Movie Log 2006 (With Mini-Reviews!) - Vol. 4

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Continued from Vol. 3

--Italics indicate a repeat viewing--

183. 7/13: Madagascar (2005, Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath) - One of the two directors of Antz, Tim Johnson, went on to co-direct this year's very funny and subversive Over the Hedge. The other director, Darnell, co-directed this tepid and very mediocre little farce about colorful animals being transferred from Central Park Zoo to the wild. The animation style is actually very nice, all angular and cartoony, but it's the script that fails Madagascar. It lacks the type of humor that will appeal to both children and adults; this venture is for the kiddies only, and that's a disappointment considering the talented voice cast of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett-Smith. They try their best to make the material funnier than it actually is, and for the most part, they succeed in doing so. Madagascar is not a very smart movie nor is it very funny. If you're looking for something meaningless and not overly intelligent to veg out on and kill time, I'd still recommend Shrek 2 no matter how disappointing it was. But at least Madgascar has some awesome penguins that should've been the focus of the movie instead of the lead band of trite zoo creatures. C+

184. 7/14: Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous (2005, John Pasquin) - For some ungodly reason, I enjoyed the original Miss Congeniality back in 2000. It struck me as cute and funny, though it has been a few years since I've seen it. But anyway, getting to the point, I am someone who actually has a pretty positive recollection of the first film, yet even I will not recommend that you go out and see Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous. Director Pasquin almost exclusively directs bad TV sitcoms, like Freddie and George Lopez, so therefore Armed & Fabulous feels just like you would expect it to: Staged, phony, and in dire need of a laugh track to add some spark (jeez, never thought I'd be saying that). Not to mention that Armed & Fabulous is an even worse subtitle than Red, White & Blonde. Miss Congeniality 2 is not an awful movie, and I've seen many worse films, but it's pretty terrible and without a lot going for it besides the always cute and enjoyable Sandra Bullock. The best way to get my point across is this: The first film used Michael Caine to turn Bullock's messy FBI agent into Cinderella; this sequel uses Deidrich Bader. C-

185. 7/14: Clerks. (1994, Kevin Smith) - This time, I watched it with the commentary (the original commentary recorded while Smith and his pals were shooting Mallrats, not the 10th anniversary commentary which I'm dying to hear), and managed to learn some very amusing set anecdotes. There's also a lot of insight into how one goes about making such an insanely low-budgeted film like this, but having read a lot about Smith's relationship with his once drug-addled pal Jason Mewes (who has been clean and sober for three years now), hearing Mewes ramble in a drunken/stoned stupor wasn't as funny as I'm sure it would've been when the commentary was first released. Still, it's a very funny commentary and a pretty insightful one, if not one of the best ever. A-

186. 7/15: Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon) - Ah, I am so very proud of my best friend Crystal. Within a span of three days, she managed to watch Serenity four times and all fifteen episodes of Firefly. That's a Herculean feat the likes of which not even I, Browncoat extraordinaire, have ever attempted. So, went over to her pad, and we watched it again, this time with another friend who didn't like it so much. It did seem to drag a bit, but truthfully only because it was so incredibly hot and there was no air conditioning...anything would've dragged when your body is getting stuck to a rubber air mattress while you sweat profusely and lie around lazily, mind and body both being baked by the incessant rays of the sun. Still, great great movie and I keep picking up even more subtleties. Also watched the outtakes again. Man, those are priceless. Even the friend who didn't care for the film was laughing uproariously. A+

187. 7/16: Eddie Murphy Raw (1987, Robert Townsend) - Ah, this is the Eddie Murphy I like. Remember back when he was a comic genius, before he was Dr. Dolittle or--God forbid--Pluto Nash? Back when he was a captivating, hilarious, unabashedly crude performer? Yeah, I know it's hard. In fact, this stand-up film was released only five years before he started his downward spiral with the tepid Boomerang. And while Raw may not be some of his best work (what I've seen of Delirious is much funnier), it's still very funny, and it shows Murphy at his race relations best, dissecting and poking fun at racial and class differences. His impact on today's band of comedians can clearly be seen, especially in Dave Chappelle, who is arguably an even more profound performer. That's also one of the reasons Raw probably isn't as funny as it once was: Chappelle has taken Murphy's game and stepped it up a few dozen notches, taking the basic formula and using it to lampoon and eviscerate current events and race relations to a much smarter, sharper, and concise measure. So, while Murphy has been outshined by some of his pupils, Raw is still hilarious, and should definitely be seen by those struggling to remember him before he held residence in The Haunted Mansion. B+

188. 7/17: Curly Sue (1991, John Hughes) - I imagine that Curly Sue is worse than I make it out to be. Even though I am no fan of Hughes, I detected that this was quite less than what he is capable of (perhaps that's why this is currently his last film as director?). But there's a certain element to the film that kept me from hating it, and it certainly wasn't the thick layer of cornball cheese that it was coated with. I have a very huge soft spot for father/child relationships, and this actually has a pretty sweet one, between James Belushi's Bill (who it turns out is not really a father) and little Alisan Porter's title precocious kid Curly Sue. Without that poignant relationship, there would be a lot less to commend the movie for than there already is: The script is conventional and familiar, some of the comedy bits are just painful to sit through, and almost all of the characters seem to be functioning at the level of stereotype. But God help me, the relationship between Bill and Curly Sue just got to me for some reason or another. I can't really help that I didn't think this movie was entirely awful, though I certainly wouldn't tell you to go out and rent it. C-

189. 7/18: Bowling for Columbine (2002, Michael Moore) - When Bowling for Columbine was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, it received a standing ovation that lasted for 13 minutes. Every single second of every single minute of that applause was wholly deserved: Bowling for a Columbine is a profound, disturbing, and absolutely brilliant dissection of America's love for guns and abundance of murder, as well as our tangled culture of fear. Moore, possibly more so than any other documentary filmmaker, knows how to cut right to the nervous center of his viewers in the quickest and most concise manner. Take a montage of real murders scored by The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," a brilliantly wacky animated segment about white America's fascination with guns and violence throughout history (a colonial purrs, "I loves my gun. Loves my gun."), or security footage of the Columbine High School massacre with the sad/terrifying 911 calls playing over it (the operator is hostile with concerned parents, but gushes over a Dateline correspondent). The topic that Moore takes on is not a simple one, and at the end there are no conclusive answers, but that's only because, quite simply, none exist. But Moore manages to stimulate and prod his audience, hopefully leaving them with a lot more to chew on than before they popped the DVD in. And once it's over, one segment that keeps echoing in the viewer's head is Moore's interview with NRA head/Moses himself Charlton Heston, as a blithely ignorant Heston carelessly asks, "Why should I apologize to the people of Flint, Michigan?" after holding a gun rally the very next day after a six year-old girl is shot to death by a six year-old boy. Why, indeed? A+

