Movie Log 2006 (With Mini-Reviews!) - Vol. 3

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Continued from Vol. 2

--Italics indicate a repeat viewing--

132. 5/27: Scream 2 (1997, Wes Craven) - Craven's original Scream was a very fun horror satire, which successfully lampooned the genre while still staying true to its hack-and-slash roots. Near the beginning of Scream 2, some of the characters have a conversation in film class about how much sequels suck, and about how much they trample the first film. The same cannot be said for Scream 2, even if the novelty has worn off a bit; we still have a jokingly self-conscious script by Kevin Williamson, and we still have the mysterious ghostface killer hopping all over the place. The movie is not exactly scary, nor do I really think that it was supposed to be...there are a lot of horror scenes here that are very comic, though I think that that was the intention. Just because something tells us from the start what it's supposed to be and then continues to be just that and nothing more, does it make it less susceptible to criticism? Not really. But it does make it a lot more fun to watch as every other character bursts an artery. B-

133. 5/28: Over the Hedge (2006, Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick) - Over the Hedge gets two very crucial aspects of any good CG animated flick from this decade down pat. The first it has right out of the gate, as you can tell from the commercials: It has really cute talking things that usually don't talk, in this case animals (there's even a turtle!). The second you probably wouldn't suspect from the Hammy the Squirrel-loaded adverts: It delivers a very pointed social commentary. I don't see it as a terrorists crossing our borders metaphor like Stephen Colbert has joked about (if anything, we are the terrorists). Rather, the film gets in a very sharp jab at our fast food age, especially when Bruce Willis' R.J. the Raccoon describes the dinner table as "the altar at which they worship!" Based on the long-running comic strip (which unfortunately has never run in my paper) and directed by Antz helmer Johnson and Chicken Run writer Kirkpatrick, Over the Hedge will manage to please both adults and children alike. The adults will be consistently amused by the social parodies and witty banter, not to mention the pop culture references (which range from Star Trek to A Streetcar Named Desire), and the kids will be taken by the colorful animals, especially Steve Carrell's hyperactive Hammy. If the movie isn't as good as your usual PIXAR fare, it's because it doesn't always maintain its level of intelligence, and sometimes sacrifices character for sight gags. Still...it's a very fun movie, and you'll even get something meaningful out of it. Plus, the regular-sounding songs by Ben Folds are actually really really acerbic and cynical if you open your ears to the lyrics. B+.

134. 5/30: Son of the Mask (2005, Lawrence Guterman) - 1994's Jim Carrey vehicle The Mask, based on the Dark Horse comic book, was not a cinematic masterpiece. It was, however, one of the funniest special effects comedies around. And, watching Son of the Mask, one realizes just how much of the concept Carrey made work. Here to fill his shoes as a completely different character in a completely different city is Jamie Kennedy, someone I once thought amusing. Now I kindly ask if it would be all right if I could never seem him again. Ever. This is a truly awful movie filled with lots of garish colors, and cinematography worse than that of Cat in the Hat. The CGI baby zaniness is rather disturbing at times, and the fact that Guterman operates his camera like a drunken frat boy on spring break doesn't help much. Probably the only movie that could make Alan Cumming as Loki the god of mischief actually suck. F

135. 5/30: An Evening with Kevin Smith (2002, J.M. Kenny) - Is it wrong that I enjoyed Kevin Smith talking for four hours about his stuff than I actually enjoyed his stuff? I mean, I love Smith (the only one of his I didn't really care for was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and that wasn't exactly bad), but this just takes everything I love him for to the next level. There's his great wit, his refreshingly frank vulgarity, and the fact that they let the audience field him questions. There are a lot of truly dumb questions, but also some truly great ones that yield fascinating answers, such as when a lesbian shares her true feelings about Chasing Amy. And, of course, the best part is the epic story of Smith's involvement with the long-awaited fifth Superman movie, which is just absolutely hilarious. This may just be four hours of the dude talking, but once it was over I needed more. Can't wait for the upcoming sequel! A+

136. 5/31: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988, Frank Oz) - And here I thought that Oz was only good with movies featuring Muppets! Based on the 1964 film Bedtime Story (which I have not seen) and featuring the unlikely pair of Steve Martin and Michael Caine as rival con men, with a teriffic Glenne Headly caught in the middle, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an hilarious comedy with an airtight script of twists and complex outconning by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning. Some of Martin's antics are amazing to behold, especially the one-shot bit where he struggles to remember the name of Caine's character so that the cops will let Caine bail him out of jail...seriously, that's some comedic genius right there. A very funny and highly entertaining movie with a stellar comic performance from Martin. B+

137. 6/1: Atlantic City (1980, Louis Malle) - If there's any type of movie I hate, it's a pretentious one. This is why I've had such difficulty getting into the works of Fellini and Buñuel, as well as the first half-hour of Malle's Atlantic City. The first 30 minutes nearly bored me to sleep, and I was ready to pan it into oblivion...but then it began to surprise me in the most subtle ways. The script bits and character quirks that had been irritating me in the worst way were almost completely eradicated after the death of a prominent character, which really pushes the plot forward and allows the movie to achieve something close to near-wonder. Most of this hinges on the fantastic performance by Burt Lancaster as an over-the-hill mobster hanging onto the bottom rung of the ladder. He easily outperforms co-star Susan Sarandon (who is good in her own right), creating one of the most captivating characters I've seen in some time. The beginning lags and it sometimes comes off as awkward, but I have the feeling that if you're going to fall for Atlantic City, you'll fall hard. B

138. 6/2: The Krays (1990, Peter Medak) - Wow, this movie was strange. So strange that I'm still not really sure what I thought about it. It's the true story of two twin Cockney gangsters, Ronald and Reggie Kray, and yet it's not the kind of mob or biopic flick you'd expect. Director Medak makes it sometimes something of a psychological horror film, and at others some weird sort of transcendental, philosophical essay. And this is not to say that it's bad. The performances are generally pretty good, and the screenplay by Philip Ridley is mostly captivating, but...it's just strange, and not in the indentifiable Donnie Darko/Thumbsucker-type cult niches. It's fairly entertaining, so I guess I'll call it fairly good. B-

