story. There's a videotape of the crime that may or may not exist, and of course a Mysterious Stalker following Bitsey and Zack around -- a cowboy who listens to opera tails them in a pickup truck (headlights off, but they still manage to spot him every time). There are a few odd touches I like -- the goth chick that's moved into the house where the murder occurred and turned it into a macabre museum, complete with guided tour and a complimentary photo pack -- but there's not much here you've never seen before.

If there's anything to keep you awake through the thriller portions of Gale, it's Spacey, who turns in his best performance since...well, since American Beauty. Gale is a man who knows he's made mistakes -- he cheated on his wife with a student (which resulted in a bogus rape charge), he's an alcoholic, he's an egotistical glory hound -- and is saddened that he's unable to atone for them. In Spacey's hands, he's both angry and amused by the irony of his predicament and the skill of those who placed him there. It may not be his best work, but it's a step back on track.

Elsewhere, the acting's not much to speak of. Laura Linney has little to do with her character, mainly just frowning and spitting out statistics. Kate Winslet, meanwhile, has a character arc so perfunctory that it's a testament to her talent that she doesn't look bored. Gabriel Mann, unfortunately, has even less to do, and does nothing worth noting.

So as a suspense picture, Gale churns along competently, if not originally or particularly interestingly. But the film totally comes apart when Parker and Randolph decide to get political. Pages of dialogue are committed to exposing the various flaws in the death penalty system. The governor is described as a "frat boy" and says things like "I say let's bring 'em in, strap 'em down, and rock 'n' roll." In a television debate with Gale, Gale compares him to Hitler and offers still more statistics; in response, the governor quotes the bible. The film is placed in Texas, which makes it even easier to make those in favor of executions look like lunatics, helped along with dialogue like, "You know you're in the bible belt when there are more churches than Starbucks." (Huh?)

And then there's the ending, which I won't spoil (though I had it called from the trailer). It has the notable aspect of being both completely nonsensical and entirely predictable; it also manages to totally undermine all of the arrogant conservative-bashing in a single shot. Thus the only barely competent thriller aspect of the film manages to fall on its face, as well. I'm sure that Parker and Randolph think they've made an intelligent suspense picture that says some important things about the state of the death penalty in America. But they've made the exact opposite -- a boring, predictable mess that contradicts its own heavy-handed message in the desire to get one last "Gotcha!" out of the audience.

Well, Kevin, you're once again a respectable actor. But, please, for my sake and yours: fire your agent.

Rating: *

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Bowling for Columbine

In the spring of 1995, when I was in eighth grade, I began to conceive of a short story, one I would never end up actually writing. The story described a school terrorized by a mad bomber, indescriminately killing teachers, students and anyone else who managed to wander onto school grounds. At the end of the story, police would make the shocking revelation that it was one of the school's very own students behind the murders. The thought that this story was, in some way, my attempt to deal with the frustration, rage and alienation I felt on a daily basis at McAdams Junior High somehow never occurred to me at the time. But it did on April 20, 1999, when my English teacher announced to the class that two high school students in Colorado had opened fire on their classmates. And it came back to me once again as I watched Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine a second time, haunted by the security-camera footage of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold -- who, like me, were high school seniors in 1999 -- mercilessly stalking their classmates and teachers.

Though Moore's scathing film uses the Littleton massacre as a jumping-off point, Bowling for Columbine isn't about school violence or school shootings. Nor is it about gun control, though it seems to start out that way. Instead, Moore tries to get to the bottom of why we have so much violence in America: "Are we a nation of gun nuts," he asks, "or just plain nuts?" There's evidence to support either side, but at the end, Moore believes the latter.

Of course, everyone has theories abound concerning gun violence in this country, and Moore wastes no time in debunking them one at a time. Some say we simply have too many guns in this country...but Canada is a gun-loving country, too, and yet they don't have the same problems we do. (Moore chats with a police officer in Windsor, across the river from Detroit, who says he can only remember one murder in the last three years, and that was by a visitor from Detroit.) Others say our bloody history is to blame...but what about Germany? A lot of fingers are pointed at our violent movies and video games...but Hollywood blockbusters are just as popular overseas, and a lot of our violent games come from Japan. The breakdown of the traditional family unit? But England has a higher rate of divorce than we do.