190. 7/21: Clerks II (2006, Kevin Smith) - Smith has come a long way since his 1994 debut Clerks. He flexed his filmmaking muscle with Chasing Amy and Dogma, he made some mostly Hollywood but still good product like Mallrats or more notably Jersey Girl, and attempted to wrap up the View Askewniverse with the disappointing Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was a big movie loaded with cameos from all of the prominent Askewniverse characters, and with lots of broad comedy and self-references. It was a big celebratory bash, but as the end of such a meaningful group of films, it felt like something was missing. After the credits, the book was closed on the saga (literally), and I felt the need for more. Thank God that Smith has graced us with Clerks II, the most fitting ending I can possibly think of. If there is never another Askewniverse movie, this will still be the perfect final chord. The inherent sweetness and emotional strength evident in all of Smith's films is at the forefront here, and the boys from Quick Stop and RST Video in Leonardo, New Jersey are trying to grow up, however arrested their development may be. But don't let all of this heavy, mushy mumbo jumbo for one second make you believe that Smith has lost his touch for vulgarity. The frank vulgarity--and its underlying sweetness--has also been one of the prime reasons for the Askewniverse's success, and Clerks II goes everywhere from comparing orifices on a woman's body to...well, to a donkey show...which is all I'll say about that. It's hilarious; if you're not laughing, you're obviously very very dead. But to get back to the emotional angle, that's what makes the film work so well, and, indeed, even more so than the wonderful original. It had that charming sweetness, but it was still very rough around the edges. Here we really get to see Dante and Randal as complex characters, and Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson are just fantastic, as is Rosario Dawson as Mooby's manager Becky. The film also looks great, and is by far Smith's best achievement artistically; there's a scene where Dante and Randal just go blow off steam on go-carts, and it's a beautiful moment, both visually and emotionally. I love these guys, you know? I feel for them, and this movie had tears prepared to come as it drew to a poignant, sublime, utterly perfect in every way imaginable, close. Plus, there's Jay and Silent Bob. Who could pass them up? Indeed, the credits state, "Jay and Silent Bob may return at some time, but right now they're resting." If they do, I'll welcome them with open arms. And if not? This is the perfect farewell. A

191. 7/22: Inside I'm Dancing/Rory O'Shea Was Here (2004, Damien O'Donnell) - Known as Inside I'm Dancing in most parts of the world, but as Rory O'Shea Was Here in the USA, O'Donnell's film has a good heart and hits a lot of the right notes, but ultimately can't overcome its penchant for Hallmark sentimentality. Steven Robertson is fantastic as Michael O'Connolly, a young man with cerebral palsy whose speech is almost entirely unintelligible; Robertson is completely and utterly convincing, and not for one second did I question the authenticity and sincerity of his portrayal. More problematic, on the other hand, is James McAvoy as Rory O'Shea, a rebellious young man with muscular dystrophy whom Michael befriends. Rory is, as most conventional rebels in film are, cocky and self-assured to the point of extreme arrogance. Deep down, he's a good guy, but when the characters are only swimming in greeting card levels of depth, it's hard to really become invested in them or their plights. The climactic revelation is almost funny in its abruptness and painfully soapish qualities. I enjoyed the characters to a certain degree, and O'Donnell clearly has his heart in his work, but that feeling is barely transmitted onscreen. C+

192. 7/23: We Don't Live Here Anymore (2004, John Curran) - This movie has a great cast, and I do mean great. Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, Peter Krause, and Laura Dern are all extremely talented performers, and I was pleased as punch to see them all together in the same film. Curran's direction is also great, and his film is replete with fantastic cinematography and wonderfully tricky editing. It looks like a masterpiece, walks like a masterpiece...it just can't talk like one, and that's why the blame (perhaps unfairly) gets laid on screenwriter Larry Gross, adapting from two short stories by the late Andre Dubus. The script is an overly talky (and I'm a big lover of the spoken word) mess which seems to get down the philosophical and metaphorical anxieties caused by the two amorous and unfaithful couples at the film's center--basically, Watts is with Krause but gets it on with Ruffalo and Dern is with Ruffalo but gets it on with Krause--but which just cannot get a handle on the emotional shockwaves the characters feel. Worse yet is how they're expressed through the dialogue; nary a word rings true, and at times, despite the actors' hardworking portrayals, I felt a bit like I was watching an amateur play. The actors deserve so much more than they're given, especially Ruffalo and Krause, whose characters are consistently the most underwritten, in particular Krause's. I hate these sad-sack writers in most pretentious character studies like this: They seem to hate writing, are never happy, and are determined that their work sucks. As a fledgling writer myself, I love writing and I treat it as a hobby that will one day turn into a career. So, when Krause, whom I loved on Six Feet Under, randomly decided to burn his novel after a hard day the likes of which are very commonplace, I was a mite despaired. Anyway, that's basically the gist of We Don't Live Here Anymore. It looks great and sports some fine performances, but the movie has the emotional depth of an episode of Jeopardy! C

193. 7/23: Must Love Dogs (2005, Gary David Goldberg) - Yet another bad sitcom director tries on the worn-out romcom formula, and the results are pretty much standard. Goldberg reaches no new heights or any new lows with Must Love Dogs, a highly unremarkable film in almost every sense. It's occasionally amusing but never gut-busting, and it occasionally plumbs some very low levels of awfulness, but nothing that even registers on the awfulness scale considering there are things that White Chicks to contend with. Diane Lane is an affable lead, though she's basically just a pretty face, but at least there are two shining performances that help make the film better than it should be. Christopher Plummer knocks it out of the park in a short yet vital supporting role, and John Cusack is, as always, a relatable, charming leading man. In fact, Goldberg told Cusack he could rewrite some of his character's dialogue to better suit his acting strengths, and Cusack ended up rewriting 35 pages of it. Sometimes meddling actors can be a good thing. C-

194. 7/24: North Dallas Forty (1979, Ted Kotcheff) - In a world where pro football is a business and the business is a game, the teams the equipment and the managers the players, it's hard to have a good, fun game. North Dallas Forty offers no inspirational change to the status quo, it just presents it like it is. Director Kotcheff does a superb job of examining how years of playing such a brutal game affects its players physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The screenplay by Peter Gent, Kotcheff, and Frank Yablans, taken from Gent's novel, is a very effective mix of quiet character moments, team ethics, and hilarious conversation. The dialogue is quite sharp and witty; some of the more vulgar conversations even reminded me of something that Kevin Smith might write. Nick Nolte as the lead character, a weathered, aging, and beaten wide receiver, is fantastic. This is the very best performance I've ever seen him give: It's a realistic, sad look at someone who's been destroyed by football, both by the game and by the business. The film's climactic confrontation is superb, and boasts some of the best dialogue I can recall having heard recently. Along with the original The Longest Yard, one of the best movies about football ever made (despite very little time spent on the field). A-

195. 7/25: Dogma (1999, Kevin Smith) - Still the best of Smith's seven films, Dogma is a very near-masterpiece. I have to say, while my emotional response wasn't as strong during this viewing as it was the first, I managed to appreciate it much more as an actual work of filmmaking; Smith gets a lot of flak for his lack of technical flair, and while some shots are awkward, his style is nowhere near as cumbersome for this occasionally action-packed, special effects-laced material as some would have you believe. The movie deals with spirituality and religion in such profound, wonderfully rich ways...isn't it amazing how fantasy or sci-fi can (potentially, in some cases, but definitely here) bring out the very best in a writer? A