139. 6/3: The Asphalt Jungle (1950, John Huston) - A gritty noir classic, The Asphalt Jungle is a dark, suspenseful film about the planning of a bank heist, the inevitable execution, and the surprising aftermath. Though it's not as great as fellow Huston masterpieces The Maltese Falcon or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it's still a masterpiece, and one with rich, subtle characterization and a town so seedy and populated with a cast so hard-nosed and dirty it makes most modern day mob movie characters look like Barney Fife. This was also Marilyn Monroe's seventh movie--still years away from making it big--and though she's not very good (the poor thing, she nearly ruins the two scenes that she's in), she still has that undeniable and sometimes undefinable Monroe presence that leaves an impact far after the credits have rolled. That is the mark of a true star...and it's also a mark of greatness on the behalf of Huston's film that her rather lackluster performance doesn't keep the movie back. A+

140. 6/3: When Harry Met Sally... (1989, Rob Reiner) - Still pretty much the best romantic comedy ever (with a few exceptions like The Philadelphia Story or Bringing Up Baby). It's also the greatest Woody Allen movie that Woody Allen never made; director Reiner peppers the film with Allen's trademark neurosis (though it's only on display occasionally) and love and adoration of Manhattan. However, When Harry Met Sally... gets the one crucial aspect that held Manhattan and Annie Hall from greatness: I actually believe the romance between Billy Crystal's Harry and Meg Ryan's Sally. While I've been affected by Allen's films before, none of his comedies that I've seen really manages to create the kind of deep, textured love found here. The screenplay by Nora Ephron is brilliant and beautiful, and the high wit and sarcasm factor comes as a great surprise if you've seen her other entertaining but mild efforts like You've Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle. A truly great movie and one that I will never get tired of. That climactic monologue gets me every time. A+

141. 6/4: The Break-Up (2006, Peyton Reed) - This is what I imagined happened with The Break-Up (and it probably didn't, but this is how the movie seemed to me): Someone wrote it as a biting drama with Oscar potential, until the studio got ahold of it, and went, "How about...not?" So, they got a couple of people to half-heartedly rewrite it as a romantic comedy, and then went ahead to cast funny people and a director known for his slick Hollywood comedies. The result is a sort of Swingers: 10 Years Later (Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau's characters are virtually the same but with a decade's worth of extra baggage, both physical and emotional) only wihout the wit and with a number of uncomfortable and unpleasant scenes ripe with dramatic tension where we feel as if we should be crying...but stars Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston are determined to make everything into a big sarcastic punchline. Uh-uh. Doesn't work. The cast is full of people I love (Vaughn, Aniston, Favreau, Jason Bateman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Joey Lauren Adams), but they drown amongst Reed's suffocating romcom direction. We also only get to see the characters being jerks when they meet and being jerks when they break up; we never actually see them happy together, so we really don't even care what happens to their relationship. There are a few amusing spots--and a perfect ending--but too much of The Break-Up aims for the funny bone when it should have the balls to aim for the gut. C-

142. 6/5: Kicking & Screaming (2005, Jesse Dylan) - Will Ferrell is a funny guy, but for some reason, he's rarely in any funny movies. I've seen fourteen films of his, and I've only liked half of them...mostly the ones where he plays bit parts (like the first two Austin Powers movies). This isn't to say that Ferrell is only good in small doses--he was the funniest cast member on Saturday Night Live for years, and he was very good in stuff like Elf and Melinda and Melinda--but I think the real problem here is whatever kind of studio contracts he's tied to. One of the lackluster results of said contracts is Kicking & Screaming, a routine kid's sports flick about a soccer coach who gets arrogant before realizing that it's all just for fun, it doesn't matter who wins, and thusly wins the love of his egotistical father. You've seen this all before, right? Yeah. Me too. Mr. Ferrell...get yourself a new agent, buddy. You deserve it. C

143. 6/5: L'Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni) - One of Antonioni's first real successes, L'Avventura is an excellent and unusual creation. His wide shots of emptiness and loneliness, with isolated characters searching for their lost friend, are beautiful. With a fantastic performance from Monica Vitti, L'Avventura is a haunting, affecting film about how love can paralyze us, and the true extent of jealousy even when the "other woman" (so to speak) is out of the picture. The film's slow pace sometimes makes it drag, but it also heightens its sense of lingering doubt and worry, as well as its aforementioned ever-constant theme of isolation. Human beigns are fragile and jealous and paranoid and conflicted, and Antonioni understands that that's not necessarily a character flaw; just a natural part of life that must be dealt with. A-

144. 6/10: Cars (2006, John Lasseter) - Wow, who would ever have thought that George Carlin and Larry the Cable Guy would be in the same movie? And for that matter, who would ever have thought that I'd actually be hailing something featuring Larry the Cable Guy as a masterpiece? Yet another Pixar instant classic, Cars features a roster of A-list talents that, besides Carlin and Larry, includes Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Keaton, John Ratzenberger and, perhaps most awesomely, Jeremy Piven in a brief turn as an Ari Gold-like agent for Wilson's Lightning McQueen. While it is true that Cars is a tad more predictable than most of Pixar's ventures, it's in the execution that lies its mastery. Director Lasseter and the rest of his animation crew have crafted a truly amazing-looking environment populated with dazzling characters; the individual mechanics and expressions of each car are stunning. And while it's true you can pretty much tell where the simplistic plot's going to go from the beginning, the screenplay creates a cast of loveable and believable characters with real emotional depth, plus a nostalgic yearning for the classic Americana of yesteryear that lends the film its real heart. And, as always, Pixar's cleverness and wit abounds. This is a truly great movie, and easily the most entertaining film of the year thus far. Also, make sure to stay for the credits. You'll be glad you did. A+

145. 6/13: The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey) - I genuinely hated McCarey's Duck Soup, but with the Marx Brothers gone, so is McCarey's sloppy hamhanded direction; in fact, his direction here is some of the most energetic and lively I'm seen from comedies of Old Hollywood. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Cary Grant--perfect in everything I've seen from him--stars with Irene Dunne as the feisty lady he's divorcing (the two would later star together in another [much much more depressing] film about divorce, 1941's Penny Serenade, a movie I quite recommend). Divorce is not exactly a funny subject, but McCarey and his superb cast manage to mine the comedy from it, as well as a very sweet kind of sadness that tinge every word that Grant and Dunne speak. An hilarious screwball comedy that hits all the marks...though the last ten minutes in particular are sincerely wonderful. A+