For Moore, it all boils down to the fact that our culture is not one of violence, as some claim, but one of fear: drive-by shootings that lead the news, government warnings about threats in the vaguest possible terms, all designed to keep the citizens afraid of one another to distract us from the corporate crime that occurs all around us. And, as shown in a brilliant animated sequence written by Moore, that fear is cultivated from blatant racism, white America's fear of the black man, dating back to slavery.

Moore visits the Michigan Militia, who claim that being armed is a "responsibilty of every American....Who's going to protect your family? The cops?" James Nichols, who was arrested (but not charged) in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing, tells a clearly-frightened Moore that the evils of the government will result in a bloody revolt. When Moore asks if the man has ever considered non-violent protest, like Ghandi, he stammers and mumbles, "I'm not familiar with that."

In Littleton, Moore is shocked to discover that the town's largest employer just happens to be Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor. He theorizes that our nation's violence-is-the-answer foreign policy may have influenced the Columbine killers -- on the day of the massacre, the U.S. dropped more bombs on Kosovo than at any other point during that war. But elements like these were ignored in the post-Columbine rush to blame rock singer Marilyn Manson, whom Moore interviews. "The president was dropping bombs on another country," Manson says, "and yet I'm a bad guy because I sing some rock 'n' roll songs. And who's a bigger influence, the president or Marilyn Manson?"

It probably doesn't hurt that I agree with most of what Moore is saying. But there are certainly parts of his film that are inspired, like the trip he takes to Canada to try to look at our country from another angle. And it's interesting that those who took the brunt of the finger-pointing after Columbine, like Manson and South Park co-creator Matt Stone (who attented Columbine High School), give thoughtful interviews with Moore, yet NRA President Charlton Heston and sympathizer Dick Clark (whom Moore tries to interview) can't run away from the camera fast enough. Moore's outrage is both amusing and contagious, and his wit is razor-sharp: in a genius sequence, he demonstrates white America's anxiety toward blacks by showing comparative news clips of "Africanized killer bees" nesting across the street from a terrified old white lady.

But Bowling for Columbine, as good as it is, is not perfect. There are a few slips here, and they are pretty severe. For example, Moore visits two of the survivors of the Columbine massacre, and takes them to K-Mart headquarters to force the company to question their policy of selling handgun ammunition (the bullets Klebold and Harris used were purchased at K-Mart). It's interesting, no doubt, and it's a fine moment of triumph when a K-Mart executive announces that they will indeed cease the sale of handgun ammo. But since Moore has already spent a large portion of his film arguing, exhaustively, that easy access to guns and ammunition is not the problem, one wonders what the relevance of this could be. Moore also plays fast and dirty with some statistics -- rather than pointing out the differences in murder rates between nations, he throws raw numbers out there. Sure, it's shocking to know that Canada only has 165 homicides a year compared to our nearly 11,500, but ignoring the obvious differences in population between the two countries is a transparent attempt to give the message more impact, and it hurts the film.

But even with its flaws, Bowling for Columbine is a bold, stunning work that deserves every one of the many accolades it received. In the end, Moore never really does find many satisfactory answers to the questions he asks. What is it that makes some people snap and turn to violence? What's the difference between Klebold and Harris, who murdered their classmates, and frustrated people like me or Matt Stone, who channel that anger in another direction? But perhaps it's simply enough that the questions are being asked at all.

Rating: ****1/2

Monday, August 18, 2003

If the Oscars were held today...

My oh my, what a bad year it's been at the movies. Just dreadful flicks as far as the eye can see.

But, I'm determined to look at the positive, so here are my picks for the various Oscar categories as of August 18, 2003 (though it should be pointed out that I've yet to see Seabiscuit)....

