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Page last updated 12-03-2008. 
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The Top Eleven Films of 2003

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Not only the best of 2003, but one of the best of all time.  'Nuff said.

2. Matchstick Men - Whether you like caper films or films where characters find their true selves, this is for you.  Nicholas Cage is outstanding.

3. Hulk - Part art film, part experiment, part human drama, part comic book, part summer action blockbuster, it all works.

4. School of Rock - A laugh-out-loud comedy from start to finish with Jack Black's frenetic performance as a man who truly lives for a cause, rock-and-roll!

5. Kill Bill, Volume 1 - An exercise in ultra-cool by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman.

6. Luther - Wonderfully summarizes and captures the times and influence of the Reformer.

7. Holes - A "kids movie" that's actually hard to define as it touches on philosophy, theology, and relationships, while taking place in a strange, fascinating universe where absurd comedy and human tragedy are equally at home.

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Fantastically entertaining and the incomparable Johnny Depp as the indescribable Jack Sparrow.

9. Freaky Friday - Jamie Lee Curtis RULZ!!!  And Lindsay Lohan can keep up with her just fine in a comedy that touches the heart.

10. X2: X-Men United - Another superb comic book adaptation that will even appeal to non-fans by Brian Singer and company.

11. S.W.A.T. - Infinitely better than I expected and much better than some of the more hyped and anticipated films of the year.  Well done Cop Drama with great action sequences and atmosphere.

Honorable Mention: Elf - Destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.


 
 
 

I rate my movies on a 4 * scale.  These are the ratings of the movies on this page from best to worst.  To see the review for a particular movie, choose the movie from the A-Z listing.  Otherwise, scroll down to read them all in no particular order.  Enjoy!

 

 

Rating: * * * * 

Kill Bill, Volume 1

Miracle

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

School of Rock

Luther

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl 

Matchstick Men

 

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Freaky Friday (2003)

HULK

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

Men of Honor

Holes

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Legally Blonde

Signs

Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones 

Minority Report

Ed Wood

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Spider-Man 

Like Mike

The Princess Diaries

The Matrix

X-MEN

BOWFINGER

Monsters, Inc

A Civil Action

Galaxy Quest

 

 

Rating: * * * 3/4 

Hellboy

X-2: X-Men United

S.W.A.T.

 

 

Rating: * * * 1/2 

Happy Gilmore

Daredevil

Jurassic Park III 

Spy Kids

U-571

The World Is Not Enough

 

 

Rating: * * * 1/4 

Hidalgo

Ella Enchanted 

ELF

Looney Tunes:

Back in Action

Harry Potter

And The Sorcerer's Stone

(revised rating)

Drumline

Terminator 3:

Rise of the Machines

The Italian Job

Catch Me If You Can

The Country Bears 

Zelig

Ocean's 11 

Miss Congeniality

Finding Forrester

Freaky Friday

The Fifth Element

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: * * * 

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lord Of The Rings:

The Fellowship Of The Ring

Dunstan Checks In

Vertical Limit

THE MUMMY

 

 

 

Rating: * * 3/4 

Catch That Kid

"13 Going On 30"

The League of

Extraordinary Gentlemen 

Lara Croft Tomb Raider:

The Cradle of Life

Harry Potter 

And The Sorcerer's Stone

Unbreakable

Ice Age 

The 6th Day

 

 

 

Rating: * * 1/2 

Stargate

The Sixth Sense

 

 

 

Rating: * * 1/4 

Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams

What Lies Beneath

 

 

 

Rating: * * 

Die Another Day 

Star Trek: Nemesis

The Mummy Returns

The Wild, Wild West 

Star Wars Episode One:

The Phantom Menace

 

 

 

Rating: * 1/2 

Hollywood Homicide

Planet Of The Apes (2001)

Gladiator

Deep Impact

 

 

 

 

Rating: * 

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Reloaded

Independence Day

Red Planet

Mission To Mars

Titan A.E

 

 

BOMB!!!

Underworld

Reign Of Fire

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 

MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 2

 

 


   
 
 

MOVIE TITLES  From A - Z

Movies from A to D

 

Movies from E to H

Movies from I to L

Movies from M to P

Movies from Q to S

Movies beginning with T

Movies beginning with "The"

Movies from U to Z 


 


 
 
 

Looking for a fun read? Then enjoy the following reviews.  Please note, however, that they are NOT in any particular order.  Have fun!


 
 

Underworld

Rating: BOMB!!!

One of the characters repeatedly asks "What the ___ is going on?"  Another makes some sort of reference to "incoherent ideas and images." 

And then a character asks, "Are you ___ kidding me?" 

I couldn't have summed this film up better if I tried.


 
 
 

Happy Gilmore

Rating: * * * 1/2

What I thought would be just a "one joke movie" - the joke being that a hockey player known for brawling becomes a professional golfer - turns out to be full of "guy humor," creatively absurd situations, satire, and spoof.  And that one particular joke holds up real well, too.  I laughed so hard during parts of this film that I had to gasp, "Stop it!  Stop it!"  and my chest and sides hurt so much I thought I was having a seizure.  Hilarious!  How could a movie be bad when it manages to use both Richard "Jaws" Kiel and Bob Barker?  But it does contain some crude language and humor, so some people may opt to watch the cleaner cable TV version instead.


 
 
 

Kill Bill, Volume 1

Rating: * * * *

Quentin Tarantino delivers a Master Class In Movie Making while he pays homage to the things he loves - Kung Fu movies, anime, spaghetti westerns, old television shows, music, the '60s and '70s, Japanese and American pop culture, and Uma Thurman, who proves that the lead in an action film can deliver an Oscar-worthy performance.  She is INTENSE and works wonders with her face, voice, and body language.  And talk about a physically demanding role!  And the sequence using "The Green Hornet Theme" is one of the most finely crafted, stylish, and cool pieces of cinematic art I've ever seen.


 
 
 
 

"13 Going On 30"

Rating: * * 3/4

There's a sweet story in this film about a 13 year-old suddenly time-shifted into the body of her future 30 year-old self.  It's too bad that the creators felt they needed crude talk and sex jokes to tell it.  While the movie has its grin-producing and tear-jerking moments, it's never quite humorous or emotionally involving enough.  And you've seen the best jokes in the previews.  Another problem is that the plot and dialog aren't internally consistent.  One moment our heroine is a thirteen year-old trapped in an alien world, the next she's a wise beyond her years woman of that world.  Jennifer Garner is a skilled and gorgeous true movie star and she and the other actors give the material their all.  But the writing and direction let them, and us, down.  "Big" and "Freaky Friday" already covered this ground before in 4 star fashion.  Still, the film is okay if you want to have a night out at the movie, and it can lead to discussions about: the decisions in the past that have made us how we are today; repentance, redemption and restitution; priorities; peer pressure; true friendship; God's sovereignty. 
 


 
 
 
 
 

Miracle 

Rating: ****


This story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team centers on Coach Herb Brooks, and therefore explores the joys and costs of leadership, the relationship between a coach and his players, the drive and determination it takes to win, building a team, self-doubt and the questioning of priorities, "tough love," how a committed married couple works out their difficulties, personal redemption, the thin line between single-mindedly pursuing a goal and unhealthy obsession, being what you were created to be and being the best "you" possible, and thinking outside the box.  It is so much more than a "sports movie", although it is probably the greatest "sports movie" I've ever seen.  It's a movie about life.  And, while it recognizes and celebrates the place of athletics and heroes in our society and our legitimate need for them, it also paradoxically questions why we all get so worked up over something that is "just a game." 

Kurt Russell delivers a phenomenal, Oscar-worthy performance.  He is one of those actors who gets more interesting to watch as he ages.  And what he was able to convey with his face alone, in such scenes as when he returns home from the team's Christmas party to realize that he's missed precious time with his family and when he has to cut a player who has worked so hard for so long, is amazing.  Don't let the fact that you know who wins "the big game" keep you away from the theater. Your heart will still be in your throat as you watch the movie.  And, if you lived through those days or are a student of history, you'll love all the montages and actual news clips from that era.


 
 

Hellboy

Rating: * * * 3/4

I have never read a Hellboy comic book, so I didn't enter the theater with any preconceived notions or expectations.  The pulp magazine-ish story of evil Nazis, secret organizations, occult practices, unique heroes, and wizard villains won me over.  As did all the well-realized characters, including Big Red himself, and all the supernatural smackdown action sequence.  The direction, action, and special effects are incredible.  And much humor is mined from the fact that Hellboy, for all his near-indestructibility and alien appearance, is all too human.  But the movie delivers more than just chuckles and jaw-dropping moments.  It also has a heart as it allows we viewers to follow a sweet love story which is all about falling for a person's character instead of looks.  Family is also a theme - as well as the importance of belonging and having people you can respect and trust- and the line, "I call him Son," brought a tear to my eye.  (Frankly Hellboy's team could probably defeat the Fantastic Four and the X-Men without breaking into a sweat.)  A spiritual theme is also explored as the movie asks the question, "What makes a man - the way he starts out or the way he finishes?"  Hellboy must choose either the demonic nature he was born with and the destiny the dark powers have for him, or the morals, worldview, cause, and values of his loving adopted Father.  Christians might want to ponder Rasputin's statement, "Your God is mostly silent while mine lives within me."  Spiritual lessons aside, though, how can one not love a movie that features an amphibian creature named Abe Sapien who was discovered on the day Lincoln was assassinated, a Nazi who always wears a gas mask, has dust in his veins instead of blood and must wind parts of his semi-mechanical body up like a clock, and a re-animated corpse that complains all the time?  Hellboy, at the end of the movie, puts a tough guy spin on a Prince Charming moment that is in character, hilarious, macho, and tender all at the same time.  And when he and Liz kiss and set each other on fire (don't worry - they are flame proof), we know just how they feel.