196. 7/26: The Passion of the Christ (2004, Mel Gibson) - This is actually the first time I've watched The Passion of the Christ since seeing it in theaters back in February 2004, despite receiving it as a present from my church the following Christmas. While I didn't shamelessly bawl as much as I did when watching it back then, it's still a beautiful, haunting epic about Christ's last twelve hours on this earth before dying for the sins of mankind (at least, according to my faith...don't really wanna start a religious war here). Gibson's arrogance can be questioned--remember how weird and seclusive he is now (he even has his own church)?--but the film itself I find not arrogant in the slightest. Some may question what is to be learned from watching a man get beaten for two hours (and I know that I certainly disapprove of old-time preachin' that goes something along the lines of, "This is a Jesus day and we are Jesus people! THE BLOOD! THE BLOOD!"), but to actually physically see my savior (or at least a reasonable fascimilie in the form of Jim Caviezel) get tried and tortured so that I can live the life that I do...well, that sort of puts things in perspective. A+

197. 7/26: Tweety's High-Flying Adventure (2000, Karl Toerge, Charles Visser, and James T. Walker) - It seems that Disney isn't the only company whoring their classic characters out for cheap direct-to-video ventures. Now, Warner Bros. has made some good animated direct-to-video product in the past (most of the Batman stuff I've liked), but Tweety's High-Flying Adventure is a mindless, soulless corporate affair filled with all of the obligatory pit stops to allow for character cameos. The movie features almost every single major (and some minor) Looney Tunes characters, but hardly any of it is funny or even amusing in any way, shape, or form. The best attempt the screenwriters make at humor are godawful puns that would make the baby Jesus weep in sorrow. To say that this movie has no plot is like saying that Hitler hated Nazis. Duh. Poor Tweety...such a loveable, sweet little character is turned into a contestant from Last Comic Standing. D-

198. 7/27: Final Analysis (1992, Phil Joanou) - Final Analysis is a hard movie to peg. At first, it seems like an interesting psychological character study, then it turns almost into erotica, then into the most kind of mundane and melodramatic Lifetime fare...before settling on being a pseudo-complex thriller. I was struggling to find the movie's tone, then it hit me: Faux Hitchcock. Unfortunately, director Joanou lacks the Hitchcockian flair to pull off the delicate balancing act required for the film to seamlessly walk the tightrope between genres and moods. Instead, we wind up with a hodgepodge of different themes and ideas almost as schizophrenic as its two femme fatales, one played blandly by Kim Basinger, and the other meticulously detailed by the criminally underused Uma Thurman. Stuck in the kind of role Hitchcock would've reserved for James Stewart, Richard Gere tries to grasp at the straws of depth the screenplay hands him, but ultimately ends up floundering. Final Analysis has some interesting ideas, but overall I'd diagnose it with a case of paranoid schizophrenia. C+

199. 7/27: The Love Letter (1999, Peter Chan) - It's true that The Love Letter never reaches the heights it aspires to, and with a little fine-tuning could've been a much better film; but as it is, I applaud the film for being as amusing as it is while still embracing Hollywood's ideals of a romantic dramedy. Little of the film is laugh-out-loud funny, and not much of it is as moving as it should be, but sometimes pleasantly diverting is all a film is required to be, and that is most certainly what The Love Letter is. Kate Capshaw, in a very Diane Keaton-esque performance, is a charming lead, and the supporting cast, especially Ellen DeGeneres and Julianne Nicholson, is quite good. Tom Selleck and Tom Everett Scott misfire a little, but not enough to hurt the movie overall. What does hurt the movie is its tendency to stick to formula and to oversimplify certain plot details...but, hey, this a fun, cute little romance flick, and there's nothing wrong with that. B-

200. 7/28: Quills (2000, Philip Kaufman) - A sharp and witty seriocomic look at the Marquis de Sade and how he fueled a generation of depravity and sexuality...or, in essence, tried to free society from its less than comely shackles. Of course, if we're to judge by this picture, the Marquis' sanity is certainly questionable, but director Kaufman and screenwriter Doug Wright (working from his own play) also manage to sneak in a bit of relevant social commentary on how we immediately ostracize or overmedicate anyone that shows a genuine creative disabandon for the world he sees around himself. The cast is what really livens up the material, from Kate Winslet to Joaquin Phoenix (slightly annoying in his nasally way as usual) to Michael Caine, and especially Geoffrey Rush in an energetic, brilliant turn as the Marquis de Sade. There are several very effective sequences in the film, but it's ultimately Rush who will make you remember it. B+

201. 7/28: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006, Gore Verbinski) - Well, Captain Jack is indeed back. I found the original Pirates of the Caribbean (subtitled The Curse of the Black Pearl) to be a very enjoyable popcorn flick, if overstuffed with ludicrously elaborate--yet very fun--action sequences and with too little of a plot. I was afraid that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest would fall victim to the same, only not be able to pull it off this time since the novelty has worn off. Luckily, that is not the case. Dead Man's Chest blows The Curse of the Black Pearl out of the water (pun semi-intended). Yes, there are still a gaggle of ridiculously over-the-top and insanely elaborate action setpieces, but Dead Man's Chest succeeds because this time out, knowing that there's a whole two movies to tell the story with, director Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio spend more time airing out the characters, giving them real layers. Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann especially gets a meatier role, and I actually found myself entranced and fascinated with the odd relationship she has with Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. Orlando Bloom's Will Turner once again gets the short end of the stick, but at least he has a much more penetrating scowl than last time. The movie's high-octane action sequences come and go as if part of some delightfully offbeat and bizarre theme park ride which, to some degree, is exactly what it is (only prettier and with some fine music). I found myself alternately laughing almost to the point of tears and biting my nails down to the quick...the Kraken sequences are especially sights to behold. This is probably the year's most flat-out entertaining film yet, and with a rich emotional canvas, an intricate story, and an utterly brilliant new tentacle-faced villain (the old Davy Jones of lore) played to a tee by a CGI'd Bill Nighy, I felt satisfied in more ways than I had ever expected from a blockbuster popcorn epic. Take that, King Kong and Superman Returns. Bring on the third! A-

202. 7/29: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry) - I can't tell you how many times I've seen this, but what I can tell you is that it just gets better every time. More than any other movie I have ever seen, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind captures--not just portrays--the feelings of love, anguish, regret, and bliss. It's also a deeply personal film for me, since seeing it at the movies heralded the start of a relationship I had with a certain gal who I fell for hard before things went sour. Our relationship ended up paralleling Joel and Clementine's almost exactly, and watching this movie is a bittersweet, poignant experience. Beautiful, funny, romantic, mind-blowing...just sublime on every level. A+