Best Picture: Phone Booth
Director: Joel Schumacher, Phone Booth
Actor: Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Actress: Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later
Supporting Actor: Kiefer Sutherland, Phone Booth
Supporting Actress: Claire Danes, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (See what I'm talking about? I know, technically, this is propably a lead. But I've got nothin'.)
Original Screenplay: Phone Booth
Adapted Screenplay: Pirates of the Caribbean (Would this be considered adapted? It is "based" on something.)
Cinematography: Phone Booth
Editing: Phone Booth
Sound: Matrix Reloaded
Sound Editing: Matrix Reloaded
Score: Pirates of the Caribbean
Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean
Makeup: Pirates of the Caribbean
Costume Design: Pirates of the Caribbean
Art Direction: Pirates of the Caribbean

So it's Phone Booth, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a whole lotta crap. This year sucks.

I'm working on a new list to add to my writing section. Should be up in the next few days.

The universe is a pretty big place. And if it's just us...seems like an awful waste of space.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Reviews of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and (gasp!) The Life of David Gale are now posted.

Saw Freddy vs. Jason last night. Don't hold your breath waiting for a review. It sucked, but I wasn't expecting anything else. It was worse than I thought it would be, though.

If you have not yet voted in the poll over there, please do. One film is currently running away with the voting quite handily; unfortunately for me, it's the one film on the list I don't own a copy of. Guess that's what I get for putting it over there.

Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My hearing and my voice are more or less once again at pre-Metallica levels. My mind may never recover from limpbizkt's set, but at least my physical faculties have returned.

After an long hiatus (about a month and a half, I think), we are picking up our Vampire game again. And I really wish I could get more into it. Honestly. But the constant games just burned me out. I'm going to play tonight, because I promised I would. I just wish I could get as excited about it as certain other players are.

In other news, I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl on Monday. It's a great movie -- it's got your standard swashbuckling, walk-the-plank, "shiver-me-timbers" pirate movie stuff, and then there's Johnny Depp's performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, which seems flown in from another planet. He said in interviews he was trying to envision "Keith Richards crossed with a drag queen," and that's exactly what he becomes. As cliched as the rest of the movie can be at times, Depp is completely and unquestionably original. (Rating, if you were wondering: ****)

"Who is that?" [points to William Shakespeare]
"Oh, nobody. Just the writer."

Sunday, August 03, 2003

The setlist of the gods:

Master of Puppets.
Harvester of Sorrow. (!)
Welcome Home (Sanitarium).
For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Sad But True.
St. Anger.
No Remorse. (!!)
Seek and Destroy.
Blackened. (!!!)

1st Encore:
Nothing Else Matters.
Creeping Death.

2nd Encore:
Enter Sandman.

Oh. My. Holy. GOD.

Never have I felt physically assaulted by a live performance before. When I watched Metallica live DVDs, they always say stuff like, "We're here to KICK YOUR ASS!" but I didn't get that feeling when I saw them a few years ago in Dallas.

Now I have. Goddamn they were incredible. And I don't think my hearing will ever return to its previous level.

Had it just been Metallica, I would have gone home happy and satisfied. But it wasn't just Metallica -- oh, no. Linkin Park played as well, and it should be illegal to be that awesome. Deftones and Mudvayne played, too, and they were all right, I guess. I paid attention to their sets at least, and at no point did I begin openly mocking them, so that's a plus.

But Limp Bizkit -- oh, excuse me, limpbizkit -- played as well.

Now, I have never cared for limpbizkit. "My Way" is a good song. As is "Rearranged." "Break Stuff" is a great song to hear live. And "Nookie" is decent, I guess. But the rest of their catalog is bland, boring, and redundant. So I've never cared for them.

But I fucking hate Fred Durst.