 
 

Hidalgo

Rating: * * * 1/4

The controversy that swirled around this film had to do with whether or not it was actually based on a true story.  I don't care!  It's a lot of fun watching an American cowboy prevail in what should be a "fish out of water" situation for him.  And watching the personable, underdog horse go head-to-head with its well-bred rivals.  Viggo Mortensen is an appealing hero and could make a career out of playing the old Clint Eastwood roles of the strong, silent type who gets pushed too far and has to respond.  Themes - of spirituality, of discovering and being true to one's identity, of sacrificing for a cause, of racial bigotry, and of the nature and importance of freedom - are here in the film, but first and foremost it's an enjoyable Western adventure (though set in the Middle East) with some touches of humor and "feel good" moments.


 
 
 

Catch That Kid

Rating: * * 3/4

A kid's flick that I enjoyed when I first saw it because I was with a kid at that time.  Upon further reflection, I find it to be a movie that will reach its target audience with its tale of a "Mission Impossible/Ocean's Eleven" - type heist.  It has some scenes that even adults will find suspenseful (ex. Maddy climbing up to the vault) and some that will leave them with a "been there, done that" feeling.  The young actors are good and there's a refreshingly innocent "love triangle" subplot that they handle well.  An okay way to pass a few hours.


 
 
 

Ella Enchanted 

Rating: * * * 1/4

The enchanting Anne Hathaway shines brightly as the lead character and even gets to display some real emotional range in the midst of the spoofy goings-on.  The film itself is part hearts-and-flowers fairy story, part send-up, and part satire on our modern culture.  All the characters are at heart, children of the year 2004 who just happen to inhabit a medieval fantasy world.  A fun and charming couple of hours at the movies.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rating: * * * *

A  top-notch children's movie with enough plot, humor, suspense, surprises, thrills, superb acting, satire, fascinating characters, and pleasing special effects to keep adults glued to their seats, as well.  A masterpiece of creativity.  And it bodes well for the franchise that the second film is better than the first.


 
 
 

Luther

Rating: * * * *

    If you don't know much about Luther, the Middle Ages, and the Reformation, maybe you won't love this movie quite as much as I did.  But I, being a seminary grad and a reader of theology and church history, was in heaven.  Much of the dialog was direct quotes, and the lives and times were very accurately portrayed.  Some historical figures get a lot of screen time, some just pass through the screenplay, but I got a kick out of seeing them all personified.  Some characters are composites and/or representatives of groups of people, but they are effective in providing the viewer with an understanding of the world back then and how Luther and his allies and foes affected everyone and everything.  If I was to pick nits, I would have wished for more about Luther the man, such as: how he fought against depression, the place music played in his life and ministry, his relationships with his students and his children.  But this movie is more about Luther/The Movement and succeeds admirably in what it sets out to do.  Even non-Church History students will find the film emotionally and intellectually engaging.  And we're left asking important questions such as: Why aren't we as excited about religious freedom, the Gospel of Grace, and the Word of God in our own language today as the characters in the movie were?  Do we have an infinitely fascinating God who calls forth our love, as Luther's God was and did?  What things in our churches today need reforming?  How might God be using the political intrigues, conflicts, and changing situations in our world today for His Kingdom?  As a bonus, the viewer gets a painless introduction to basic Lutheran theology, ideas of grace and forgiveness, and a picture of a man wrestling with God, which are very good things indeed.


 
 
 
 

School of Rock

 

Rating: * * * *

    I haven't laughed as much or as consistently through a movie since "Galaxy Quest."  The film wants us to have a great time and it succeeds admirably in reaching its goal.  Jack Black gives a frenetic, career-making performance as the movie celebrates rock-and-roll and will remind you of when you used to be fun, before you became "The Man."  Joan Cusack and the kids are all very good, too.  There are some heartstring-tugging moments, but they serve the laughter and help the audience get into the story and relate to the characters.  Make no mistake, this is a comedy, not a dramedy, and it's even a "sort of" musical.  And you simply MUST stay through the closing credits, though you might need the aid of an usher who isn't rolling in the aisles laughing to help you out after you've busted a gut.  If you're of a theological mind, you might even ask yourself later if Christians are as passionate for their cause as Dewey Finn is for his, why we can't throw ourselves into musical worship and enjoy ourselves before our God, and if Dewey's "god of rock-and-roll" is the God of the Bible.  Believe it or not, I think he is.

 


 
 
 
 

Matchstick Men

Rating: * * * *

    As I was watching "Matchstick Men," I was having a hard time figuring out what to rate this movie.  Part of my problem stemmed from the fact that the film isn't what I expected.  It is much more of a character study and an explanation of the psychology behind con games and swindles than it is a caper movie, and while it does contain humor, it's more of a human drama than a comedy.  But after I adjusted to the idea that it wasn't going to be "Monk" meets "The Sting," I began enjoying it for what it was.  Another aspect of the problem was that I felt the movie spent a long time taking us to where we knew we were heading from the previews we've seen.  But after the film was over, I realized that the long setups were essential for the emotional payoff at the end.  Also, in one of my previous congregations, I had a parishioner who was victimized by telephone con men, much like the protagonists of this film.  I was going to have a hard time rooting for them.  But then the film made me love the sinners while hating the sin.  And I realized that Nicolas Cage's character was being destroyed by internal guilt and conflicts over the "profession" he was so good at and that the suspense in the movie really comes from the question of whether he can give it up and redeem himself or be trapped by his own success forever.

    And then there are the surprises which I certainly won't reveal here.  Suffice it to say, that upon reflection and even more reflection, I realized how well they hold up and fit in beautifully with everything that has gone before.  A masterful job of plotting!

    Speaking of masterful, Nicolas Cage gives an Oscar-worthy, tour de force performance as the conflicted con man and Alison Lohman is superb as the daughter who comes into his life.  Director Ridley Scott delivers a seamless, stylish, no-shot-wasted, satisfying job.  And the retro sound track can be both cool and heartbreaking at the same time.  It perfectly reflects all the many moods of the movie.

    The controversial "One Year Later" ending is, in my opinion, perfect.  It is achingly sweet, wise, affirming and reminded me very much of the biblical story of Joseph and the conclusions that son of Israel came to when he looked back on his life.  It also made me reflect on how both the good and the bad that's happened to me have helped make me who I am and have come from the hands of a loving God.


 
 
 

Freaky Friday (2003)

Rating: * * * *

A perfect update of the classic story with a hilarious and ultimately touching script, and superb performances by the fantastic Jamie Lee Curtis and the talented-way-beyond-her-years Lindsay Lohan.  You'll laugh (frequently), you'll cry, you'll feel good about family, friends, and life.  And you might just consider the wisdom of the old Indian proverb of not judging another until you've walked a mile in his moccasins, and the fact that many people have hidden depths which are only revealed by time and honest communication.  And you'll need to get out your handkerchiefs for the scenes near the end of the film.


 
 
 
 

S.W.A.T.

Rating: * * * 3/4

Much, much better than I thought it would be!  I was expecting a half-way entertaining, standard, shoot-'em up.  And sure enough, the movie gives us such familiar types as The  Legendary Sergeant, the disgraced cop trying to redeem himself, the tough girl making it in a man's world, and the ex-cop turned criminal - but it makes them all seem like real people we can care about.  And the movie delivers gun battles, car chases, training sequences, showdowns, stealthy operations, booby traps, and summer movie stunts - but they are suspenseful, plausible, and executed by actors and stunt persons, not done with computer software.  The movie has character-driven humor and it spoofs L.A. culture, but the laughs never overshadow the action and drama.  The quick cuts during tense scenes make us feel what it's like for S.W.A.T. team members to try to keep level heads in the middle of chaotic mayhem.  The movie also makes us feel the terror of the hostages and the horror of hearing the words, "Officer down!"  Any policeman, soldier, or even "combatant" in political, corporate, or church wars can relate to seeing friends falling around you.  And while the characters' morals aren't exactly Christian, they still demonstrate the God-given Law written in everyone's hearts, as there are some lines the characters absolutely refuse to cross - even for 100 million dollars.  This is one of the best cop/action-adventure movies in years!  The new lyrics to the familiar S.W.A.T. theme during the end credits are ludicrous, though. 


 

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl 

Rating: * * * *

Brilliant acting, great special effects, dazzling sword fights, cons and gambits, strategic battles, laugh-out loud humor, perfect mixture of spoof and homage, suspense, horrible villains, a beautiful spunky heroine, a brave young suitor, period costumes and settings and weapons, a stirring sound track, and one of the best movie characters of ALL TIME (the incomparable Johnny Depp as the absolutely indescribable Captain Jack Sparrow) - what more could you ask from a summer film?  Go if you want to have a good time and to enjoy the ride at an entertaining, well-crafted movie.  Just leave your brain at home.  There's no sex or nudity and no swearing that I can recall.  There is violence (most of it of the comic book, video game, and old-style swash-buckling varieties, though there is some blood, some deaths, and a pirate whose eye keeps falling out) and the cursed, undead, rotting-like corpse pirates may be too scary for some young viewers.  Otherwise, the movie pretty much lives up to The Steve Bierly Code For Family Movies.  Well, it's more like guidelines than a code. (An in-joke for those who've seen the film.)