203. 7/31: Monster House (2006, Gil Kenan) - If this is what director Kenan has to offer his first time up to bat, I can only imagine what kinds of treats he'll serve up later on. His Monster House is a joy, spooky but funny and always grounded in the mundane activities and relationships of adolescence, much like the great 80's fantasy ventures from Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, both of whom have an executive producer credit here. In fact, I'm pretty certain that Monster House is set in the 80's...its enthralling stop motion-esque animated world has old school fashions, hair metal, retro arcade games, and even an Atari. This makes it all the more inviting and all the more nostalgic in a very sweet, offbeat kind of way. The movie also makes more sly and mature jokes than most animated movies, and has a delightfully game voice cast sporting the likes of Jason Lee, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Buscemi...and, miraculously, it actually makes Jon Heder tolerable. The three leads, voiced by teenagers Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, and Spencer Locke, are perfectly cast and lend the film a good deal of its charisma. While the film does in the end fall short of excellence--the pace isn't always consistent--it comes very close and I absolutely cannot wait to see what else Kenan scares up. B+

204. 8/2: Rebound (2005, Steve Carr) - Poor Martin Lawrence. He's never made a good movie (it should be noted that I have shamefully yet to see Do the Right Thing), and as his career has quickly begun to wane, it doesn't look like he has many more chances left. In fact, Rebound may indeed be the last straw. Lawrence, always a huge devotee to the church of overacting, turns in another loud, boring performance, and the rest of the cast likewise don't know how to tell a good joke to save their lives. Their emphasis is all wrong, and they consider a punchline an exaggerated, squeaky change of pitch at the end of a sentence. Not that the script does them any favors. As written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the screenplay is a dull piece of work that rushes through the inspirational sports comedy formula so listlessly that its 86 minutes seem to drag on and on and on, leaving the viewer in a sleepy, dullen stupor by time the credits start to roll. Yes, there's the loudmouth basketball coach who gets punished by his league, reluctantly agrees to work with a little league team, has a change of heart, and then suddenly expierences a moral awakening so quickly that even Lawrence doesn't seem to understand how this all happens at such a fast pace. Basically, every single mushy inspirational family flick cliché is stuffed into a brittle, dry 86 minutes with no redeeming values other than that it ends. One thing I will say: It is sad to see that the young actress Tara Correa-McMullen, who plays Big Mac in the film, was shot to death a few months after the movie opened. She could've gone on to so much better. F

205. 8/3: Vanity Fair (2004, Mira Nair) - Based on William Makepeace Thackeray's classic novel, Vanity Fair sports a delectable performance from the always-fantastic Reese Witherspoon (she even manages to pull off a pretty good British accent), but the rest of the movie can't keep up with the energy of its star. In fact, for the most part, director Nair seems to lack any kind of excitement or enthusiasm--or even something bordering on anything more than lazy interest--in what's going on onscreen and what's happening to her characters. This doesn't make the film a bad one, it's actually fairly decent, but it certainly doesn't make it the easiest movie in the world to watch. My mind began to drift amidst all of the maudlin soap opera emotional twists, and as the film drew to its truly uninteresting climax, I almost didn't drift back. B-

206. 8/4: Inventing the Abbotts (1997, Pat O'Connor) - Nothing that happens in Inventing the Abbotts is particularly surprising or unique...in fact, much of it is pretty by-the-numbers. Still, the way in which it is made, with very high production values and late 50's period designs, plus with fine performances by a slew of talented young performers (most of whom went onto bigger things after this), makes it very entertaining, no matter the standard conventions it employs. Joaquin Phoenix in particular delivers a captivating performance as a generally nice guy in love with the incredibly endearing Liv Tyler's Pamela Abbott. Their relationship, and how Phoenix's Doug Holt pursues her throughout the years, is at the center of the film, and they have such a nice, sweet chemistry you can't help but want to see them get together (even though you can pretty much figure out that they inevitably will). Billy Crudup and especially Jennifer Connelly deliver superb supporting performances, but it's Phoenix and Tyler who are the heart of the movie and who make the proceedings more enjoyable than they normally would be. B

207. 8/5: The Night Listener (2006, Patrick Stettner) - Despite some very interesting acting choices, Robin Williams' career has been moving steadily downhill for some time now, and unfortunately, The Night Listener isn't the shot in the arm that he needs (unlike 2002's One Hour Photo, which proved that he's still in the game). The film is a muddled, confusing, jittery thriller with such oddly impersonal and detached direction from Stettner that it seems not even he knows what to make of it. He has a very interesting concept to work with, about a lonely radio show host who reads a haunting manuscript written by a 14 year-old boy, and who forms a relationship over the phone with the boy...only to realize that the boy may, in fact, not even exist. The movie has some roots in fact, but if this is what truly happened, then the person Williams' character is actually based on must be mentally deficient. At only 81 minutes, the movie zooms by in an awkward, lazy fashion, and not once did I believe the rapid-fire, often idiotic decisions made by its characters. Not even Toni Collette can pull of the crazy blind lady she plays; the whole flick is so somber, so muddled, and so drab, with such unbelievable turns of event, that the audience is most often left laughing instead of wondering. D

208. 8/7: The Band Wagon (1953, Vincente Minnelli) - Okay, first, the problems: Written by Betty Comden and Adoplh Green, The Band Wagon is not impervious to comparisons to the previous year's Singin' in the Rain--the best musical of all time--which Comden and Green also wrote. Comparatively, The Band Wagon has much weaker songs and far fewer showstopping numbers. The satire and the wit aren't as sharp as they could be, and Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, while both very fine, don't have a whole lot of chemistry. But enough with all of these depressing comments; when a musical makes you leap for joy and want to start dancing all over your house, it has accomplished its job. And that's just what The Band Wagon does. Like I said, Astaire and Charisse are good, but it's Oscar Levante and Nanette Fabray as a songwriting couple that shine, giving the film a solid supporting cast and two very enjoyable performances from two very enjoyable people. The songs are mostly pleasant, but it's the highly cinematic "Girl Hunt" you'll be remembering for days, and the classic "That's Entertainment" that you'll be humming for weeks after. A very solid, if not exactly great, ol'-time Hollywood musical. B+

209. 8/8: Rudy (1993, David Anspaugh) - Okay, if you've seen Rocky or any number of other inspirational underdog sports flicks, there's nothing about Rudy that's going to come as a surprise to you. In fact, it follows the playbook almost exactly (though there are a few neat little twists here and there). This is not a great movie and in fact in the wrong hands could've been a very bad one. However, Sean Astin as the real-life title character of Rudy Ruettiger single-handedly gets us to believe in the plight of this smalltown, dirt-poor kid who just wants to be a part of the Notre Dame football team. His performance is so energetic, so buoyant, so effortlessly enthusiastic without being overbearing or one-dimensional, that we are able to swallow some of the more forced conventions relatively easily. That said, there are still a few minutes that'll make you cringe, like the entire team laying their jerseys on the coach's table (you'll see why in the actual film) or the crowd's mantra at the end. Still, Astin does remarkable work here, and it's undoubtedly the best performance of his career. Also, Jon Favreau has a great supporting role and watch out for a few brief glimpses of his later Swingers pal and Frat Pack ringleader Vince Vaughn. B