My problem with Durst is his incessant need to be liked. "You want to hear metal? We'll play metal! You want to hear some rap? Oh, we'll do that, too! Sure, I can't really do either with much ability, but if that's what you want, YOU GOT IT!! You like hearing the word 'fuck'? I'll write a song where nearly EVERY SINGLE LINE contains that word at least once! You like Napster? Hey, me too! I love Napster! All music should be free! Yes! I'll even TOUR for Napster, yeah! And it'll be FREE!! LOVE ME, PLEASE, JUST LOVE ME!!!! PLEASE!!!!!"

You can see how this gets annoying. The apex of Durst's stupidity is in "Take a Look Around," the theme song from Mission: Impossible 2, in which he blasts those who criticized him for selling out and endorsing New Era, the makers of the baseball caps he never takes off, and manages to WORK IN A FUCKING COMMERCIAL for New Era while doing it. That's what I'm talking about.

limpbizkit's set last night was the same shit, only I couldn't change the station or eject the CD or anything. I had to sit there and take it while Durst essentially masturbated for an hour.

They started out just fine -- they played a few of their shitty songs, including the "fucked-up" one. Then Fred starts in giving Metallica a verbal blowjob (all the bands at the show did this, but Fred's was particularly blatant). He talks about the greatness of Metallica, how he hired the new guitarist based solely on his ability to play any Metallica song ever written, and then they play their cover of Metallica's "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," which is terrible. Towards the end of the song, the words "METALLICA IS THE SHIT" appeared on the video screens, and Durst requested that the audience "Jump for Metallica! JUMP! JUMP! JUMP!" I swear I'm not making this up.

Then, during a pretty bad performance of "Nookie," Durst suddenly disappeared from the stage. For about two minutes. Then we hear his voice: "Hey, Houston...I'm backstage..." Huh? What the fuck are you doing backstage, dipshit? The concert's out here!

Then suddenly we spot him amongst the fans with a wireless mic, grabbing beers and calling people cool and doing whatever he can to make people cheer. Then the band leaves the stage, the video screens start playing "patriotic" images of flags and fighter pilots and stuff, and a tape recording (?!) of the music from the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" plays. Durst absolutely fucking BUTCHERS that song, still walking through the audience, stealing beers and saying shit like, "I think all beers should be free from now on!" (And I'm not making that up.)

Eventually, Durst wanders back on stage. It's the middle of a song, which one I don't remember. Once he's back on the stage, something flies out of the mosh pit and hits him in the arm. He stops singing, looks at (presumably) the person who threw it, and says (and I quote): "If you want to throw something at me, don't be a pussy, hit me in the face, you fucking faggot." And then the song continues.

As if all this wasn't enough, then they start setting off fireworks. "Look! Fire! LOVE ME!" (He didn't actually say that one.) Then some more blatant verbal blowjobs, this time for "the great state of Texas." They play yet another shitty cover, this time George Michael's "Faith." This time, though, there's something to laugh at other than Fred: the video screens play a rather hilarious montage of clips from Michael's video for the song, timed to synch with bizkit's performance. It was pretty funny. (Though I should point out, for a guy who just called someone a "fucking faggot" just moments before, Durst sure did leave George Michael's ass on screen for an awfully long time. Just saying.)

Then, the song ends, the words "NEW ALBUM FALL 2003" flash on the screen, and, mercifully, the set is over.

If anyone is unsure as to why I hate Fred Durst -- and thus limpbizkt -- reread the above paragraphs.

But Metallica kicks ass. Yes, they do.