 

HULK

Rating: * * * *

Expert, imaginative, cutting-edge direction, perfect casting, excellent acting, an exciting soundtrack, and an absorbing story with a thoughtful, literate script all add up to another cinematic winner for Marvel.  The cutting between scenes, camera angles, and use of multi-panels per single screen to convey mood, action, time passages, and emotional responses are too cool for words.  And the Incredible Hulk himself is pretty cool, too.  Yes, he's CGI, but just as you accepted the King Kongs, Godzillas, and giant robots in the movies you grew up watching on TV, you'll accept him, too.  The creators manage to give him a personality and his battles with the military are pure comic book mayhem.  The effect of the bullets hitting Hulk's skin and bouncing off made my inner fanboy very, very, happy, as did seeing Jade Jaws leaping great distances and climbing on an ascending jet.  There's even a supervillain, Hulk gets to say, "Puny human!" and the last scene pays homage to the TV show before the camera pulls way, way, way back to show us Bruce surrounded by green.  A great ending to a great film.  And if you are in a thoughtful mood afterward, you can ask yourself if you have any emotional hurts inside that are going on forever and, if so, how are you dealing with them?  And what is the proper balance between freedom and restraint in your own life?  Love, according to this movie, is making an effort to uncover the real person and then accepting him or her.  Not a bad message.


 
 

Holes

Rating: * * * *

"Holes" is one of those delicious, meticulously crafted tales where throwaway lines and seemingly irrelevant situations become significant later on, and the Past, Present, and Future all tie in together and play off of each other.  In fact, Something - Destiny, Fate, Curses, or maybe even God (dwelling under "God's Thumb" becomes important in the film) - is guiding the characters and is at work bringing redemption, closure, and just desserts.  I was reminded of the book of Job at one point when the "counselor" in the film is telling our hero that he has nobody to blame for his messed up life but himself, but we, the viewers, know that isn't true.  There are forces beyond his control or understanding at work.

Set in a detention center/prison camp for juvenile delinquents (and in Europe and the Old West), the movie is full of quirky characters who provide many laughs just by being their strange selves and reacting to what's going on around them, and characters we care about who can bring tears to our eyes as they deal with some very mature themes for a "kid's movie" - prejudice, murder, lost love and broken dreams, friendship, sacrifice, family, cruelty, greed, hope, disillusionment, obsession, revenge, dysfunction, self-image, and redemption.  Actually, although the film is based on a "children's book," it's really for anyone in the later elementary grades up through adulthood.  It would even make a good "date movie."

The acting is uniformly superb.  And Jon Voigt and Sigourney Weaver are amazing.  The cinematography and locations convey the proper emotions and moods at the right times and make you feel as if you are there.  The musical selections on the soundtrack mesh perfectly with what's happening on the screen and in our heads and hearts.  The direction is flawless. 

I'm glad I have a daughter who read and studied the book in school and wanted to see the movie. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have gone to see it.  Don't make that mistake!  Rush out to see creativity and craftsmanship on display in one of the best films of the year!


 

X-2: X-Men United

Rating: * * * 3/4

Want to see mutants using their superpowers in spectacular ways right and left?  Then this movie is for you.  Want to be introduced to the coolest, most fascinating new cinema character since Gollum?  Then this is the movie for you.  Want to see how special effects continue to take quantum leaps forward? Then this is the movie for you.  Want to see a modern superhero movie with an excellent musical score, for a change, that even utilizes classic music?  Then this is the movie for you.  Want a summer action blockbuster popcorn movie that, nonetheless, has deeper themes, character development, and folks you care about?  Then this is the movie for you.  Want to take the kids along?  Then this ISN'T the movie for you.

One of my pet peeves is parents who take their under-aged children to PG-13 films without checking them out first.  One of the first graders in the theater with us was alternately completely baffled and utterly horrified by what was going on up on the screen and had to react loudly to everything.  Parents, be warned!  This is a "comic book movie," but not an Archie comic book, or one with Superman winking at the reader or Spider-Man swinging through the steel canyons with joyous abandon.  This is based loosely on the graphic novel, "God Loves, Man Kills."  Does that give you a clue that maybe you should leave the little ones at home?  If you need more, then consider that the movie deals with the fulfillment of Magneto's prophecy, as the day does arrive when "they" come to take away Charles and his students.  The sequence in which the school is invaded and children are traumatized and carried off is one of the most intense, harrowing scenes I've seen in recent memory.  Be prepared to shed a tear, particularly if you've ever been forced to leave a job, a school, a home, or a relationship by the actions of uncaring, unthinking people, or have ever been the victim of bullying and prejudice, or have had your heart broken by what you see on the news.  Still need more clues?  Then consider further that: Mystique, Wolverine, and Lady Deathstrike fight viciously, savagely, and cruelly with no holds barred; lots of people die; the United States military and a local police force fire on our heroes; characters suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually; Mystique uses her bad girl sex appeal to get what she wants; Magneto is utterly ruthless, willing to swat us all away like bugs if he gets the chance; parents in the film despise their "different" children and one even uses and abuses his.  But the biggest clue ought to be that it's rated PG-13!!!

Amidst the battles, stunts, and close calls, questions are raised in the film which resonated with me and that have no easy answers.  When victims of bullying or violence respond with violence, is it always wrong?  How much blame do the bullies bear for their victims' illegal actions?  Can violence only be countered with more violence?  Isn't it true that, at times, there are no other options?  When should world superpowers use force and impose their wills on others and when should they let things just follow their own courses?  In the film, of course, the United States is one superpower, but really Xavier and Magneto are two others.  And Xavier and Magneto don't just possess weapons of mass destruction, they themselves ARE weapons of mass destruction!!!  Is humanity totally wrong to fear them and want to contain them?  But how does one contain threats without violating the rights of potential enemies, and without treating them as sub-human?  How often do we hide our real identifies from others in order to be accepted by them?  And is doing so denying our God-given selves or just being "wise as serpents and harmless as doves?"  Don't we all long to be part of a group that knows who we are deep inside and lets us use our gifts?  (The Church is theoretically SUPPOSED to be such a group.)  We respond to Magneto when, in a bit of brilliant screen writing, he asks the young mutant, "What's your REAL name?"  Magneto doesn't want to know what the boy's given first name is, he wants to know what his mutant code-name is, and wants him to stop trying to fit in and act "normal."  He wants him to reveal his real self and revel in it.  Perhaps this is part of what the Bible is talking about when it says that God will, one day, give each of us a new name in the world to come.  Of course, in this world, as in the movie, once you reveal your real self to people, you are leaving yourself open to be hurt and maybe even persecuted.  But isn't it worth the risk?

Speaking of Magneto, Sir Ian McKellen continues to rule the screen as the tragically complex "villain," whether he is humiliated by what the humans forced him to do, or disdaining the X-Men - showing his superiority while still needing their help, or throwing in a shocking plot twist near the end of the film that's true to his nature and goals, or majestically pulling off a bloody escape from his plastic prison.  The rest of the actors and actresses are great, too, and Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine.  Wolvie's continuing redemption is a theme in the X-Men movies and here he learns what he is apart from Rogue, Jean, and Charles' graces and must make a choice between "the old" Logan and the new.  He also has to decide whether to side with a man who can give him everything he desires, or his new-found, down-trodden friends, leading to a great scene where Wolverine, with a child in his arms, faces Stryker.  The ladies, Storm, Jean, and Mystique are given much more to do in this movie than they did in the last one.  And while Rogue doesn't have much to do power-wise, she's still a central character and does use her power wisely and effectively during the confrontation at Bobby's house.  Bobby (Iceman) and Pyro have bigger parts to play this time around and they are up to it.  The new character, Nightcrawler, has powers that are visually too cool for words (think of him as a teleporting Spider-Man) and is unique in that he is deeply religious (in an old-country, European, Catholic way) and is the most hopeful of all the characters, bearing the least malice towards humans even though he is also the most lonely and alien-looking mutant we've met in the film universe so far.

Long-time X-Men fans will flip at the cameo appearances of other mutants, and some lines and scenarios that reference the comic books, but novices will enjoy the film, too.

I truly love this movie and the more I think about it, the more it grows on me.  So, why didn't I give it four stars?  Well, it's just a tad too long and there are a few short scenes that seem rather slow.  The invasion and destruction of Stryker's base is dragged out a little.  And there are some lines and moments that seem as if they were merely inserted to remind us of the first movie, not because they were truly necessary to this one.  And I still can't decide if the last shots are an affectionate homage to "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" or a rip-off of it.  So, the movie's not perfect, but it's very, very good.


 

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Rating: * * * *

  This review has taken me quite awhile to write because I was awestruck by the spectacle of the film and so moved by its themes and performances that I felt no words of mine could come close to describing my reaction to this MASTERPIECE.  I still feel that way.  But, I'll try...

   Peter Jackson once again does the nearly impossible by bringing Tolkein's world, characters, epic storyline, and spirit to cinematic life in a jaw-dropping, totally convincing way, and by making a three and a half hour film that never once made me ask, "When is this going to be over?"  Instead, I never wanted it to end.