210. 8/9: World Trade Center (2006, Oliver Stone) - Everyone knows by now that director Stone has done something very unusual in World Trade Center (the second film this year about the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in less than four months, after April's United 93): He's kept things apolitical. But the real question is, does it work? The answer is that, yes, to some degree it works, and to a higher degree than I was expecting. Yes, this movie is Hollywood sentimentality through-and-through and goes for the corn more often than it should. Yes, I could predict every storytelling rhythm, every musical cue. But one would be hard-pressed to deny that there is a certain emotional strength and passion behind World Trade Center that sets it apart from the normal Hollywood tragedy blockbuster like, say, Titanic. And it's this passionate emotional core, as well as Stone's keen cinematic eye, that makes the film far better than its screenplay would suggest. Of course, coming this soon after the aforementioned United 93, comparisons are inevitable. And the simple fact of the matter is, World Trade Center doesn't even come remotely close to touching anything near the vicinity of United 93. That harrowing film had a dangerous, queasy sense of immediacy and a truly intimate atmosphere. There always seems to be a sheen of polished Hollywood glass in World Trade Center distancing the audience from the events in the film, regardless of the emotional stake every American holds in regards to 9/11. A lot of it seems to be the fact that Stone has gone soft; I don't necessarily require a government conspiracy of some sort, but there's not a whole heck of a lot underneath the surface of World Trade Center. I'm sure it sounds like I'm really railing on the film, but it's a very good one, actually, though not a masterful achievement (though the destruction sequences are painful and terrifying to sit through). Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, and Maggie Gyllenhaal all turn in fine, well-tuned performances, and I might even say that Cage would be on my short list of Best Actor nominees by time next year's Oscars roll around. Twenty years from now, United 93 will be the film remembered, while World Trade Center will be considered the worthy yet lesser achievement that it is. Still, for right here and right now, this is a very good movie deserving of recommendation. B+

211. 8/10: Dazed and Confused (1993, Richard Linklater) - In much the same way that George Lucas' American Graffiti was a nostalgic reminiscing of the passing of the 1960's, so Linklater's Dazed and Confused is for the 1970's. There are many superficial similarities between the two films, and while it's nearly impossible to watch Dazed and Confused without conjuring memories of the earlier film, this shouldn't detract from the experience at all. Linklater's script is breezy and authentic, invoking the style of the 70's effortlessly and with great attention to detail. The conversations are hilarious and even meaningful at times, but what's more, they actually sound real. This is how people talk to each other, not stylized movie dialogue. It's this authenticity and earnestness for the mundane that makes Dazed and Confused such a stoned delight, with memorable characters and one of the best soundtracks ever assembled. It's also amazing how authentic the performances are, including some great turns from Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, and especially Matthew McConaughey (the film's most famous piece of dialogue, McConaughey's priceless, "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.", is also its best). An hilarious, energetic, and poignant look back at a wild decade all encapsulated in the last day of school in 1976. A-

212. 8/10: Capote (2005, Bennett Miller) - Just as great as it was the first time around. I'm so entranced by Philip Seymour Hoffman's stunning portrayal of Truman Capote; it's one of the few performances where you can't even catch the slight whiff of acting. He is Capote...at times, you even wonder if he's truly Hoffman. His was a richly-deserved Best Actor trophy at the Oscars. And, had I been in charge of the Oscars, Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith would've gotten a definite nomination for Best Supporting Actor. A+

213. 8/11: Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch) - What. A. Trip. Lynch slams you into a surrealist roller coaster car, straps you in as tight as he can, and sends you flying off at high-speed into the dark, corrupt, and wildly absurd depths of smalltown American society. After it's all over, you're confused, disoriented, and more than a bit curious as to exactly what you've just seen...but all you can think about is just exactly how much you wanna hop back on and go for another spin. Lynch creates a bizarro world that seems to blend the classic Norman Rockwell view of the 50's with the mid-80's, when the movie came out; one minute paramedics pull up in what looks to be a late 50's Cadillac ambulance, and the next somebody pops an audio cassette into a car's tape player. This is a great allegory: The 50's themes and moods obviously reflect the idealistic fantasy of modern America, while the more contemporary elements (almost always employed by the film's "villains," including an insane Dennis Hopper as the maniacal, nitrate-inhaling Frank Booth) represent the real motivations of the nation. The way these two themes collide is wildly disturbing and fascinating, heightened by Lynch's as-always unique and cockeyed direction. Even the happiest moments in the film feel creepy, like little white lies to cover up the truth of the corruption. Compelling, haunting, disturbing, and just frickin' weird. A gonzo masterpiece. A+

214. 8/11: Brick (2005, Rian Johnson) - There's something to be said for the talent of first-time director Johnson. His visuals are fantastic, and he has definite style...but, unfortunately, there's a lot lacking in Brick, a serious-minded but rather wacky look at the quest of one teenager to find out who killed the girl he loved filtered through the lens of film noir. Now, I'm a big fan of film noir: The Third Man, Sunset Blvd., The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil, Double Indemnity, what have you. Brick seems too interested in the ideas behind its concept than actually executing it; the entire affair seems to be shouting, "Look! Noir! With high school kids! Fun novelty!" I, on the other hand, am grumbling, "You know, I could just be watching Veronica Mars instead..." Johnson, obviously a fellow noir fan, has loaded Brick with every required noir element, and knows how to write some snappy and fast-paced dialogue, but it's the plot, the acting, and the characters that fail to deliver. The plot is too contrived for its own good (unlike in The Big Sleep, the big mystery is essential to how the movie turns out), the characters are rather bland and with uninspired motivations, and the (mostly young) actors seem to be way in over their heads. The dialogue comes so quickly and is often so mumbled, I had to turn on the subtitles several different times (His Girl Friday this is not). All that said, Brick is not even close to being a bad movie, but director Johnson needs to work on employing his concept instead of just admiring it. B-

215. 8/11: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006, Adam McKay) - When a movie makes you long for the sophistication of Anchorman, you know that something's gone wrong. Anchorman seems to have found some sort of cult in between the mainstream and niche audiences hailing it as a comedic masterpiece, even though it's really a spotty, hit-or-miss affair in desperate need of a little bit more coherency, and with only one real asset, the hilarious Will Ferrell. Well, not even Ferrell is too funny in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, brought to you by the same guys responsible for Anchorman. Ricky Bobby, an idiotic southern NASCAR driver, is nowhere near as effective a parody as Ron Burgundy, and all of the jokes are worn-out and tired. Not even the affable John C. Reilly produces any good belly laughs, of which Talladega Nights has so few. The only real winner here is Sacha Baron Cohen, he of the absolutely fantastic and literally rolling-on-the-floor-laughing Da Ali G Show, as a snotty homosexual French driver. Unfortunately, we're treated more to Ricky Bobby running around in his underwear screaming (repeatedly) than we are Cohen's hilarious mockery of all things French. C-