my lifestyle determines my deathstyle

Saturday, August 02, 2003

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Metallica concert I attended last month inspired me to finally pick this one up at the video store (prior to taking the stage, the band plays a clip from the film), and am I glad I did. The final film in Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" trilogy (preceded by A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More) is simply the greatest western I've ever seen. First off, that title sequence -- whoa! Beautiful images accompanied by Ennio Morricone's legendary score (one of the best I've ever heard). Leone shows remarkable patience in delving out his story -- the main plot of the film isn't even introduced until nearly the halfway mark -- instead choosing to let his characters interact with one another and the landscape. We've got Clint Eastwood as Blondie, "The Good"; Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, "The Bad"; and, in by far the best performance in the film, Eli Wallach as the cunning Tuco, "The Ugly." The three take turns double-crossing one another over the course of the film, all heading towards a showdown in a graveyard over $200,000. At times, Leone reaches levels of Hitchcockian suspense, like a scene where some goons Tuco hires sneak up on Blondie in his room while the Confederate army marches outside; at others, the film achieves an incredible epic grandeur -- an extended sequence in the desert, for instance, or the Civil War battle that Blondie and Tuco stumble into late in the film (this also gives Aldo Giuffre a chance to shine in a brief but wonderful role as an alcoholic Union captain). For me, the best moment in the movie was also the most beautiful: Tuco finally finds the graveyard, the best piece of that gorgeous score swells, and Tuco, ecstatic, runs through the graves, hunting for his fortune. It's a stunning scene, instantly one of my favorites. And I'm not alone -- that happens to be the scene Metallica shows before going on stage. Now, maybe Godsmack can start showing clips of High Noon....


The Frighteners

So in between his art-house masterpiece (Heavenly Creatures) and his big-budget fantasy epic masterpiece (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) Peter Jackson made this quirky little genre flick for Robert Zemeckis. I love the concept: after a car accident that kills his wife, Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) gains the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Rather than become John Edwards, Frank uses his deceased companions for monetary gain and becomes a ghostbuster -- the spirits (he lives with a few) pay a visit to a random home, spook the residents, and drop Frank's business card. He comes in with bizarre gadgets and a holy water pistol and "cleans" the house. But trouble arises when an unfriendly ghost shows up in town and starts waxing the residents. It's all in good fun, and Jackson's technical skills are more than up to the task: the special effects are nothing short of dazzling, as are the remarkable makeup jobs on the various corpses. As to be expected from a Peter Jackson movie, there's some lowbrow humor thrown in for good measure; the decaying judge (John Astin) has an amorous encounter with an Egytian mummy, capped off with a pitch-black one-liner that you will find either appalling or hilarious. Actually, what's really appalling is that Danny Elfman scored this movie and somehow Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party" didn't find its way onto the soundtrack (instead, a third-rate version of "Don't Fear the Reaper" plays over the end credits).

Rating: ***

Full Frontal

I like Steven Soderbergh. Really, I do. But I can't defend this. Full Frontal is supposed to be a "wicked satire" about the fakeness of Hollywood or something, but it's really just masturbatory garbage designed to make Soderbergh feel better about making money and winning an Oscar. There's a plot, sort of, about actors and writers and massage therapists and autoerotic asphyxiation, but it's really beside the point. Half of the movie is buried under pretentious voice-overs and shot with really crappy digital cameras; the other half is some insipid romance film made by the characters in the other half, starring Julia Roberts under the ugliest wig I have ever seen. The digital video footage is so bad he must have shot it poorly on purpose -- Soderbergh is a very talented cinematographer (operating, as always, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), but the movies I've made with my friends in my apartment look better than Full Frontal's DV portions. The only thing remotely redeeming about this whole enterprise is David Hyde Pierce, who gives an excellent performance as the depressed screenwriter Carl. But it's almost impossible to see under Soderbergh's movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. Okay, Steve: you're an artist. We get it. Can you go back to making good movies, please?

Rating: 1/2*


Every once in a while, there comes a movie that seems to have been made for the sole purpose of winning Academy Awards; A Beautiful Mind is a recent example. And here we have Seabiscuit, seemingly constructed from the ground up to pull in the Oscar votes. It's a period piece, based on a book and a true story, featuring respected actors (Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges), and capping off with an heartwarming, inspirational message about overcoming adversity. It probably will score itself a few trophies, but it's really nothing special. Certainly writer/director Gary Ross (who wrote Big and Dave, as well as writing and directing the excellent Pleasantville) doesn't think so; why else would he have been so lazy as to use stock photographs and a PBS narrator to get half of his point across? The actors are all good enough, but the material is simply beneath them. And the redundant final fifteen minutes really almost sink the whole movie. But as far as Oscar bait goes, at least it's better than A Beautiful Mind.