146. 6/13: Babettes gæstebud/Babette's Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel) - Okay, so here's the basic gist of Babette's Feast: A small community of uptight Danish religious folk condemn a French woman for her magnificent French feast before being transformed spiritually and emotionally from their ignorant ways by the food. Okay, see, that's a concept I can dig. I very much enjoy movies that deal seriously with religious and spiritual issues; I am a deeply religious person, if not an adamant churchgoer. But that's just the thing: Despite all appearances, Axel's film doesn't seriously deal with these issues. It's definitely a serious film, and I do not condemn his near-caricatures of naive religious folk as they are very close to the truth, but the way in which they get their eyes opened to the outside world is so threadbare and forced. There are a lot of attempted subtleties, but instead I felt bludgeoned in the head with the message most of the time. By time the emotional climax of the film came around, I didn't believe that anything significant had happened to these people and I was actually hoping that the French woman would decide to leave these dangerously fickle Danish folks. The film isn't a complete failure, as some parts do work, but when it all comes down to it, it's a victim of a great yet predictable concept saddled with subpar execution. Movies with simple plots can be great despite predictability; this one sadly doesn't have enough going for it. C+

147. 6/15: The Incredibles (2004, Brad Bird) - When The Incredibles was first released in November 2004, it completely blew my superhero-loving mind. Almost two years later, The Incredibles is still a stunning social satire/family drama/superhero hybrid. First of all, the animation is absolutely incredible--as is expected from the always-reliable techno masterminds behind Pixar--and the super-jazzy yet appropriately understated score by Michael Giacchino is perfect. But what really makes The Incredibles so fabulous is the fantastic screenplay by director Brad Bird, which starts out as a lovingly subverted homage to the old-time family sitcom (more than a few moments reminded me of The Honeymooners), then halfway through transforms seamlessly into an adrenaline-charged thriller that moves wildly from elaborate action sequence to elaborate action sequence at break-neck speed. The Incredibles recalls everything that is great about the superhero comic book, especially hearkening back to the old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Fantastic Four stuff. There's the bickering, the team dynamic, the emotional impact of not being "normal," all capped with an unbelievably exciting climactic battle...basically, everything that the actual Fantastic Four movie should've been. A wonderfully retro, nostalgic trip with witty modern sensibilities...Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Samuel L. Jackson haven't been this good in years. Incredible! A+

148. 6/18: Band of Brothers (2001, David Frankel, Tom Hanks, David Leland, Richard Loncraine, David Nutter, Phil Alden Robinson, Mikael Salomon, and Tony To) - A ten-and-a-half hour World War II epic developed by Hanks and Steven Spielberg, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers is a gutsy HBO mini-series following the journey of Easy Company through a number of soldiers, primarily Richard D. Winters and Lewis Nixon, as they travel across Europe fighting against Hitler's forces. Band of Brothers is a stunning piece of filmmaking, with some of the most realistic and brutal combat I've ever seen; even more so than in Apocalypse Now, Band of Brothers manages to convey the message that war is hell (particularly when Easy is stationed in Bastogne, in two or three of the most bleak and claustrophobia-inducing hours I've yet witnessed in a movie). Though the film is somewhat burdened by Hollywood conventions throughout its expansive running time, the writing and the performances by Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg, Scott Grimes, Kirk Acevedo, and even small turns by David Schwimmer and Jimmy Fallon, are all faceted and convincing enough that it's never truly a major problem. On a par with Saving Private Ryan, if not quite as great. A+

149. 6/20: Criminal (2004, Gregory Jacobs) - A remake of Fabián Bielinsky's 2000 Argentinean crime caper Nine Queens, Criminal is an engaging, clever little movie, if not quite living up to its pedigree (despite the fact that Jacobs is a first-time director, it sports top-notch performances from talented folk like John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, plus Steven Soderbergh co-wrote the screenplay under the psuedonym "Sam Lowry"). I have not seen the original film, and I've heard that this one pales in comparison, but on its own, it's a quite entertaining and amusing little trifle. The first half blows right by, entertaining in an almost non-chalant manner, and while the second half is a bit more problematic--we never really care overmuch about the success of the main heist Reilly and Luna are trying to pull off--Criminal redeems itself with a fantastic ending that makes one re-evaluate what's happened before and itching for their next chance to rewatch it. B

150. 6/20: The Crush (1993, Alan Shapiro) - Within its first twenty minutes, The Crush goes from an intriguing concept (14 year-old girl falls for an older man who finds that he himself is disturbingly attracted to her) to lightweight entertainment (the soap opera-ish emotional travails of the two) to convention sleazy thriller (the girl illogically starts trying to knock off everyone around the older man). The older man is played by the (as always) bland and boring Cary Elwes, and the young girl is Alicia Silverstone in her very first film...and she was actually 15 when the movie was being made, making quite a bit of it (tons of long shots savoring Silverstone's scantily-clad body, plus a shot of her bare buttocks) something bordering on pedophilia. But the movie never does anything with these characters' emotions, nor of the disturbing yet undeniable sexual attraction that the young Silverstone's conniving character does exude. And, because of that, the only real value the movie has besides Silverstone's ungodly hotness is the likable character Cheyenne, played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Amber Benson when she was only 14. The contrast between the extreme cuteness of Benson's Cheyenne and the enormous and disturbing sexual appeal of Silverstone's Adrienne, when they're both around the same age, could've been explored to fascinating lengths. All we've got here is Adrienne tying Cheyenne to a merry-go-round. C-

151. 6/21: Empire Falls (2005, Fred Schepisi) - As written by Richard Russo, based on his novel, Empire Falls is a terribly silly, predictable, and at times unbelievable mess. As performed by the likes of such enormously talented actors as Ed Harris, Paul Newman, Helen Hunt, Robin Wright Penn, Joanne Woodward, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Estelle Parsons, Danielle Panabaker, and Lou Taylor Pucci, Empire Falls is a deceptively entertaining soapy little thing. There's certainly not enough that's worthwhile going on to warrant this three-hour HBO miniseries, yet the cast keeps us hanging on for some time, far after the film has fallen from the realm of the intriguing. In fact, and this is hugely surprising to me, the young talents Panabaker and Pucci steal the show, even away from Harris' solid performance and Newman's grating yet diverting crazy old man imitation. It's probably because their plights are actually interesting, while we see the tired power plays and groan-inducing reminisces of the rest of the geriatric residents of Empire Falls through a lens which reveals nothing and tells us nothing other than these people are old, tired, and should probably get whatever's coming to them. C+

152. 6/22: Flipper (1996, Alan Shapiro) - I've never seen the 1960's TV series Flipper, though I can't imagine that it's anywhere near as awful as this 1996 update starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood, both experiencing all-time career lows. Hogan has an affable, likable personality, but almost everything he's a part of completely misuses his unique charm, and this is no exception, though he does fare much better than the young Wood, who is so smug and incredibly annoying that I felt the strong desire to slap him every time he appeared onscreen. Flipper is a sappy, schmaltzy, smug, irritating, annoying, lazily-written, badly-acted and, ultimately, completely waterlogged piece of whale blubber. Why waste time saving the dolphins if they're all as manufactured and as devoid of life as this? F