   And, in a sense, it never does.

   Men and women returning from wars of any type (whether major armed international conflicts, small town power struggles, church fights, family feuds, or whatever) still today often find themselves and the worlds they perceive around them to be changed forever, and still find that only those who have come through conflicts can truly understand them.  They have fought for their own "Shires," only to find that, in some ways, the "Shires" are lost to them forever.  Not that they would change the sacrifices they have made, even if they could, but they realize that those sacrifices truly were made for others, even others that will never be able to truly appreciate or comprehend those sacrifices, and for The Good, and not necessarily for themselves.

   And yet the impulse for life, love, and normalcy is still so strong that it can break through the hurt and melancholy and lead returnees to establish families, homes, and roots. 

   Everyone in the world today still has a story to tell, whether they have ever been on a quest or a battlefield, or not.  And marriage and child-rearing are still the greatest quests and adventures of all.  Though Sam is finally back "home" at the end of the movie, the sense is that his story will go on.  And many today still find, like Arwen, that they are willing to forego easy paths and instead make themselves vulnerable to pain for the joy of finding their true mates and bringing their sons and daughters into the world.  And Elronds still must give up their beloved Arwens in marriages to uncertain futures.

   Life still continually changes.  The Old passes and The New arrives.  And nothing anyone can do or can stop this.  It's deeply sad in many ways and yet refreshing and Right in others.  Part of the our sadness stems from the fact  that we lack the eternal perspective of Treebeard who can call even Gandalph "Young Master" and who can see beyond the current crisis and look forward to the days when young trees will once again cover the land.  Or the perspective of Gandalph who knows that death isn't The End of anything. 

   Men and women today must still put aside old jealousies, bigotries, differences, and hurts and band together if they are ever going to conquer the greater threats and contribute to The Greater Good.

   Seemingly small actions by seemingly insignificant people, discrepancies between our understanding of prophecies and plans and the way the Higher Powers mean for them to truly work out, and balances between supernatural intervention and human effort are still the things that ultimately determine the destiny of the world.

   And acts of courage, honor, loyalty, and morality are still the things that bring salvation to the world.  And those who do these acts today are (just like the virtuous characters in the film) more mesmerizing and attractive than those who don't.

   Indeed, those who don't and who, instead, fail to realize that they are only stewards of The True King, hold onto old prejudices, want only what they want when they want it, throw their weight around, and use, manipulate, and step on others, can still toady be pitied at first, but then will be despised, and ultimately seen to be insane, whether they be Kings of Gondor, Gollums, or Saurons.  They are still, in the end, fit only to be burned and all that they have built will come crashing to the ground.

   We all still have to face temptations that would consume us and destroy those around us.  And we all still find that our true quest is to destroy that evil part of ourselves, even if at times we become discouraged in the long, slow, hazard-filled trudge up to Mount Doom to do so, at times slip backward and revel in the darkness, and at times need friends to help us carry this burden.  And we still find that, bottom line, no matter how heroic we may be or want to be, we are too weak to destroy the darkness ourselves. 

   And today, behind all our modern-day Aragorns and Frodos, there are still Gimlis and Sams. 

  When our loved ones and heroes of today board the ship that will take them to the Grey Havens, we still feel a deep and profound sense of loss and sadness, yet a sense of closure and comfort as well.

   I would give this movie highest marks for its direction, acting, score, scenery, scale, special effects, action sequences, fantastic creatures, and suspense (I felt it even though I read the book) alone, but it is also a film that isn't just about Middle Earth.  It's about our Earth.  And it is the story of my life and your life.

   I am a better human being and a better Christian for having seen this film.  And I mean that sincerely. 


 
 
 

The Matrix Revolutions

Rating: * 

Maybe I would have been thrilled with this movie had I not seen many cliché-filled WWII movies, and '50s and '60s monster movies featuring our troops battling THEM, or had I not progressed beyond mid-semester in Philosophy 101, or if I didn't demand that special effects make sense - merely that they fill the screen, or if I didn't realize that that ambiguous, unsatisfying ending was not thought-provoking, but just poor writing, or if I didn't mind the fact that the dialog was unceasingly inept and utterly predictable, or if I didn't care about the three leads from the first movie.  Here Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo spend most of their time off-camera and, instead, the second and third level characters that failed to move me in "Reloaded" take center stage.  When our main heroes do appear, they keep bland expressions on their faces and speak almost all of their lines in a monotone and/or a whisper.  And, hey, let's build ludicrous looking huge defense machines which leave their operators totally exposed.  And, hey, let's have the robotic octopi dramatically swarm instead of just having them get down to business.  Only good ol' Agent Smith saved this movie from a BOMB! rating.  He's still cool and the fights with him in "our" world and in the Matrix were at least entertaining.


 
 
 
 

Elf

Rating: * * * 1/4 

A sweet-natured story about a human equivalent to SpongeBob SquarePants -  a man who was raised as an elf at the North Pole - and who brings his irritating cheerfulness, optimism, and convictions about the way the world should work to New York City as he attempts to meet his real father.  Lots of grins, chuckles, and guffaws for everyone, though adults may wipe away a tear or two from time to time over the love story and the themes of family, belonging, identity, and changing the world with child-like faith.  And stay for the end credits to hear co-star Zooey Deschanel and the incomparable Leon Redbone singing, "Baby, It's Cold Outside."  I've got to get this sound track sometime!


 
 
 
 

Looney Tunes: Back in Action

Rating: * * * 1/4

A laugh-filled return to the days of hilarious, spoofy, anarchic Warner Brothers animation, with strong, recognizable characters and the way they interact with each other providing part of the fun.  Homages to, and parodies of, movies abound.  Often, this film is like one of those crowded panels from an old Mad magazine.  There's so much going on around the borders, in the backgrounds, and on the signs that you want to see scenes again in order to catch it all.  Focusing the movie on Daffy instead of Bugs (though the rabbit's presence is felt throughout) was a good idea.  The Daffy presented here is a perfect amalgamation of all of his screen incarnations - the crazy "woo woo" duck, the egocentric star whose opinion of himself outstrips his talent, the "greedy little miser," the conman/salesman, the bumbling frustrated action hero, and the bane of all who would wish to get rid of him's existence.  He's a fascinating personality with endless comic potential.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Harry Potter 
And The Sorcerer's Stone

(includes new comments and new rating in Dec 2003)

Rating: * * 

There are an awful lot of things happening on the screen and tons of special effects to look at, but there's not much of a story to engage the viewer.  In the rare moments when the film does strum the heart strings, it fails to sustain a chord.

This is a children's film in the same way that "Barney" is a children's TV show.  The pacing is S-L-O-W and everything is explained in painful detail.  The movie is quite predictable - Harry makes friends with the misfits, Harry gets assigned to the house where his friends are, Harry's team wins the game, Harry and friends defeat the villain, Harry's house wins the cup, the groundskeeper will keep giving out information that he's not supposed to.  There are some attempts at humor to draw the adults in involving a boarding school which is very properly British, yet is for wizards and witches, but at best they draw quick, mild chuckles, or half-grins.

And the film doesn't stand up to adult logic.  The broomstick game, at least as it is explained in the movie, makes no sense.  Why bother sending teams out on "the field" if the game only depends on what one player does?  The gauntlet at the end of the film was designed to keep the Sorcerer's Stone out of the hands of the masterful evil wizard, yet three first year students can navigate their way through the traps just fine?  And adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans will have seen it all before in "The Prisoner," "Dr. Who," the works of C.S. Lewis, and other British favorites (What a coincidence that the author of the books is British, huh?), and in countless comic books, and Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.

Yes, it's a children's movie - or is it?  Younger children will be terrified during some sequences and the undercurrent of tragedy that runs through Harry's life will be hard for sensitive kids to handle.

I suppose I must weigh in on the whole, "Will this phenomenon lead people to witchcraft," debate.  True, real witches use incantations and familiars just as the fictional characters do, but the magic in this film is all of the "Bewitched," over-the-top, snap your fingers and a banquet appears variety.  No witch I'm familiar with can do that and anyone exploring the occult or Wiccan-like religions, thinking he or she will be able to, will end up very disappointed.  The film is MAKE BELIEVE, people.  Besides, in the movie's world, one is born with magic powers, one doesn't convert to a religion to obtain them.  Once again, as in "Bewitched," witches and wizards are a different class of human beings, not followers of a particular religion.

The moral lessons of the film - friendship is important, sometimes the people who initially seem worthless have a lot to offer, to get ahead requires sacrifice, etc. - are fine, I just wish they were in a better movie.

Every so often something comes along that captures the fancy of the general public (which normally avoids all sci-fi/fantasy like the plague), but which the enthusiasts of that genre of entertainment feel is nothing really all that special.  The Harry Potter books, if they are like this film, fall into that category.

New Comments:

About two years after I saw this film in the theater, I watched it again on home video and was surprised that it seemed to be a much better film than I had remembered.  This time I wasn't approaching it feeling any sort of need to make a moral judgment on it, nor was I disappointed that it wasn't, as some overzealous fans had insisted, "the greatest thing since sliced bread."  I was able to just accept the movie for what it was - a good children's movie with fun special effects and enough suspense for kids, and humorous spoofs of British culture and adult society to keep the grownups interested.  Good acting all around, too!