216. 8/12: Little Man (2006, Keenen Ivory Wayans) - It's become clear to me that the Wayans family must, at all costs, be put to a full and complete stop. I don't care that Marlon had a good role in Requiem for a Dream six years ago, I care that he plays a Little Person criminal who passes himself off as a baby to get the diamond he was buying for a mob boss back from a family. Yes, Marlon's head is actually CGI'd onto a dwarf actor's body. It looks far scarier than when the Wayans tried to pass themselves off as white chicks in, well, White Chicks, yet instead they looked like pale-faced demon zombies from Hell. Yes, it's actually possible for the Wayans to sink even lower than White Chicks with the abominable Little Man, an offense to any sentient being's intelligence. This is one of the most moronic, hideously unfunny "comedies" I have ever seen. I felt like leaving my car and smashing my head against the brick wall of the concessions stand at the drive-in just to stop the incessant agony of actually watching this putrid garbage. Please, people. Don't encourage stupidity. Don't encourage the Wayans. Do not make the mistake that I did by actually seeing this film (though I only saw it because it was on a double feature with the far superior though still sucky Talladega Nights). Watch reruns of In Living Color. Please do not see any more of their films. Please. I beg you. Not just as a moviegoer. Not just as an amateur critic. I beg you as a member of the human race. Don't encourage stupidity! (Unless it's the cool Stephen Colbert kind.) F

217. 8/13: Sliver (1993, Phillip Noyce) - This is the first movie written by the infamous Joe Eszterhas that I've had the "pleasure" of seeing. As expected from what I've heard, it's filled with sex, dumb intrigue, and not much else. Reportedly, even Eszterhas hates this movie. That can't bode well. Sliver attempts to deal with the theme of voyeurism, and even goes so far as to suggest that it's a natural part of our being. It's a very interesting theme, and could've been employed to great effect, but unfortunately, Sliver is no Rear Window. All I got was that William Baldwin's creepy high-tech voyeur really likes to bang Sharon Stone's book editor. A lot. There are lots of hilariously unsteamy sex scenes, and I can imagine Stone must've felt somewhat lazy, having just come off of the sexcapades adventure Basic Instinct (which I have not seen...and, no, I don't have much interest in doing so either). The film slowly crawls to its dull, unsurprising climax, and comes to a simplistic conclusion far undeserving of its earlier thoughts and ideas, half-baked though they may have been. D

218. 8/14: Taxi (2004, Tim Story) - Based on the French film of the same name by Luc Besson, which I have not seen, Taxi takes an intriguing premise (a cop commandeers a taxi and orders the cabbie to chase the crooks he's after) and duly proceeds to crap all over it. Queen Latifah, making yet another bad decision after her Oscar nomination for 2002's dazzling Chicago, embodies almost every single spunky black woman cliché you can think of, and Jimmy Fallon--always likeable but rarely funny--completely grinds his potentially amusing role into the ground. The audience elicits nary a laugh for almost the entire running time. Director Story is not a good visual artist, I want to stress that as much as possible, but in some of the earlier car chase sequences, there's a flash of panache that ever so sadly demonstrates the fun kind of movie that this could have been, but is far from being. D-

219. 8/15: The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi) - You ever try eating spaghetti while watching this movie? Yeah. I don't recommend it. Still exactly what it claims to be after 25 years, the ultimate experience in grueling terror, The Evil Dead still manages to make me get squeamish in certain spots (and if you've seen it, you can probably guess which spots). Even if the movie isn't truly scary all the time, it more than compensates with some of the most ingenious gore effects of all time, as well as some very inventive camerawork by Raimi (plus Joel Coen was an assistant editor). This is the only real horror movie of the Evil Dead trilogy, and it's also my least favorite, most likely because the true extent of Raimi's gonzo genius isn't apparent until the last half-hour or so when B-movie god Bruce Campbell (in the movie that made him said B-movie god) has a horrifying descent into what can only be described as some sort of cruel circus from Hell, filled with some of the most frightening surrealist images I've ever seen. Yes, it may be my least favorite of the trilogy, but it's the only scary one, and boy, is it brilliant at making its audience squirm. A

220. 8/18: Snakes on a Plane (2006, David R. Ellis) - This is not Samuel L. Jackson's best film, nor his best performance. But I have the feeling that, twenty years from now, this is what he'll be remembered for...and being remembered for making one of the funniest (both intentionally and unintentionally) movies of the decade ain't half-bad. A cult classic even before it was released, Snakes on a Plane is a movie so gargantuanly bad it exceeds mere badness and enters the realm of bad greatness. Now, don't get me wrong. This is not a good movie. This is an awful movie, with a ridiculous plot, bad dialogue, and terrible acting, plus one of the most ludicrously impractical climaxes I have ever held witness to. It's the Citizen Kane of awful. But therein lies its brilliance: You can tell that the film was originally engineered as a deadly serious thriller, but once a huge Internet cult sprung up around the movie out of nowhere and the studio commissioned a reshoot, director Ellis decided to go full-on camp and jazzed the movie up with plenty of hilarious self-mockery. Thus, it's actually kind of hard to tell how much of the movie is meant to be laughed at and how much of it is still trying to take itself seriously. All I know is that Jackson has played it 100% as a comedy, and his character seems to be the only one to grasp just how deeply retarded everyone else aboard the plane is acting. Another enjoyable addition to the cast is Kenan Thompson, former Nickelodeon megastar and current Saturday Night Live cast member, and apart from Jackson, he's really the only other cast member who gets that the movie is completely idiotic, and plays it up for some big guffaws. I can't bring myself to say that, as a film, it's anything more than average, but I will say it's one of the most fun movie viewing experiences I can remember. B-

221. 8/19: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm) - For the longest time, this was always the best Batflick, far superior to anything Burton or Schumacher ever did with the franchise. Dark, brooding, moving, and suspenseful, it captured the Dark Knight on film in a way that I was determined nothing else ever could (besides the brilliant long-running animated series that spawned it, of course). Of course, this all changed when Christopher Nolan's amazing Batman Begins hit last year, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm still remains an excellent look at Bruce Wayne's tortured soul, and his quest to defend Gotham City while at the same time avenging his parents' brutal murder. Mask of the Phantasm delves deep into Bruce's personal life--something that was never glossed over but occasionally got shortsighted in the series--sporting many quiet moments of Bruce just trying to lead his life. And, of course, the animation, as always, is superb (though perhaps not quite on par with other feature animation of the day, as the project was originally intended to be direct-to-video), boasting a very stylized 50's-esque noir look. The voice acting is also spot-on, especially the always deliciously superb Mark Hamill as the Joker...forget Jack Nicholson, forget Cesar Romero. Hamill will always be the definitive Joker in my mind, no matter he's only providing the voice of an animated figure. Heath Ledger has some mighty large clown shoes to fill in with next summer's The Dark Knight... A-