153. 6/22: Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon) - My ninth time viewing of my favorite movie of all time, the mastermind Whedon's continuation of his much-loved yet short-lived space western TV series Firefly, Serenity, and the first in a good six months. I attended a charity screening as a part of the Serenity Now/Equality Now charity fundraising event, got to meet some nice Browncoats (hardcore fans such as myself), won a prize in the raffle, and even got to aid a good cause (gender equality). As always, Serenity is a rip-roaring, action-packed, hilarious, emotional, and insanely complex, layered, and deeply meaningful experience, one which I'm sure will never be bested in my eyes. And, if it ever is, probably only something by the amazing Whedon who is so totally my master now. A+

154. 6/23: The Girl Next Door (2004, Luke Greenfield) - This is such a hard movie to guage. On the one hand, it's a lightweight, completely harmless piece of teen sex comedy fluff, and even manages to find a sweet sort of chemistry between leads Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert. On the other, it's yet another dumb male teenage fantasy, this time about a smart yet unsatisfied kid who falls for a porn star, which tells so many lies in such an astoundingly self-aggrandized fashion. Rarely have I felt this manipulated and easily plied by such a simple romantic comedy. And, I have to admit, it works in that manipulative fashion, but only to a point. This isn't like Pretty Woman, which was a fluffy romance between a man and a prostitute (essentially what a porn star is, only with higher public viability), yet managed to create solid truths which encumbered its lies. The Girl Next Door is a slick teen fantasy all the way, and while it's somewhat amusing, we never feel it's real and thus, we never actually care what happens to anyone involved. It manages to get out a nice performance by Deadwood's Timothy Olyphant and some nice chemistry, but that's pretty much it. C-

155. 6/24: The Perfect Man (2005, Mark Rosman) - I wonder if the day will ever come when the Hollywood executives stop trying for that oh-so-lucrative high-concept romantic comedy. No rich men falling for hookers with hearts of gold, no lonely kids falling for kind-hearted porn stars, no big city reporters falling for elusive smalltown brides, none of that. Just two people who meet one day and realize that, hey, they sorta like each other. The Perfect Man of course is one of the former, and it has a concept even more convoluted and idiotic than that of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: The annoying-as-ever Hilary Duff stars as a girl whose single mother keeps moving whenever a relationship falls through and, in a bid to try and keep her mother rooted in one area, she invents a fake "perfect man" for her mom...though she gives him the identity of a real person, her best friend's charismatic uncle, and goes to great lengths to ensure that her mom and the real guy this perfect man supposedly is never meet so that her mom doesn't get her fragile heart cracked yet again. So, in a roundabout sort of way, she's seducing her own mother and committing a kind of moral identity theft at the same time. But forget all of that; no one involved with the movie actually cares enough to put that much thought into the goings-on. It's just your regular, average, completely mind-numbing chick flick on estrogen overload without an ounce of thought behind it. I'm sick and tired of all the Perfect Mans (men?) floating about...where are the When Harry Met Sally...s, the In the Mood for the Loves, the Casablancas? It's a movie like this that makes you realize how much the world can suck. D

156. 6/24: Click (2006, Frank Coraci) - You know, I like Adam Sandler. No, really, I do. Happy Gilmore's funny, The Wedding Singer was sweet and enjoyable, 50 First Dates was actually quite entertaining, he gave a great performance in Spanglish, and, well, Punch-Drunk Love is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. But everything else that he's done? Absolute dreck, just like this new dreadful mess concocted by Wedding Singer helmer Coraci. Maybe from the writers of Bruce Almighty I was expecting a funnier story about a man with near-godly powers, but the script here leans far too often on the crutches of humping dogs and fart jokes that are tired even before they're onscreen. In fact, so little attention has been paid to Sandler's Michael Newman that he comes across as a royal jerk, and while that is the intention near the beginning of the movie, I still didn't care when he had his huge epiphany at the end. Newman is no George Bailey, and Adam Sandler is no James Stewart. I will admit as the movie gets more dramatic near the end, there are a few nice moments that save it from being completely awful (especially a tender one between Sandler and Henry Winkler as his father), but I much prefer arthouse Sandler to boringly silly and idiotic Sandler. I've seen all of this before, and it wasn't that funny the first time around. Sandler's Happy Madison Productions has made some bad movies, and this is one of their very worst. D-

157. 6/24: Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004, Raja Gosnell) - I was a huge Scooby-Doo fan as a little kid, and I still like the cartoons for their nostalgic value. Not unsurprisingly, 2002's live-action Scooby-Doo movie failed to capture the charm of the cartoons. And while Scooby-Doo 2: Monters Unleashed is by no means a good movie, it is at least a great deal better than the original. The first transported the Scooby formula to some odd mix between a family movie, a stoner comedy, and a really bad Sci-Fi Channel original. And while I've no problem with the first two elements, the last completely destroyed any potential the movie had. Luckily, this plot hearkens back to the old Scooby-Doo ways: Most of their previous foes are back, only this time as actual ghosts. While it's simple--not to mention gimmicky--it allows for a whiff of that ol' nostalgia, not to mention some kooky castles. Of course, none of this can make the movie good. It is inherently stupid, and damned by its lack of any true talent behind the camera...though I must admit that parts of the script are amusing, especially when the characters realize that they're caricatures and how they react to that. And, hey, we get to see Sarah Michelle Gellar wiping the floor with the undead. That's always fun. C

158. 6/25: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005, Ken Kwapis) - Based on Ann Brashares' popular teen chick lit book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants comes as a slap in the face to all of the other soggy girly-girl movies Hollywood has been pumping out lately. This is a movie where not everything goes right, happy conclusions are not reached, bad decisions are made, and the general hum-drumminess of life is accepted. The quartet of best friends linked over a summer during which they all go their separate ways only by a pair of jeans they pass around together (yeah, it's realy not as integral to the story as it seems) are all played by very talented young actresses: Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel, Amber Tamblyn, and especially America Ferrera (who also starred in 2002's excellent coming-of-age drama Real Women Have Curves). The script, written by Delia Ephron (sister of Nora) and Elizabeth Chandler, is for the most part above and beyond the requirements of the genre, and if there's one major fault, it's that the girls are more interesting separated than together, where things get perhaps just a touch too girly for my liking. Director Kwapis also manages to wrangle a lively, funny, and believable performance from a conflicted Bradley Whitford...which, despite his rather smallish appearance onscreen, is enough to see the thing in the first place. B