Rating: **1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean

After months of waiting, something worthwhile finally shows up in the mutliplex, and (gasp!) it's A Jerry Bruckheimer Production. It may not be High Art, but it's hell of a lot more fun than the ride it's based on. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) gets some great visuals (like the haunting opening shot: a boat appearing out of the fog), the special effects are fantastic, and the shiver-me-timbers walk-the-plank stuff is a blast. But, really, this movie is all about Johnny Depp. His performance as Captain Jack Sparrow seems to exist on another plain of reality altogether; it's brilliant, swaggering insanity, and is totally deserving of an Oscar nomination (which it won't get). Geoffrey Rush is good, too, as is Orlando Bloom in the thankless straight role. Kiera Knightley may not give a great performance, but she looks good, and that's really all that's required. The movie's too long by about half an hour, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what I'd cut.

Rating: ****

Jeepers Creepers 2

I actually enjoyed the first Jeepers Creepers, on some deep, sadistic. Darkness Falls level. But, regrettably, the sequel is just awful. The Creeper (as the monster is apparently called) has one day left to get as much food as he can before return to hibernate for 23 years, so he sabotages a school bus filled with teenagers and proceeds to take forever in collecting his food. Why he wastes time grabbing people one at a time rather than just killing everyone all at once is never explored. It's not interesting, it's not funny, and it's not scary. In fact, the only thing disturbing about it is in the bizarre homoerotic subtext that floats beneath the whole movie. Like the busful of football players (or basketball players or something) who spend half the movie with no shirts on, constantly taunting each other for possible homosexuality. Or the ungodly long scene where the Creeper eyes the players, ignoring the three cheerleaders, sniffing out which players it wants to eat, winking and smiling at them, and even dragging its tongue across the window when it finds one it especially likes. In any event, the audience I saw it with shared my reaction: stunned silence, punctuated by snickers of derision when something "scary" would happen. Really, writer/director Victor Salva had to have been going for laughs, because he uses the Naked Gun technique of harmless conversation in the foreground, painful action in the background for half of the Creeper's attacks. Hopefully, this franchise ends here.

Rating: DUD

Freddy vs. Jason

I never really got into either the Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th films, so maybe it's my own fault for not enjoying this movie. Everyone else I'm reading talks about it being "funny" and "clever," but I just didn't see it. Until the rather interesting last fifteen minutes, when Freddy and Jason go at it, the film is just a disaster, filled with horrible characters, annoying dialogue, and filmmaking skills so bad they're embarrassing. Take, for example, a scene with all the main characters hiding and talking in a basement. Director Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) keeps cutting away to another of the characters, sitting in what appears to be another room, talking to herself. I was lost for half of the scene, until he finally made it clear that oh, right, everyone's actually in the same room. Bad, bad movie. But the Freddy-Jason fight was pretty cool. I'll give it that.

Rating: 1/2*


Here's another one I really wanted to like more. I even watched it twice, to make sure I wasn't missing something. But it's a simple fact -- former Python Terry Gilliam's Brazil did nothing for me. I respect its technical qualities -- the art direction and set design is especially noteworthy -- but the cold, too-quirky-for-its-own-damn-good script just couldn't pull me in. Sam (Jonathan Pryce), a meek clerk at the Ministry of Information, finds the girl of his dreams (literally), only to be pulled in with her into the bureaucratic nightmare that is the world of Brazil. Robert DeNiro is fun in a small role as a rogue plumber (yes, a rogue plumber -- don't ask), but I found Brazil to be remarkably unfunny, despite its obvious comic aspirations (a running joke about a horribly botched plastic surgery falls flat on its face...pardon the pun). And when it's not telling bad jokes, it's just plain weird, like the daydreams Sam has, featuring a winged Sam battling a giant samurai monster (among other things). I did like Michael Palin's supporting role as Sam's friend, and as I said, the set design is really spectacular. But the film as a whole is uninspiring. I'll say this, though -- the ending is impressive. That, I liked.

Rating: **