222. 8/19: Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi) - My favorite of the Evil Dead trilogy, Evil Dead II isn't very scary, but it more than makes up for that with some completely deliriously hilarious off-the-wall moments (Ash fighting his own evil possessed hand, anyone?), and some truly whacked-out camerawork from Raimi and company. Arguably the most imaginative of the series, Evil Dead II also firmly cements star Bruce Campbell's place in the annals of B-movie superstardom, with wonderfully kitchsy lines like, "Groovy," "Workshed," and "My hand...YOU TOOK MY HAND!" Evil Dead II is brilliant, zany entertainment, and proves that Raimi is one of the most original, inventive filmmakers of our time. It may not be Shakespeare...but, then again, Ash probably would've sawed that Shakespeare guy's head off after five minutes. A+

223. 8/19: Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi) - Watched it again with the commentary. If memory serves me, this is the first time I've ever listend to a commentary more than once, and it's just as funny, wacky, and insightful as I remember it being. Probably my favorite commentary of all time. A+

224. 8/19: Army of Darkness (1993, Sam Raimi) - This is the first time I've seen the director's cut of this, the last installment in the Evil Dead trilogy--which brings the movie from 81 minutes to 96 minutes--and I also watched it with the commentary by Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and, barely, Ivan Raimi. I can't really decide between this cut and the theatrical cut. This one features the original cruel, twisted ending, but I think I prefer the more optimistic ending in the theatrical, though this cut does add a lot of extra padding which overall actually works better than the way in which Universal cut the theatrical. The theatrical does have some better dialogue, however...still, the two cuts both turn out about equally well. Either way, I love this movie, as well as the oh so groovy commentary. A+

225. 8/19: Angel and the Badman (1947, James Edward Grant) - Angel and the Badman is a very clever western, and does a superb job of subverting a lot of the standard western conventions. It's even more impressive considering the film was made at a time when westerns were still all the rage but well before Leone completely shook up the genre; it took guts to do some of this. John Wayne gives a very solid, intriguing performance as the "badman" of the title, a rotten apple who falls in with the "angel" of the title, a gentle, beautiful Quaker girl played with grace and spunk by Gail Russell. I love that Wayne is very much the sleazy bad guy, but slowly comes over to the Quaker ways without the transition ever feeling forced or strained. During the final showdown--which, let's face it, is a pre-requisite for almost any western--Wayne's "good guy" wears a black hat and his oppressor wears a white hat. It's nice, it's subtle, and it's clever...which is a pretty handy way to sum up the entire film. It might not be as good as other Wayne classics like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Stagecoach, but it's definitely worth seeking out. B+

226. 8/20: Keane (2004, Lodge H. Kerrigan) - Few films are as emotionally haunting as Kerrigan's Keane, a very powerful look at a man whose daughter has been missing for months, and how he's beginning to break down, both mentally and physically. We watch as he coasts from alcoholic bouts of incoherence to drug-induced extremes, all the while futilely trying to find his daughter. Much of the film is difficult to watch, it is so frankly realistic; it's a complete shame that Damian Lewis didn't even get a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his truly stellar work here. His title character of Keane remains an enigma throughout the film: Is he schizophrenic? Is he homeless? Did his daughter ever even exist? The film wouldn't have worked nearly as well without a performer like Lewis, who never goes over-the-top and who always wraps Keane in believable yet somewhat disturbing layers, adding a certain richness to Kerrigan's moody, shaky handicam environment. A brilliant film, and only Kerrigan's third...I now feel compelled to track down the first two and to plead with him to get something else out as soon as possible. A

227. 8/23: Kakushi ken oni no tsume/The Hidden Blade (2004, Yôji Yamada) - If American period pieces have become dull, somber affairs as of late, they're being kept alive everywhere else in the world, and Yamada's The Hidden Blade is a fine example of how to revive and envoke a culture and a time that no longer exist. Though it takes many elements from Yamada's earlier film The Twilight Samurai (both films are based on novels by the same author), The Hidden Blade is a superb film in its own right, with solid performances, good cinematography, and just the right balance between the code and discipline of the samurai way and your classic Hollywood romance. While I don't know if The Hidden Blade is as good as The Twilight Samurai--really, I'd say both films are about on par with one another--one thing I do know that I appreciate about both films is that there's very little samurai action and that things are looked at from a much more emotional, moralistic angle, which makes the experience much richer and more interesting for the viewer. Yamada may be no Kurosawa, but he's the closest we've got these days. B+

228. 8/24: Within the Woods (1978, Sam Raimi) - As a bonafide nerd and a pretty sizable Raimi/Bruce Campbell cultist, finding a copy of Within the Woods is pretty much akin to unearthing the Holy Grail. Though the quality of the copy I managed to find (courtesy of that unstoppable juggernaut YouTube) was pretty terrible on both the audio and video fronts, it's what I was expecting, and as for the film itself--which only runs 32 minutes--it's also exactly what I was expecting. Engineered by Raimi, Campbell, and Rob Tapert as a trial run of sorts for 1981's cult classic The Evil Dead, Within the Woods is undeniably cheap-looking and with only fair acting. Still, we get more than just a glimpse of Raimi's ingenious directorial skills, and even with the terrible quality of the copy I viewed, it's an entertaining little horror flick, and it's great to see Campbell go completely evil, which never happened in the Evil Dead series apart from a brief possession in Evil Dead II. If you're not a hardcore Evil Dead nut, I'm not sure of how much value this will be to you, but if you are...you owe it to yourself to hunt this down. B

229. 8/24: Assault on Precinct 13 (2005, Jean-François Richet) - I didn't much care for John Carpenter's original 1976 Assault on Precinct 13, and I like this one even less. At least the original had a modicum of intelligence and had the balls to go for something truly shocking--the ice cream truck scene, anyone?--even if it amounted to little else than shock effect. Though at least there was that "little else." Richet's remake is basically a bunch of moronic archetypes holed up together in a very uncreepy old police precinct with a lot of dumb cops trying to barge in. The original may not have worked too well, but it actually had enemies who meant something and who represented part of the story's thematic structure...as I've heard it described before, it was basically Dawn of the Dead, only grittier and more realistic (though nowhere near as good). The best way to describe this one is that it's basically on the level of a subpar outing from Showtime or Cinemax...and considering HBO's the only cable network that's consistently impressed me, that's really saying something, and not something good. At least John Leguizamo is here to alleviate all of the badness. C-

230. 8/25: Little Giants (1994, Duwayne Dunham) - Y'know, they just don't make 'em like this anymore. Thank God. Remember back in the early- to mid-90's when horrifically cheesy kid's sports movies like this were more than commonplace? With a few exceptions--like the awful Rebound--this genre has stayed buried for about the past decade, and Little Giants is a case study of why that's a good thing. While Rick Moranis is always likeable (though every time I see him I think, "Are you the Gatekeeper?"), the script here is dreadful and, unless you're about two years old--and even then, you might have standards--none of it is funny or engaging in any way. The only character here who has any depth is Ed O'Neill's meanie Kevin O'Shea, but the script treats him like a schizophrenic, bouncing from cruel to warm-hearted to arrogant to soft with not one believable transition. Basically, Little Giants is everything you'd expect it to be, and unless you're really nostalgic for this kinda thing, that means that it sucks, and majorly. D+