159. 6/25: Wakko's Wish (1999, Liz Holzman, Rusty Mills, and Tom Ruegger) - Animaniacs was one of the best animated TV series of the past twenty years, and also one of the funniest in recent memory of all series, animated or not. Thus, it comes as a disappointment how lightweight and standard Wakko's Wish, the very final appearances of all of the characters, is. It takes the loveable, kooky cast of characters--Yakko, Wakko, Dot, Pinky, Brain, and all of the supporting characters--into some sort of Old English land where the Warner trio attempts to stand up to a tax-hungry king in order to find a wishing star to cure Dot's illness. Most of the bite and zing of Animaniacs' cultural/political barbs are gone, and in their place is some gooey sentimental moments and some conventional songs (which is a huge disappointment, considering all of the musical genius apparent in the series). Still, it's fairly amusing, and not a bad time-waster. But the series was anything but a simple time-waster. B-

160. 6/26: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, Vincente Minnelli) - With an excellent leading performance by Kirk Douglas, The Bad and the Beautiful is an arresting and engaging look at the past of a famed Hollywood producer who has sunk so low that he can't get any name talent of any kind in any of his pictures. A lot of it seems to echo David O. Selznick, especially in Douglas' clash with a director who wants to do things his way...as infamously happened with Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock. The movie is very fascinating, and if there's anything wrong with it, it's that the third quarter isn't on par with the rest of the material, most distressingly an irritating performance by Gloria Grahame as a naive southern belle. However, that's only a minor blight on the surface of this rich, wonderful film, which is one of the best movies about movies that I've ever seen. A

161. 6/27: The Door in the Floor (2004, Tod Williams) - You know, usually when a movie is as pretentious as The Door in the Floor is, it at least has some good ideas behind it. Take 8 1/2, for example; I didn't like it, but I appreciated the thoughts behind it. I can't say the same for The Door in the Floor. There are no good ideas here, just a mediocre script that rehashes a lot of things we've seen before in similar films to only middling effect. In fact, the only reason that the film isn't truly bad is that all of the performances are quite good. Jeff Bridges makes an otherwise repelling and dull character an interesting (if familiar) person, Jon Foster is quite winning, and Kim Basinger brings a certain undefinable uniqueness to her character that makes her a tapestry of secrets, lies, and deception. But I'm sorry, nothing here is new, and I don't really care. I wish I knew why all of this very talented people did. C+

162. 6/27: The Shape of Things (2003, Neil LaBute) - Taken from his own play, writer-director LaBute has a sweet, charming, and funny opposites-attract romance in The Shape of Things (Rachel Weisz's and Paul Rudd's characters reminded me of Kate Winslet's and Jim Carrey's from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)...and then he gets to the startling ending, so shocking that it made me sick to my stomach. It puts the entire thing into perspective: No longer is this the sweet little romance it seemed, but rather something much bigger and something much darker. And trust me, no matter what you're thinking right now, you're wrong. You are entirely wrong. There's no way to see this ending coming; it's impossible unless you're River Tam or, possibly, Miss Cleo. The quirky, funny romantic dramedy facade falls away to reveal a thought-provoking, rather terrifying study of the moral and ethical boundaries inherent in human nature, and just how much you can flex them before they snap back and recoil on you. The four-person cast consisting of Weisz, Rudd, Gretchen Mol, and Fred Weller, are all very good (they were the original stage cast), especially Rudd (having only seen him in things like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I was stunned). I can't say much more about the ending for fear of ruining the movie for you. I can just tell you this: Sit back, enjoy it, fall in love with it...then be prepared to pop a nerve pill or two. A-

163. 6/27: Bad Lieutenant (1992, Abel Ferrara) - Okay, so maybe Bad Lieutenant just isn't my cup of tea. Or maybe it's truly one of the worst, most repulsive movies ever made. Maybe it's both. Harvey Keitel plays an amoral, cocaine-snorting, sexed-up, self-indulgent, and idiotic policeman on his way to some sort of moral achievement as he works on the case of a nun who was raped by two boys. That's all fine, there's a lot of rich emotional and moralistic subtleties that could be accomplished with that. Only director Ferrara and co-writer Zoë Lund don't find any, and if they do, they're certainly keeping them to themselves. All we've got here is an exploitative piece of sludge that features many long and utterly tiresome and frustrating sequences of rock snorting, heroine shooting, masturbation, kinky sex, and a bumbling Keitel on his knees howling through his teeth like some sort of deranged coyote in what pass as the film's laughable "emotional" moments. Not to mention its sensationalistic, godawful extended sequence of the aforementioned nun getting raped doggy style. 1992 also brought with it Reservoir Dogs, a much greater film starring Keitel, who there gave one of his very best performances; here, he gives his worst. Then again, perhaps Ferrara and Lund do have some sense: After 96 excruciating minutes, they have the decency to end the thing. F

164. 6/28: Superman (1978, Richard Donner) - Ah, they just don't make 'em like this anymore, do they? An old school epic of the grandest variety, Donner's 1978 take on Superman is still the definitive version: Who doesn't immediately summon thoughts of John Williams' rousing, breathtaking score when the Man of Steel pops into their heads? The late, great Christopher Reeve's dual performance as the bumbling, nerdly Clark Kent (Kill Bill fans will find much agreement with Tarantino that Kent is indeed Superman's critique of the human race) and the suave, heroic Superman is still fantastic, and quite possibly the best performance to ever grace a superhero movie. While I've never been a big fan of the Superman comic books in which the hero is almost too invincible and godly (I like my heroes conflicted and flawed), screenwriters Mario Puzo (!), David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton take the best elements of the character and his fascinating mythology and dissect them to the nth degree to come up with a brilliant portrait of a hero whose miraculous powers are as much a blessing as they are a curse. Plus, the action scenes are fantastic and Clark/Superman's moments with Margot Kidder's feisty Lois are things of beauty ("You've got me? Who's got you?!"). And who can forget Gene Hackman's slyly menacing, quick-witted Lex Luthor (those wigs are a hoot)? It's an epic masterpiece, and though time has proven that there can be better comic book movies, it's still pretty much the only pre-00's superhero flick that's on par with the current batch (and, yes, I'm including Burton's Batman movies here). You will still believe a man can fly. A+