Revised Rating:  * * * 1/4 


 
 
 
 

Drumline

Rating: * * * 1/4

It would be easy just to write this film off as a "sports movie" with all the clichés intact, except that here the "sport" is competitive collegiate marching band and the clichés are extremely well handled.  And so are the three dimensional, likable characters.  The movie took me to worlds I know little about - the fascinating, intense world of the bands, and the world of contemporary black college students.  Both worlds were fun to visit.  And it's always inspiring to watch people grow and commit themselves to a cause higher than themselves. 


 
 

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Rating: * * 3/4

An okay summer matinee movie, much as the old westerns shown in the movie houses in the 30's and '40s were "okay".  Not very emotionally involving, but then I didn't expect to be emotionally involved in a film with this title.  The stunts, even the improbable ones, look cool, the locales are exotic, there are at least attempts at humor, character development, human drama, and a coherent storyline.  Lara Croft is cool and Angelina Jolie has a riveting screen presence.

(My daughter, a 12 year-old going on 13, loved it.  While we parents were expecting certain plot developments and stunts, she was surprised and very involved by them.  Also, it was never too gory, or too sex-oriented (except for one brief scene), or too bad-language focused enough to bother her.  Fun time.)


 
 
 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 

Rating: * * 3/4

Compared to the comic book, this film is definitely "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" Lite, but it's still entertaining enough for a summer afternoon at the movies.  There are cool characters and plenty of cool moments - Pete Wilson screaming, "They're mine!" and flying into action, Nemo's hand-to-hand combat, Mr. Hyde fighting a larger version of himself, etc. - and, even after all these years, Sean Connery IS STILL JAMES BOND, or at least he could be.  Most of the effects are quite good, the exception being that the Nautilus looks fake at times, and the stretch aboard her on the way to Venice bogs the movie down.  And seeing a car outrace explosions is pretty ho-hum.  The movie may also have introduced too many concepts for its own good.  But it is nowhere near as bad as some reviewers have claimed and you could do a lot worse than plunk your money down for a ticket.


 

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Rating: * * * 1/4

The latest Terminator movie is like a combination of some of the best elements of James Bond thrillers - humor mixed with thrills and imaginative chase sequences - and the surprised/shocking and philosophical endings of classic episodes of "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits."  It's highly entertaining, as Arnold is cool, hilarious, and playing the icon he was born to play, and creativity is on display during what could have just been routine action/adventure sequences, which also feature incredible stunt work and great special effects.  The T-X is a worthy successor to Robert Patrick's T-1000 of "Terminator 2" fame.  I found myself caring at least a little bit for the human characters, though the movie is more about enjoying the wild ride than it is about being emotionally invested in people's lives.  And what John Conner says on the radio actually brought a tear to my eye.  But the good news is that Arnold is back, hasn't lost a beat, and delivers a fun popcorn movie.


 

Men of Honor

Rating: * * * *

An absorbing drama based on the story of the Navy's first African-American diver displays the humanness of its characters.  Determined, heroic, people of integrity can sometimes do stupid things and bigoted, troubled folks can sometimes do the right thing.  The film is as much about family as it is about the Navy - how one's upbringing influences one's whole life, how families form, how families stay together, how sometimes unlikely people become, for all intents and purposes, member of a family.  It's also about overcoming obstacles whether they be the numerous ones Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character faces in the way of his becoming and remaining a diver, or the more subtle, behind-the-scenes ones that Robert DeNiro's character faces as he deals with his past, a failing marriage, a disappointing life, and alcoholism.  There is foul language and cruel, uncomfortable situations aplenty in this movie based on a real life story, but that's because of the characters, the time period, and the subject matter.  And the film is still overwhelmingly life affirming.  At its heart, this is a work featuring love stories - the love between fathers and sons, the love between men and their wives, the love of sailors for the sea, the love of career Navy men for the service, and the love of morality which is in every person's heart, however dim, deeply buried, or marred almost to the point of being unrecognizable.


 
 
 

The Italian Job

Rating: * * * 1/4

A perfect summer movie which wants to do nothing more than entertain us for a couple of hours.  And it succeeds.  There are laughs and thrills, the crime caper stuff is intriguing, and those little cars are about the coolest things you'll ever see on screen.  The film also actually gives us characters we care about, a sweet love story, and acting that is way better than it needs to be for this type of storyline to work.  Lots of fun and it even tugs on the heartstrings once in a while.


 
 

Hollywood Homicide

Rating: * 1/2

Though this film has a few mild chuckles, it is mostly boring due to the fact that it keeps you at arm's length by giving you unconvincing characters that are nearly impossible to care about and by putting them in a continued and convoluted story that's an uneasy and unskillful mix of comedy, drama, "slice of life" bits, action/adventure stunts, spoof, and crime story.


 
 
 

The Matrix Reloaded

Rating: * 

As I was watching this film, I thought of an old quote, possibly from Shakespeare, that describes it perfectly.  The quote goes something like this: "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing."  Let's briefly take up each of these points:

- "A tale told by an idiot." This movie is in serious need of editing.  The unmoving, unromantic, stupid-looking rave/group dance/national "singles bar"/love scene and the scene where The Council is looking for volunteers are merely two of many examples I could cite of scenes that just go on and on, yet advance the plot not one bit.  Subplots and characters are introduced seemingly just to fill up screen time because nothing much of importance is done with them.  The movie is incapable of making us care about what happens to anybody, even the main characters, and generates only a few fleeting seconds of suspense, which quickly turn to indifference, over the course of its long running time.  Morpheus has been reduced to a guy who can't stop talking and he delivers everything in a flat monotone, Trinity is just Neo's girlfriend, and Neo himself has gone from the ultra-cool and confident messiah/hero at the end of the first film to an unsure, led by the nose guy who is troubled by bad dreams, keeps moaning to his girlfriend that he'd be nothing without her, and has forgotten most of the powers he has while in the Matrix.  The Matrix itself is alternately either too brightly lit and normal-looking or too special effect-y and green screen-y this time around.  Some of the FX and fight moves are obviously CGI.  The big plot twist near the end has some holes in it, as do several of the ideas introduced throughout the movie.  Let's hope that, instead of an extended version for DVD, "The Matrix Reloaded" is released as a special "Cut To Shreds" version.

- "Full of sound and fury."  The movie is talk, talk, talk, talk.  Everyone our heroes meet has to make a prolonged, uninteresting speech, and when the new characters aren't flapping their gums, Morpheus is flapping his, endlessly intoning that there's a war going on and/or that Neo is The One and/or that faith should be placed in The Prophecy.  As for the fury, the fight scenes endlessly repeat the same moves and effects, while the freeway chase is standard action movie stuff with some extra, endlessly repeated moves and special effects thrown in.

- "And signifying nothing."  Forget trying to find religious and mythological analogies in this one.  The speeches are all pseudo-philosophical clap-trap.  (I was a philosophy major in college, so I know about pseudo-philosophical clap-trap.  I even wrote some myself!)  And in this movie, we finally get to see Zion.  Big deal.  It looks like the place where Orcs come from.  And despite a supposedly "turn the universe upside-down" revelation, we are essentially left at the end of the movie knowing that The Machines are going to attack Zion, Neo and some new found powers are humanity's only hope, love can fuel a resurrection, and Agent Smith is the main antagonist.  What has really changed here from the first film?

This film earned one star instead of a BOMB! rating because of Agent Smith.  He, unlike all the other returning characters, hasn't forgotten how to be purposeful and cool.  And I still love the way he talks, particularly the snide, condescending way he address Neo as "Mr. Anderson."  Go, Agent Smith!


 
 
 

Daredevil

Rating: * * * 1/2

This is the dark, gritty, yet entertaining superhero movie that Warner Brothers wishes their Batman movies were.  It's "superhero noir," more pulp magazine than comic book. 

Not that there aren't plenty of fast and furious action sequences with superhuman stunts and fighting in the film.  There are.  And the outrageousness of them didn't really bother me.  I quickly accepted that the characters could execute the physics-and-gravity-defying stunts.  After all, everyone in oriental martial arts movies can.  And James Bond, Bruce Willis, and Dirty Harry fight on despite wounds that would incapacitate Navy Seals.  I wasn't even bothered, as I usually am, by the quick MTV-like cuts during the action scenes.  The lightning fast edits conveyed the chaos, violence, and menace inherent in Matt Murdock's masked alter ego's nocturnal walks on the wild side.  And I could still tell when something cool happened on the screen.

And the quick cuts help us experience what our hero does.  This Daredevil is much more vulnerable than he is in the comic books.  Daredevil is supposed to be blind with his other senses enhanced and to have an extra "radar sense" due to his super hearing.  In his published adventures, though, his handicap is virtually irrelevant, as Daredevil somersaults around the city and outswings Spider-Man.  But in the movie, Matt dwells in a cloudy, murky, shadowy world where clarity is impossible and lack of input or sensory overload are twin threats that could end his life at any moment.  (The "radar sense" scenes are mega-cool!  Great FX!)  This lends more weight to his "Man Without Fear" nickname as he hurls himself into, what for him could be, the void. 