231. 8/28: Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) - As a life-long comic book fan, and in particular a huge webhead, I wanted to rush out and hug director Raimi (in a totally hetero way) after I first saw this brilliant adaptation back in May 2002. Raimi, with his unique, cock-eyed visual stylings, and familiarity with the material (it's always good to have a fan onboard), is the perfect filmmaker to bring Peter Parker's world to life, and Raimi does so with dazzling gusto. However, without an actor who can embody Peter's sympathetic yet witty persona, the whole thing could've gone to pot; thus, much of the film's success must also be accredited to star Tobey Maguire, who, as far as I'm concerned, is Spider-Man. My main fascination with Spidey has always been that, despite being a superhero and being able to crawl on walls and swing from skyscrapers and whatnot, is that he's one of us. In fact, he's a nerd. When he puts on that classic red-and-blue webbed Spider-Man costume, he's still Peter Parker...there's no need for a drastic identity change like with Clark Kent and Superman. Maguire conveys this perfectly, and the rest of the cast is great as well, such as Kirsten Dunst as the beautiful but conflicted Mary Jane Watson, Cliff Robertson as the fated Uncle Ben ("With great power comes great reponsibility. Remember that, Pete."), Oz's J.K. Simmons as the irate Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, and Willem Dafoe in a terrifying performance as the Green Goblin. The fights and special effects are also top-notch, but what really makes this movie work is the wonderful attention to character and detail. Thank you, Mr. Raimi. Thank you. (And can you believe the sequel actually makes this one look comparatively slight?!) A+

Continued in Vol. 5

Couldn't agree more on Clerks 2. Although I found a lot more flaw with the film than you did, seeing these characters again just struck a chord. Kevin did such a good job of making it recognizable that it was like seeing someone at a high school reunion and seeing if the trajectory you pegged them on was correct. I will treasure this movie for that feeling alone. I almost cried when the "I assure you we're reopened" banner was put on the store.

It's nice to see old friends again.

Admittedly, the movie has its problems, but then again, so do all of Smith's movies. The movie just really really won me over on a basic emotional level, and when a movie can make me fall in love with it as deeply as Clerks II did based just on its characters and its words, I can be willing to overlook some technical flaws.

As for the moment that most moved me, it was the last shot, as it pulled away and went black-and-white, complete with the milk lady. Randal's "And you're not even supposed to be here today," was perfect.

Okay, I completely disagree with this. Clerks 2 was perhaps one of the worst films I had seen all year. The writing was awful! Dante and Randal became almost completely unlikeable, particularly Randal who was the star of the first movie. Almost none of the cleverness of the first movie was there. The new character, Elias, was a joke. How can one of the nerdiest directors around base a nerd character completely on unfunny stereotypes? Oooooh, there's some references to THE INTERNET too! The donkey show scene was okay. I saw the ending coming from a mile away. Jay and Silent Bob were completely unfunny. The gross-out humor was just that, gross-out humor. Randal's weird encounter with racism seemed forced. Pretty much everyone overacted their roles. The dance scene was terrible. The plot was ridiculous and contrived. All the drama was ridiculous...come on, what's with Dawson's character considering getting an abortion? (and I'm not spoilering that, the fact that she was pregnant was spoilered in the trailer) Give me a break. How can someone take a movie with a line like "Man, if I had known you'd bail on me 10 years later, we'd never have become friends" seriously? Where are the clever pop culture references? At least Dante's situation in the first movie didn't seem so ridiculously dramatic...in the first one, he was caught between a nice girl who loved him and a whoreish girl he was irrationally infatuated with. It was an interesting choice...of course we all knew Katelin wasn't the right choice but it was interesting to see how obsessed he was with her. Movie two? Hmmm, between an ugly 'dream girl' who hates men and wants to take Dante away from all his friends (but has money) and a girl who he can actually identify with, who happens to be carrying his baby? And the ending scene in the drive-thru, this doesn't even work as comedy! "One ring to rule them all"...HAHAHAHAHA, fantastic Lord of the Rings reference, very cryptic and appropriate and unexpected! But it did have "Nothing But Flowers" by Talking Heads in it, that song rules!

I actually thought the, "Man, if I had known you'd bail on me ten years later, we'd never have become friends" line was actually pretty funny.

Rosario considering an abortion seemed realistic to me...she had become accidentally pregnant with the child of a man who was about to leave for the other side of the country.

Of course, everything's subjective, but I thought the movie was completely hilarious from start to finish. I wanna watch both movies back-to-back some time soon and see if I still like the second better than the first, but I still thought this one was great.

And, yes, "Nothing But Flowers" is a great song.

Maybe it's just me then :S It probably has something to do with the fact that I really don't like Kevin Smith too much - Clerks was good, but his movies just seemed to get worse from there. This movie just really rubbed me the wrong way - not a single thing about the first movie that I liked was in this one. I don't know...I always thought that Dante and Randal genuinely hated the Kwik Stop in the first movie, which to me drove the story. And suddenly they want to re-open it? To know that Dante and Randal never did decide to do anything with their lives in ten years was a little sad.

But I just hated the methods that the movie used. It seemed to brand "THIS IS A COMEDY" in bold letters on every scene. Clerks 1, we knew that Dante and Randal talked too fast and that some of the situations were contrived, but at least the characters seemed realistic. What's with Wanda Sykes trying to out-overact everybody? And when did Randal turn from a smartass to a completely unlikeable jerk? Man, if I was Dante I would want to ditch him too...guess this is just my opinion. I've seen lots of people say how it's the best movie of the year, very emotional, funny, all that, and I can't see any of that.

Well, Wanda Sykes always overacts. It's an annoying quirk she has; the woman's never heard the word "subtlety."

It's a vaild point you bring up about Dante and Randal hating the Quick Stop, but I think that through the intervening years they realize how good they really had it, and long for the old days. In the end, they learn that what they deemed an unbearable shithole was actually pretty good by the rest of the world's standards.

I don't really see Randal turning from a smartass to an unlikeable jerk. He was perhaps more cynical from the fact that he was losing his best friend, but I didn't find him to be a jerk.

I think that Clerks II is one of 2006's best, but not the best. That would be Children of Men. ;-)

To "overact" implies that someone is "act"-ing. I find Ms. Sykes funny. (That's funny "amusing," not funny "odd"... mostly.) She's funny but she's no actor.

"I actually thought the, "Man, if I had known you'd bail on me ten years later, we'd never have become friends" line was actually pretty funny." Not to people who've been bailed like the Titanic after a decade of smooth sailing.

My friend Will also brought this up to me. I was remembering the line in the wrong context, yet wanted to defend it anyway...and ended up with a dumb statement.

I think maybe not...

As Carol Burnett (why not?) said: Comedy equals tragedy plus time.

I just haven't had enough time for the scars to stop itching.

I really dig that.