165. 6/28: Superman II (1980, Richard Lester) - A funny and highly entertaining, if not quite as majestic and breathtaking, follow-up to Richard Donner's 1978 original film, Superman II still remains one of the best sequels out there. The plot is quite silly (much as Lex Luthor's mass destruction for the creation of beachfront property in the first was absurd, we still believed he would and could do it, making it actually kind of scary), and parts of the script are way too convenient, but what makes the film really shine is the growing relationship between Lois Lane and the dual personality of Clark Kent/Superman. Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve once again have fantastic chemistry--it's amazing the subtleties Reeve can work into the whole secret identity shtick--and watching as Lois slowly pieces together the truth about Clark and Superman is exciting, delicious, and quite a nice self-parody on occasion. The climactic battle, leveling at least a good quarter of Metropolis, is intense, and again, you'll be feeling like you're ten years old while watching. Interesting note: Gene Hackman left the project when original director Donner did (which was rather early on), so all of his remaining scenes were filmed with a body double and a voice actor. Crazy, huh? A-

166. 6/28: Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer) - Picking up five years after Superman II and disregarding the other sequels (which I have not seen) completely, Superman Returns finds Supes returning to Earth after spending time researching remnants of his home planet of Krypton that were found in outer space, only to find that his adopted home has changed quite a bit in his absence. Unfortunately, it's nowhere near as interesting as it sounds. Superman's time spent in space is barely mentioned other than the opening title card and some quick exposition ("What did you find?" "I'm the only one left." No, really?), and the way in which he deals with the changes is so conventional I found myself nodding off in the theater. Superman's emotional confrontations with married mommy Lois Lane just scream soap opera. Director Singer's movies are usually dark and cynical, and it seemed to me that he didn't know what to do with the elements of the movie that were supposed to be more joyous and buoyant, nor did he really understand the character and his story. Singer understood the dark, sociopolitical complexities of Marvel's merry band of mutants, but he doesn't seem to know anything at all about Superman's simple, rigid ideology (and the Christ symbology was unnecessary). So, he ends up trying to ape Richard Donner's 1978 film as much as possible, ending up with a superfluous and tiresome imitation. Even star Brandon Routh does a full-on Christopher Reeve imitation. Kevin Spacey could've been fantastic as Lex Luthor, but the script tries to find some middle ground between Gene Hackman's wacky Lex and the comics' menacing Lex, ending up with a character who can't tell a joke and puts on a pouty face when he's mean. In this wasteland of missed opportunities, one savors Parker Posey's biting wit. Not a bad movie, really, but nothing I'd ever watch again. C+

167. 6/30: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black) - So, you think you've seen everything the buddy crime/cop genre has to offer? Guess again, hotshot. Writer-director Black--who knows a little something about the genre, having written all four Lethal Weapon movies--takes the formula, smashes it to pieces, puts them in a blender, and creates a delightfully unconventional treat that goes down extra smooth. Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely fantastic, and Val Kilmer unexpectedly hits it out of the park as a gruff gay detective, and of course a lot of it should be attributed to what Black's script, taken from the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday, gives them. It's an hilarious and twisty work that manages to be both anti-Hollywood and rigidly Hollywood at the same time; it'd be interesting to see what kind of movie it would be without Downey Jr.'s brilliant narration (the best narration I can recall seeing...er, hearing). While I'm not sure if I understood the mystery at the center of the thing, there are certain movies that can pull something like that off with gleeful abandon and without a care in the world, like The Big Sleep, The Thin Man, and...Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. A-

168. 6/30: Match Point (2005, Woody Allen) - Anyone who questions Allen's versatility should be slapped across the face after this one. While it is true for the past several years most of his movies have been retreads of his previous ideas, they've shown a lot of variety, and he hasn't made a bad one yet. It's just that Match Point is a startling departure from everything else that Allen has done. Gone is New York, replaced by London. Opera takes place of jazz music. And, most thankfully, there is not one "Woody Allen" persona in the entire picture. Match Point is a sensuous and erotic film, and Allen's most provocative and challenging in years. Unusually for an Allen film, there are no traces of comedy; this is a strict drama the entire way through, with fascinating characterizations and stellar performances from Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. The film startlingly--though sensibly--turns on a dime about three-quarters of the way through from a romantic thesis on desire to a Hitchcockian thriller, with loyalty, fidelity, and decency as the MacGuffin. Like most MacGuffins, they don't exist. A+

169. 6/30: The New World (2005, Terrence Malick) - A beautiful, detailed, and richly-textured account of the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, and primarily the relationship between Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. Luckily, this has much more going for it than Disney's horrid 1995 Pocahontas cartoon. Director Malick has done a truly splendid job of recreating the location and atmosphere of 1607 Virginia (the movie was shot just a few miles from where the actual events took place). The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and the entire movie is shot in a documentarian style, as if the camera is there simply to record these historic events as they happen. It's this realism, coupled with two marvelous performances by Colin Farrell and 15 year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher, that makes The New World such a sublime experience. While it's true that at times it has the tendency to lull, it's not long before you're reminded why a filmmaker as gifted as Malick is necessary in today's over-hyped, commercialized cinematic landscape. A-

170. 6/30: The Devil Wears Prada (2006, David Frankel) - This is not a funny movie. I can't exactly put my finger on why, but it even comes across as a little mean-spirited and grim. It's certainly a glum little corporate fantasy-gone-awry, as Anne Hathaway (after a brief reprieve from being the poster child for talented people in bad movies that was allowed by Brokeback Mountain) gets a job working as an assistant to the devil of the title, Meryl Streep in a calculated performance in need of a much better script, a famed magazine editor. She also gets used, insulted, and bullied into thinking that something's wrong with her because she's apparently unhip and a little chubby...not that I bought such a gaunt, thin little person as her would ever have overweight issues, ever. The job also comes with a ton of psychological baggage, alienating her friends and causing problem with her boyfriend, played breezily by Entourage's Adrian Grenier. There's a little bit of a social commentary in there somewhere, about how vanity transforms us into what we aren't, but excuse me for not seeing that under the film's superficial, slick Hollywood veneer. C-

171. 7/1: Army of Darkness (1993, Sam Raimi) - The third and final film in Raimi's brilliantly unhinged Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness ranks second-best, coming in right behind Evil Dead II. This is one of those movies that I can watch over and over again without ever tiring of it; I've seen it about two dozen times over the years, and it never gets old. Nobody makes insane, off-the-wall flicks like Raimi does, and thank God for him. Plus, Bruce Campbell! I even watched Alien Apocalypse for him. Yes, he is actually worth following that much. I'm not sure of the planned Evil Dead remake that Raimi and the guys are writing and exec-producing, but all I know is that I'm glad we got this fantastic original trilogy. A+