Hurling into the void and dwelling in a world where clarity is impossible describes Matt's ethical struggles as well.  In many ways the movie is an exploration of vigilantism with all sides being presented.  Our hero himself represents and struggles through all the sides.  Some long time fans were upset at some of the cruelty and disregard for human life that Matt exhibits in the movie, but the point is that he is a work in progress, trying to define himself and his mission and wrestling with his demons to be able to get to the point where he can say what he does in his confrontation with The Kingpin at the end.  Matt is not a perfect person, but has an iron will set on trying to be a man who makes a difference.  So while we watch him make mistakes and would want to talk with him about his love 'em and leave 'em tendencies, he has admirable qualities as well.  He's a three dimensional character who is not all saint, but not all sinner, either.  And his track record with the ladies isn't held up as a paradigm to follow, but is used instead to underscore his loneliness and how, ironically, the man who senses more than anyone else around him is also isolated from humanity, and the man with the mission to help people has few people he himself can turn to for aid.  (The priest in the film is one of them and, as a Christian and a member of the clergy, I appreciated the fact that he was a sympathetic, interesting, and complex character who has strong convictions he acts on, yet he knows that the world isn't all black and white.  He ultimately asks God to forgive whatever sin Matt has committed even when the question of whether our hero's mission comes from the Lord, or the Devil, or Matt's troubled psyche is very much up in the air.  The priest knows that a man making the best he can out of a "gray situation" isn't the same as a person who willfully sins.)  Matt himself admits that there are only two people he has ever loved - his father and Electra.

Speaking of Electra, she has some genuinely moving scenes with Matt.  Their date in the rain is one of the most romantic moments I've ever seen on film.  The love story and welcome bits of humor provide breaks from the violence, angst, and tragedies.

Some other things I appreciated about the film are: the uniformly good acting; Matt finally saying, "Okay," to the bullies' invitation to fight them; the fact that the story is set in NYC and grounded in reality with many locations that are authentically inner city (unlike the "Funhouse designed by crazed aliens" look that Gotham City has in the Batman films); Bullseye (as psychotic, loony, sociopathic villains go, he's a pretty good one); the fact that the villain respected the man of the cloth; the great bit in the hospital that's shown DURING the end credits (make sure you stay for them!); Matt's utter unconcern over the Kingpen's closing threats; the cameo appearances of comic book luminaries and the in-joke name-dropping; the filming of the climactic shot of Bullseye and Electra which matched the classic comic book art; the ability that some scenes, situations, and characters had to bring a tear to my eye; Ben Ulrich's role in the story.

So why didn't I give "Daredevil" four stars?  It has two flaws that I will mention, while explaining why the flaws didn't wreck the film for me or make me rate it lower:

- A putrid, rock sound track.  If practically every movie nowadays has to have blaring, hard rock, or cutting edge songs on their soundtracks, can't the producers and directors at least find some good ones?  Still the music contributed to the urban feel of the movie and the confusion that is Matt's world.

- A slight plot that doesn't always hang together as well as it should have.  But the movie is actually more about atmosphere, mood, and what it's like to be Matt Murdock/Daredevil than it is about story, anyway.

PARENT'S ALERT: This is NOT, NOT, NOT a kid's movie!  Characters die (sometimes horribly), children and others are traumatized, Daredevil lives on painkillers, and when people get hit they bleed and their bones break.  Much scarier than anything in "Spider-Man."  The film opens with our injured hero clinging in pain to a cross on top of a Catholic Church and then crashing to the floor in front of the altar like a rag doll, setting the tone for what's to come.  Jungle Book 2 it ain't!

I agree with my son - the studios should have let the director release his R-rated version so that parents wouldn't think they could bring along the whole family, and I credit the discussion he and I had after seeing the movie for sparking some of the thoughts in this review.


 
 
 
 

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

Rating: * * * *

I take back what I said in my review of "The Fellowship Of The Ring" about it being impossible to capture Tolkien on film because, with this movie, Peter Jackson has done it!  This is an action/adventure epic spectacle.  It didn't bother me or take me out of the story a bit to know that a lot of the spectacle was CGI, because it is a spectacular spectacle!  (I think I've been watching too many Popeye cartoons.  I'm starting to sound like those characters.)  But the human element isn't neglected either.  Real emotion is expressed by the intense actors following the wonderfully literate script, and is felt by the theater goers.  And the expanded and more complicated love story works.  Nor is magic neglected.  There's always a feeling that the gods or magical beings are somehow involved in the characters' world and struggles - what with omens and portends, dreams and visions being referred to.  I wish, as a Christian, that I'd be more sensitive to God and Satan being actively at work in the world and in my personal world.  Opening people up to the "magic" all around them was one of Tolkien's passions.  Other Tolkien themes - history marches inevitably on and nothing ever stays exactly the same; war is awesome and exhilarating, but also terrible and horrifying and changes forever those who engage in it; friendship and loyalty; family; the nature of good and evil and heroism and villainy; having a home - share center stage with all the pulse-pounding swashbuckling.  Many lines and scenes are especially poignant when one considers what we are facing in our world.  The idea that people can find themselves in a war that they never wanted, yet have no option but to fight, and the imagery of a boy putting on a battle helmet hit home powerfully.  And Gollum is simply one of the greatest characters to ever appear on screen.  Funny, dangerous, horrifying, pitiable, sympathetic, simple, complex, conflicted, trapped, aspiring, guilty, innocent, perpetrator, victim - Gollum is a believable mass of very human contradictions in a monstrous, mutated, tortured body.  And, of course, his voice and manner of speech are just SO COOL!!!!  My family and I kept talking like him for hours afterward.  Though the film is close to three hours in length, the time seemed to fly by.  And although I've read the books and wrote a paper on them, the movie still kept me in suspense.  This movie is a work of genius and destined to be a classic.


 
 

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Rating: * * * *

A deliciously strange movie that transports Homer's "Odyssey" to the depression-era Deep South and throws in homages to Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels" (my son caught the references).  All the characters are eccentric, to say the least, and the humor is partly sociologically based, partly satire, partly character study, partly Monty Pythonesque, and partly from some other universe entirely.  There are some moments of human drama and emotion, but they don't detract from the laughs and the fascinating, loopy storyline.  Southern fried, fundamentalist religion is lampooned, but there are supernatural things going on and the question of how much of our lives is God-ordained is definitely explored.  Unbelievers are spoofed as well when George Clooney's character turns to prayer in a moment of crisis and afterwards tries to explain away the divine intervention.  The human desires for absolution, redemption, and reconciliation help advance the plot, along with the all- too-human defects of greed, self-centeredness, and bigotry.  It was interesting that the white men who had suffered alongside of black men were willing to give "the colored boy" a lift and risked their lives to save his.  I need to say a word about the soundtrack.  It's not background music.  In many ways, the action on the screen is an embodiment of, or a commentary on, the glorious folk/blue grass/American tunes we hear.  This film is bathed in music and music is as much its raison d'etre as the telling of the tale.  My son and I have been singing snatches of the songs and quoting lines and bits of this film ever since we saw it.  Chances are you will, too.


 
 

Ed Wood

Rating: * * * *

This R-rated film isn't for everybody, but I found its portrayal of the life of Ed Wood, the cross-dressing, incompetent, writer/producer/director of the worst, cheapest movies of all time, to be alternately hilarious and touching.  Filmed in beautiful black-and-white, the story of Ed Wood is told in the style of an Ed Wood movie in terms of lighting, make-up, background music, and, in spots, melodramatic acting.  Johnny Depp as Wood and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi (he won an Oscar) are extraordinary.  The stories of their characters can either be seen as examples of the indomitable human spirit or of naive, self-deluded human stupidity.  The movie never tells you which way to judge the stories.  It portrays both points of view and lets you decide whether the stories are either/or cases or both/and cases (as most of our own life stories are).  The stories of Wood and Lugosi are really also stories about the search for love, acceptance, and significance.  Ed gathers a community/family of social misfits around him - washed up actors and TV personalities, drug addicts, and homosexuals who are loyal to him and vice versa.  When they all have to join a Baptist Church together to get funding for a film, it is a hilarious comedy of fish definitely out of water, though they are being baptized in a pool.  It's too bad that the church didn't seem to have anything legitimate to offer them.  This film is about film making and the creative process - the depths some will sink to in order to capture their vision on celluloid, the way the "higher ups" and "moneymen" can subvert everything, and the fact that some are convinced that The Muse has visited them when she clearly hasn't, or if she did she must have been drunk or running a fever at the time.  The movie's wonderful closing focuses on an enraptured Wood, watching "Plan Nine From Outer Space" as though it were "Citizen Kane."  Most films directed and envisioned by Tim Burton disappoint me and I can never quite see why he's considered a genius and why everyone wants to work with him.  "Ed Wood" is different, though.  This is a masterpiece and definitely the work of a genius.