172. 7/6: First Daughter (2004, Forest Whitaker) - Directed by underrated actor Whitaker, and boasting a very nice supporting turn by Michael Keaton as the President of the United States, one reaches the conclusion that First Daughter has the best of intentions in its soapy little heart, but for the life of it, it can't rise above its genre's predilections. Not to say that there aren't a few moments that are surprisingly effective: Almost all of the scenes with Katie Holmes' first daughter and Keaton's President are unexpectedly realistic and sorta heartwarming. But the rest of the movie should've been impeached and thrown out of office. The movie's biggest flaw is Holmes herself, who even walks awkwardly. There's not a facet of her performance that I found truly believable, and the bland, uninspiring material that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Marc Blucas is given as her romantic interest certainly doesn't help her. Like I said, I'm sure Whitaker meant well, but that's not always enough. At least it's somewhat better than Chasing Liberty. D

173. 7/6: Millions (2004, Danny Boyle) - This is, without question, Boyle's best film. Does that still mean it's actually all that good? Not really. Millions is an absolutely fantastic-looking picture, as are all of Boyle's films, with simply gorgeous cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle...but, as per usual with a Boyle film, when it comes to the script, Millions is severely lacking. As written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, it's a squarely average family film, with precocious kids and a lot of familiar sentimentality we've seen at least a few hundred times in other similar films. That said, though, there are some unexpectedly insightful moments that peer into the characters in truly remarkable ways, and that manages to (somewhat) set the film apart from the genre's standard. There's also some nice acting, especially by Daisy Donovan, but main star Alex Etel gets really grating by the film's end. Millions has a lot of imagination, and Boyle's work is genuinely impressive...I just wish the script had been as unique and challenging. B-

174. 7/7: The Skeleton Key (2005, Iain Softley) - You know, I wonder what Anne Rice thought of this movie. Rice so often writes Gothic/southern horror tales set in New Orleans (what it was before Katrina, at least), and in particular, The Skeleton Key reminded me of Rice's The Witching Hour. The plots are different, but they're both about mysticism in a magnificent old school New Orleans townhouse...and, being a Rice fan, I'd say that, while it doesn't come close to touching Rice's expertise with the subject matter, The Skeleton Key is a nice alternative to Rice's work. It's got wonderfully alluring settings that manage to be both enticing and eerie at the same time, and it uses the practice of African spiritual folk magic "hoodoo" to very nice effect. There's a lot of very interesting African spiritual music in the movie, mixed with the New Orleans jazz, which really lends it an authentic feel. The cast is generally pretty good, especially Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt, and this movie also proves that Kate Hudson doesn't always have to suck. This is not a great movie, but it's certainly not boring, and the ending is fantastic. B

175. 7/7: Sommersby (1993, Jon Amiel) - So, okay, you're probably only going to like this movie as much as you can believe the rather implausible plot point the entire film hinges on...which I won't ruin for those of you who go into the film without prior knowledge. There are some definite problems with this plot point, but nothing so severe that two very solid performances from Richard Gere and Jodie Foster can't help gloss over. Of course, the gaps within this carefully-structured Jenga of a plot keep nagging throughout the rest of the movie, and by the end, I was slightly confused. But the thing works best on a purely emotional level, where we can let the heartfelt performances get to us so much that we buy what's happening exactly as they're selling it, just with a couple of slight reservations. A very good movie, if you can let the actors make you believe what you're watching, as all good actors should be capable of. B+

176. 7/8: Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick) - Based in part on the real-life 1958 killing spree committed by Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, Badlands is a brilliant, poetic debut for director Malick, one of the best debuts in cinematic history. Badlands is also a very disturbing film, as we watch Martin Sheen's Kit kill people calmly, almost off-handedly. He hasn't spent a lot of time planning these murders, he just does them when necessary, and Sheen's calcuated, layered performance conveys his casual disregard for those that stand between him and a life outside of bars brilliantly. Not to be underestimated, either, is Sissy Spacek as Kit's naive and innocent 15 year-old girlfriend Holly. I've never found Spacek to be a particularly interesting performer (maybe I just haven't seen her in the right things), but here she uses those very distinct, almost saucer-like eyes to show a childlike innocence and sort of uncomprehending look at the world. When Kit kills her father, she doesn't seem overly upset; it's as if she can't understand anything that goes on around her that doesn't directly affect her wants or needs. Yet we never feel that Holly is selfish, only ignorant. Badlands' influence on modern filmmaking can clearly be seen, especially with Tarantino, who used the same thematic elements for his screenplay for True Romance (director Tony Scott also used some of the exact same music by Carl Orff), and Natural Born Killers, which Tarantino after much disagreement with the studio retained a story credit on, is what I would most definitely call the wacky sitcom version of Badlands (and that's a compliment). Badlands is an important, superbly-crafted masterpiece; it's what (the still good) Bonnie and Clyde should've been, chock full of layered characterizations, all-too-realistic acts of violence, and subtle, beautiful performances. Of course, not to mention Malick's always-genius marriage of words and visuals. A stunning film. A+

177. 7/11: Clear and Present Danger (1994, Phillip Noyce) - I like these Jack Ryan movies. In many ways, Ryan is the anti-James Bond: He uses his brain to get out of scrapes, he isn't suave with a gun but he can do what's necessary when it's necessary, he has a loving marriage, and he actually stands for something...truth, justice, and the American way. If that sounds a bit Superman-esque, don't worry, he gets chided often by his colleagues for being a "big Boy Scout." Ryan's morality as well as his devotion to his country and not his government, plus his prominent political position, creates some very interesting conflicts and a complex if blatant underlying theme of loyalty, greed, and corruption. Clear and Present Danger is the third of four movies based on author Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character, following the superb The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games which I have yet to see, and preceding the mediocre Ben Affleck vehicle The Sum of All Fears. While Clear and Present Danger lacks the masterful direction by John McTiernan that ultimately makes The Hunt for Red October a better film (not to mention a virtuoso performance by Sean Connery), I think I like Harrison Ford's Ryan more than I did Alec Baldwin's. While it's true that Ford's formidable screen persona sometimes makes it tough to believe that Ryan can't handle himself better with a weapon, Ford's Ryan seems much more conflicted and much more of a real, thinking, breathing being. Like I said, The Hunt for Red October is the better movie, but I really wish it sported Ford's likeable, intriguing Ryan. B