 
 
 
 

Star Wars Episode II: 
Attack Of The Clones 

Rating: * * * *

Yes, some of the dialog doesn't work and yes there are a couple of quick distance shots that are a little fuzzy (I didn't see it in a theater with a digital projector), but it's still the best Star Wars film since "The Empire Strikes Back."  The set pieces and action sequences are breathtakingly great and nail-bitingly suspenseful, particularly the coliseum battle which blows "Gladiator" out of the water.  Some critics have said that having so many CGI characters battle on screen is like watching a video game.  I disagree, but even if what they say is true, "Attack Of The Clones" is the COOLEST video game you'll ever see!  However, the film has real human emotions - sorrow, hurt, empathy, and rage when Anakin faces The Crisis of his young life so far; "cheer out loud" Episode One-like hope when Padme announces she's going to help Obi-Wan; comfort, nostalgia, and a hugging of old friends as C-3PO and R2-D2 team up for the "first time" and prove that they (not Jar Jar Binks) are the True Comedy Relief of the Star Wars films.  The sequence in the factory reminded me strongly of the Popeye cartoons "Lost And Foundry" and "Mess Production," which I didn't  mind because I like Popeye and, come to think of  it, Natalie Portman would make a great live-action Famous Studios' version of Olive Oyl.  Speaking of Ms. Portman, she, in partnership with the costuming and hair dressing departments, manages to admirably fulfill what seems to be her main function in the film, namely to be prettier in each subsequent scene than she was in the one before.  But she and Lucas also show us where Leia got her spunk from.  Ewan McGregor is awesomely cool as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  And Hayden Christensen conveys the innocence, nobility, pride, lust, impatience, unfulfilled ambition, love, heroism, and lurking evil supervillain tendencies that are all fighting for dominance in Anakin Skywalker's soul quite well.  Plus, he managed to convince me that he was an older version of the "Episode One" character.  And I have to say something about another player in the film.  Permit me to be a fanboy geek for a moment.  YODA RULZ!!!  Go, Little Man, Go!!!  There, I got that out of my system.  The film contains a lot of expository dialog, but I didn't mind because it was delivered in such interesting settings and served to advance the plot.  Anakin and Padme's love talk has been criticized by some for being rather awkward and clumsy.  But what should we expect from two young people who have lived most of their lives isolated from what one would call normal human contact?  And though the film is fun through and through, it also managed to get me thinking about: all the seemingly little decisions we make in our lives that ultimately lead us either to The Light or The Dark Side; how any of us can really know our destinies or the outcomes of our relationships; the complexity of our world in which an action can be either beneficial or destructive depending on how it is looked at; the way in which how we respond to suffering determines our character;  the impossibility many times of determining what is a "victory" and what isn't.  Whew!  Heavy, Man!  After "Episode One," I couldn't care less whether I ever saw another Star Wars movie or not, but I can't wait to see this one again and am counting the days until "Episode III."
 


 
 

Legally Blonde

Rating: * * * *

Reese Witherspoon owns and electrifies the movie screen with mega-voltage star power as a seemingly shallow, materialistic Valley Girl who follows her ex to Harvard law school and discovers she's more competent and caring than anyone, including herself, ever imagined.  Yes, it's a fairy tale, heart warming, chick flick with positive messages - don't let anyone put you down, be yourself, go for your goals, sometimes social rejects make the best friends - but guys will like it, too, as its "fish out of water" comedy is hilarious.  We care about the characters and the story is fast paced.  There are some adult situations and coarse language, but the movie isn't sophomoric.  And, at its core, it's very sweet spirited.
 


 
 
 

Catch Me If You Can

Rating: * * * 1/4

Amusing, not hilarious, and engaging, not riveting, this is a good movie, not a great one, although the acting is outstanding and DiCaprio and Walken are nothing short of amazing.  "Catch Me" has been called a comedy and a caper film, but it's really a character study of Frank and the FBI agent who pursues him.  There's an underlying sadness to the story and our heartstrings are plucked more than once, but the film is fast-moving and so things never get too weepy or maudlin.  Being a baby boomer, I enjoyed the fact that the movie was set in the 1960s.  The cars, home decors, clothing, and Christmas decorations brought back many memories as did "Sing Along With Mitch," "To Tell The Truth," "Perry Mason," and the music.  It was fun revisiting the days when James Bond was ultra-cool, the Silver Age Flash raced through the comic books, airliners were considered modern miracles, and pilots and stewardesses (not "Flight Attendants") were sex symbols.  The '60's style animated opening credits were a kick, too.  Even though the film is about a con man and forger, Christians will appreciate: that Frank has a sweet, though misguided and ultimately naively futile reason behind all he does; the strong love bond between father and son; the depiction of the heartbreak and devastation of divorce; the fact that Frank wants to be disciplined and at one point tries to sort of repent; his sacrifice at the end when he quickly turns away from the family he can no longer be a part of.  And who can't relate to "I just want to stop.  I just want to go home."  However, there are a couple brief sex scenes and the use of a word which used to guarantee an "R" rating.  These didn't detract from my overall favorable impression of the movie, but be warned.


 
 
 

Die Another Day 

Rating: * *

The 2003 holiday movie season begins not with a bang, but with a whimper.  Actually, the first part of "Die Another Day" is a good, maybe even great, James Bond adventure.  There's a rousing pre-credit sequence.  And the credits themselves imaginatively portray the torture Bond is going through.  (The lackluster title song by Madonna is a different kind of torture.)  Bond is vulnerable, rejected and mistrusted by the Secret Service.  As a rogue agent out for vindication, redemption, and revenge, he becomes embroiled in a plot that involves a prisoner exchange, terrorism (off screen), smuggling, illegal medical procedures for the rich, and a mysterious new player on the international scene.  The action sequences are grounded somewhat in reality and there's a superb sword fight through a private British club.  Brosnan is fine as ex-Agent 007, a hurt man out for justice.  His iron resolve and ruthlessness comes through.  The wisecracks are delivered with a combination of world weariness and laugh in the face of death bravado.  There's a great Bond moment when his spirit, very shaken and stirred, nonetheless shines through in a line to his torturer/captor.  We also hear that Bond plays hard because every moment could be his last.  And a feeling is nicely conveyed in the aftermath of the sword fight that the common people like Bond and he has a type of camaraderie with them, despite his high roller lifestyle, because he deflates and destroys the rich and the powerful.

HOWEVER, as soon as Bond is reinstated and finishes his visit with Q, the movie suddenly takes place in some other universe altogether where the physical rules of ours no longer apply.  Believability goes right out the window and, with it, any suspense and any sense of involvement with the story.  The last half (or is it closer to 3/4?) of the movie is seemingly just one unconvincing, physics defying, poorly staged and executed action sequence and/or set piece after another.  Sound and fury signifying nothing.

And speaking of sound, the soundtrack has only one volume - LOUD!!!  Halle Barry's entire character can be summed up as a tough spy girl who looks good in a bikini. And if I stacked the plot holes in this movie on top of one another, I could probably burrow through the earth and come out in China.  Here are just a few: Why does it take so long for the henchmen to ever shoot at Bond?  How can Bond outrace a beam of light?  Why does the beam quickly destroy the missile, but takes forever to do in the plane Bond and Jinx are in?  For that matter, why does the beam stand still?  And why does it shut off?  Why does the villain don a combat exoskeleton?  When did Miranda change outfits in the middle of a crisis and why?  How come the guards didn't run into the invisible car when they were running all over the area it was parked?  How can Bond and Jinx comfortably recline on a pile of diamonds?  And there's a CGI/bluescreen scene that is among the worst special effects sequences I've ever seen.

WARNING:  This film has one of the most graphic sex scenes ever in a Bond film or one with a PG-13 rating.


 
 
 

Star Trek: Nemesis

Rating: * 

The movie earns one star for some nice "we are family" bits, particularly at the wedding, and for Picard and Data's clever use of a commandeered enemy shuttle.  If not for these things and the competent acting of our old friends, I would have rated the film as a BOMB!  There are so many deep, major plot holes, continuity oversights, leaps in logic, equipment oddities, coincidences, contrivances, and violations of Star Fleet protocols and procedures that I was never able to take anything that was happening seriously.  When my son turned to me during what was supposed to be the suspenseful, climactic battle and made the "wrap it up, wrap it up" gesture, I knew he was feeling the same as I was.  But during the drive home after the movie as we vehemently tore this piece of junk apart bit by bit, I did have happy memories of watching the "Star Trek:The Next Generation" TV series with my wife while we both yelled at the screen, "Have you forgotten that you have transporters?" and "Put up your shields already!" and "Uh, duh! Use a tractor beam!"


 
 
 

Signs

Rating: * * * *

There's not a wasted shot or line of dialogue in this masterpiece about a family coping with a past tragedy and with forces bigger than they are over which they have no control.  The lighting, cinematography, and editing all make you feel as though you are right there with the characters.  The writer/director always manages to get extraordinary performances out of children in his movies and this film is no exception.  As for the adults, look for Gibson and Phoenix to be nominated for "Best Actor" and "Best Supporting Actor," respectively.  Especially savor the scene where Gibson's character talks to the vet and all of Mel's conflicting emotions, thoughts, and desires are right there playing across his face.  Close-ups and reaction shots are featured heavily in this movie and prove to be more terrifying and engrossing than any footage from a special effects extravaganza ever is.

The film makes you care about the characters, not by hitting you over the head and commanding, "Care!" but by simply letting the camera follow them around and capturing the mixtures of saint/sinner, quirky/normal, hero/coward that each of them (and each of us) are.

Some will quibble about the resolution of the sci-fi plot, but I maintain that it was foreshadowed all the way through the movie, even in seemingly throwaway lines of crude humor near the beginning.  And the resolution provides the audience with one of those "Yes!" moments that affirms life and humanity.  Besides, this film is really only secondarily about crop circles and aliens.  It's about family, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, finding faith again, how to keep on keeping on, the nature of reality and how we perceive it, God's involvement or non-involvement in our daily lives, and yes, wrestling with the Divine (the subject of my new book).  It's also about mood, and suspense, and the terror that comes from realizing how quickly your "secure" world can change - whether through an alien visitation or a driver falling asleep for a few seconds behind the wheel.