178. 7/11: The English Patient (1996, Anthony Minghella) - Aesthetically, The English Patient is beautiful. Minghella knows how to lavishly direct an epic like this, and the cinematography by John Seale is absolutely gorgeous. Emotionally, though, The English Patient is hollow and wholly insincere. It basically plays like a great-looking episode of The Bold and the Beautiful; or, as I like to say, it's Titanic only with better actors. Ralph Fiennes is such an intense performer he can elevate anything he's in, and here he brings a fiery passion to a role deserving of much less. Juliette Binoche is a fine French actor, but brings nothing to the table here, and Willem Dafoe and Naveen Andrews are two superb character actors whose energy flickers and dies under Minghella's lifeless script. And his script truly is the biggest problem: Not once did I ever believe these characters, their actions, their situations, or, for the love of God, their laughably melodramatic monologues which just keep comin'. This whole film would've made a great cheerleader: Great body, no personality. D+

179. 7/12: Clerks. (1994, Kevin Smith) - Back in 1994, Smith's Clerks. was quite the underground revolution: It was one of the most famous films of the 90's American indie boom, and proved that, yes, with a little money and a little talent, anyone could make a movie. But Smith didn't have a little talent; he had a lot, and still does. His debut here managed to capture the Generation X zeitgeist, and did so in a whimsical yet vulgar yet poignant fashion, setting the stage for Smith's later, somewhat grander films like Dogma and Chasing Amy. Clerks. is still a refreshing departure from the usual mind-numbing Hollywood comedies, as it depicts real people doing real things, mostly just sitting around being lazy and avoiding their duties while talking about utterly meaningless things like the fate of the contractors who were working on the Death Star. But the film itself is far from meaningless. As always, Smith buoys the relatioships of the characters on important bits of social commentary, and in this case, about the laziness and self-loathing of society. But, really, if you don't wanna think that much, just watch Jay make like a circus seal while Silent Bob watches on. Either way, this movie'll work for you. A-

180. 7/12: The Ringer (2005, Barry W. Blaustein) - Everyone involved in the making of The Ringer has obviously tried very hard to make sure that the story of a man pretending to be retarded to rig the Special Olympics in order to make some cash to get his friend an operation (but nothing life-or-death, just a few fingers that were cut off) as inoffensive as possible. And in that regard, they've succeeded: This is an incredibly inoffensive film in every meaning of the word. The integrity of the mentally challenged characters is very present and the guy rigging the thing is a nice guy trying out a bad plan. But they've also managed to render the film ineffectual: It's just not very funny. Back when The Ringer came out, there was a very tiny uproar in the media about how the film was a blatant rip-off of the South Park episode where Cartman attempts to rig the Special Olympics. But there's one major difference. The South Park episode was funny because Trey Parker and Matt Stone realize that in order for comedy to work, it has to be willing to push the boundaries a little and maybe get some people angry. Now, I'm glad that The Ringer isn't mean or crude about retarded people, because ignorance and intolerance are things I hate very much. But The Ringer is so bloodless and so sanitized, the main character such a gosh-darned nice guy, that we know there aren't going to be any consequences and there's rarely any humorous conflict. But it's still not a bad movie, it's actually rather amusing and it has a good heart; just don't expect many laugh-out-loud moments. B-

181. 7/13: Hide and Seek (2005, John Polson) - Dakota Fanning, while I'm not very fond of her, is a child actress that many people fawn over and I'm sure she'll make a successful Jodie Foster-like crossover into adulthood acting (if she doesn't, well, color me a whole decade's worth of surprised). When that happens, Hide and Seek will be a very interesting footnote to her illustrious career. It only just came out last year, and already I'm envisioning late-night cable airings a few decades from now: It's just twisted and campy and laughably bad enough to get that kind of bizarro fan worship. It'll be like what Dragnet is to Tom Hanks. Don't get me wrong, Hide and Seek is a very bad movie, and it's so sad to see how low Robert De Niro is willing to go these days. But at the same time, Fanning and De Niro are so deliriously over-the-top that I found myself howling with laughter, sides totally splitting (gonna have to call the seamstress). There are lots of dumb allusions to Fanning's "imaginary friend" Charlie, and a blood-filled bathtub device that's so repetitive you can almost predict the exact point in the story where it'll pop up again. Plus, the ending where De Niro goes totally psycho is great in a sad, "Oh my God, this is just so stupid it's ridiculously hilarious" way. A terrible movie, but so many laugh moments. D+

182. 7/13: The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005, Judd Apatow) - The first time I saw The 40 Year Old Virgin, I found it quite funny and sweet. But seeing it again, and having no pre-meditated effort to damn it before I had even seen it, I've fallen for it even harder. It's ceaselessly hilarious, and the wonderfully sweet and cute chemistry between Steve Carell and Catherine Keener is a thing of beauty. The film is a wholly relatable, very funny, and actually very moving film that probably just gets better and better each time you see it. I feel like watching this again, if only for the hilarious "Age of Aquarius" finale. A-

Continued in Vol. 4

I'm saddened to see that one of your "crucial" requirements for a good CG films is cute things that talk. In my opinion cute animals isn't at all crucial, but rather obligatory. With the exception of the Final Fantasy movies and The Incredibles, there isn't a single CG film I can think of that doesn't rely on family-friendly cutesy characters to draw an audience. And the same can be said for virtually any and all major American-made animated features. Granted most animated films are geared towards families with small children, but the whole talking animals thing has been beaten to death. It's almost as much of a given as the laundry list of celebrities who provide thier voice "talent" for these films, the pop culture references (I'm looking at you Dreamworks!), or the musical montage sequence.

Well, the cute talking things point was mostly just meant to be sort of joke-y, though it certainly doesn't matter if the cute talking things in question are interesting and add to the movie (such as the characters in Over the Hedge). Some of my favorite animated movies involve no talking animals/things, like Grave of the Fireflies (the best animated movie of all time), Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Akira. Yes, I realize that all of those are Japanese and don't disprove your fact about American animated films, but I guess different cultures produce different spins on the animated format.

But, still, sometimes a cute animal or two is good...and damn, I love me some turtles. I have this whole infatuation with turtles, so I guess I'm pre-disposed to liking a cast of colorful characters featuring a neurotic turtle.

Most importantly, no matter what kind of movie it is, it has to say something, and luckily, that is just what Over the Hedge does (it's much more sly than the adverts would have you believe).

And don't be knockin' the pop culture references. I live for those things. ;-D

Loving these reviews, CaptMal. Excellent work!

(E-mail response on the way later today, as my exams are over now, save for one next Thursday.. )

Thanks, buddy! :-D

Can't wait for the e-mail.