The movie uses laugh-out-loud, but unforced, humor based on how thoroughly human the characters are to relieve the tension.  And go see the film in a theater equipped with a good Dolby sound system so you can appreciate the sound track - the corn rustling in the wind, dogs barking far away, chimes tinkling, and the outside world threatening to burst down the walls a family hides behind.

As a pastor, I appreciate the many philosophical and theological points the movie raises and the questions and discussions that can arise out of a viewing.  I also could relate to Gibson who plays an ex-Episcopalian priest.  While he is trying to give up his calling, and even Christianity, entirely, he finds that he can't, because God and the people have made these things so much a part of him.  Every pastor has experienced those feelings at one time or another.

In a summer (2002) filled with terrific movies, this is The Best.  In fact, in my humble opinion, it is one of The Greatest Films Of All Time and will endure and be studied and dissected for years and years and years to come.


 
 
 

Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams

Rating: * * 1/4

The cast is back, the writer/director is back, and so are the gadgets, strange creatures, and weirdly cool vehicles.  But the heart and soul are missing.  While the first film felt like a labor of love, this one is pure "Hollywood Product."  Everything is even more over-the-top and outlandish than before, but without the themes, elements, and anchors that rooted the previous movie, however fantastic, in reality and made it relevant - the journey of self-discovery, the importance of family, and humor based equally on the human condition and spoofs of spy movies and pop culture.  The kids aren't learning about themselves, each other, or their parents here.  Instead, they are highly trained agents, skilled in hand-to-hand combat, talented dancers, expert computer hackers, weapons and high tech specialists, and survivalists.  And they are interested in the opposite sex.  The adults in the film are used essentially for only glorified cameo appearances and Dad, especially, comes across as a bumbling sitcom father.  My daughter loved the movie because, as she says, she always dreams of being a great spy who is a kid.  On that level, I suppose the film works.  But older movie goers are going to find the two hours very slow going despite a couple of cute bits like the ballet dancing and the barrel of monkeys.  When the movie introduces yet another "Floop"-ish guy who overcomes his fears and teams up with the kids, and when the creators resort to having Dad reconcile with yet more family members, and to turning Carmen into a Britney Spears clone during the end credits, you know they are out of ideas.

PARENTAL WARNING: There's a nose-picking joke, the rival spy kids land in a pit filled with camel dung, and the Shitake Mushroom line is repeated.


 
 
 

Zelig

Rating: * * * 1/4

Woody Allen's technical triumph is fascinating to watch and it has a decent enough story, too.  Although there are some laugh-out-loud moments and lines, this isn't as hilarious as some of Allen's other films.  But it is interesting, amusing, and surprisingly warm hearted.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  I loved the attention to details and to history.  The songs composed to pass as period pieces in the movie are pretty nifty, too.


 
 
 

The Country Bears 

Rating: * * * 1/4

From the trailer, I was hoping for a family movie that would take an absurd premise - what if the animatronic creatures in Disney World's "Country Bear Jamboree" were alive and existed in the "real world" - and have some fun running with it.  Then, I read that one of the "Animaniacs" writers was involved with the project and so, I hoped for a wacky movie with the feel of a live-action "cartoon."  My hopes weren't disappointed.  In the film, puns, sight gags, social satire, pop culture spoofs, and endearing goofiness abound.  My wife, my daughter, and I were laughing out loud throughout the movie.  The plot is basically "The Blues Brothers," but it worked for Elwood and Jake, and it works for The Bears.  The music is just fine and the cameo appearances are fun to spot.  The movie does pluck the heartstrings along with the guitars and "One String Thangs" once in a while, but the creators never let things get too emotional and sticky before bringing in more comedy.  Surprisingly, a weakness of the film is the usually brilliant Haley Joel Osment, who, in some scenes, is not as effective as a voice actor as he is in front of the camera.  The Bears themselves were very expressive and convinced me that they were alive.  I left the theater with a smile on my face.  Thanks, Disney!


 
 
 

Reign Of Fire

Rating: BOMB!!! 

I shocked my wife when I saw this movie - I didn't stay for the credits!  Enough was definitely enough!  You might think that it's impossible to make a boring movie about humanity's last stand against a race of dragons, but evidently the film makers are very accomplished and manage to pull it off.  The only suspense is whether or not anything interesting is going to happen. Spoiler Alert: It's not.  The only time you feel anything watching this movie is when the sheer terror of trying to stay awake to the end strikes you. 

The problems with the film are myriad:

- Thick accents and tons of dialog that takes place under loud sound effects make it impossible to understand what's being said at least half of the time.  Not that it matters. 

- "Acting" that mainly consists of shouting and looking intense and pained.

- Plot canyons  ("Plot holes" is too mild a term for what's in this movie.) :

 - The dragons have survived nuclear attacks, but nets, magnesium tipped arrows, and cannon blasts from tanks can bring them down!?!?! 

 - There's only ONE male dragon in the entire world!?!?! 

 - The dragons leave London when the heroes need them to?!?

 - Humanity hides from the dragons in a huge castle on a hilltop and run search and flood lights all night!!!

 - The human's "dragon detecting system" inexplicably doesn't work when the male attacks and the writers need tragedy to strike. 

 - There's more, but you get the idea.


- Total predictability.  You always know when the dragons are going to strike.  You know Quinn is going to return to London.  You recognize themes and scenes that have been handled better elsewhere.  At one point, my son cracked me up by saying to a character on the screen, "C'mon, Captain Ahab, you're not going to let Moby Dick get away with that, are you?"

On the plus side, the movie allowed my son and I to play "Mystery Science Theater 3000," particularly during the so-called "climax."
 


 
 
 

Minority Report

Rating: * * * * 

As a movie fan, I appreciated the world that Steven Spielberg has created in this film - one not that far removed from ours so that it isn't totally alien, but still futuristic and imaginative.  Spielberg's direction is masterful, the acting is all topnotch, and the film noir/murder mystery/conspiracy plot is a good one, taking twists and turns as the characters and the audience try to figure out what's really going on.  Science fiction, suspense, action, jump-out-of-your seat moments, and some welcome humor blend seamlessly.  And as the film goes on, one's emotions are engaged more and more.

As a theologian/philosopher, I appreciated some of the issues the movie raises.  If there were people who knew your future and your past, how would you react to them?  I expect our reactions would be much the same as that of the holo-entertainment tech in the film or the Apostle Peter's in the Bible - "Depart from me, for I'm a sinful man."  And wouldn't such beings be like gods?  But if a god already knows your future, is it then set in stone, or can you change it?  What is the nature of the afterlife and how much interaction do those that have gone ahead have with us?  Do loved ones live on in alternate destinies where they didn't die?  Which advances in the fields of science and human psychology tend to affirm the existence of God, and are we as quick to acknowledge them as the characters in the movie are?

As a human being and a Christian, I appreciated the value the film places on life and family.  All humans have worth and the right to live their lives.  The movie conveys this message and makes the point that if some must be sacrificed for the good of society as a whole, it should be of their own choice.

As one who has experienced loss, I could relate to the hero's pain.  And the movie explores how the characters escape their personal hells. 

As an American living in these troubled times, I realize that there are no easy answers to certain questions and was grateful that the film doesn't provide any.  Does increased national security mean the diminishing of personal freedom?  Should suspects be detained when it seems probable that they will engage in dangerous activities in the future?

As a lover of good writing and literature, I appreciated how the theme of sight and truly seeing was woven throughout the film, as well as how John and the precog's stories are similar, and the way that seemingly throw away ideas from parts of the film become important later on.  In fact, the plot hangs together very well, which is not always the case in films dealing with mystery and/or time paradoxes.  And Spielberg is an expert at foreshadowing without letting you realize he's doing it and, conversely, making you think you know what's going to happen when you don't.

In short, this is a good one, Folks!  Look for Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and Samantha Morton to be nominated for Oscars, and deservedly so.

Be aware though, that there is profanity in the film and that the movie pushes the envelope just a bit on acceptable PG-13 level gross-outs.  Also, the camera briefly pans past couples having sex.  The intensity, subject matter, style, and violence would be way too much for pre-teens and some others.


 
 
 

Like Mike

Rating: * * * *

A children's fairy tale story that has enough laughs, charm, and emotion to keep adults interested, too.  Though some characters and situations are exaggerated, as is common in children's movies, the core characters ring true and the situations are fun and/or move the story along.  Adults will enjoy the cameos by sportscasters, NBA stars, and Hollywood actors, and there's a good "Fresh Prince Of Bel Aire" in-joke, and a tongue-in-cheek admission that the musical, "Annie," was one of the film's inspirations.  The performances are all good and Lil' Bow Wow is an appealing lead who definitely has a future in the movies.  In order to get the PG rating there's brief use of "mild" profanity and we see a player's attempt at womanizing, but the movie is pretty safe for all ages.  And its themes of family, friendship, loyalty, redemption, reconciliation, and honesty are certainly welcome in family fare.  The evil orphanage director does do a despicable thing that might upset some kids, but he gets his in the end.  Everyone except the bad guys live happily ever after.  And the fantasy of new sneakers granting super powers is pretty universal.  Nike and other manufacturers count on it.
 


 
 
 

Independence Day 

Rating: * 

Who ever thought an alien invasion would be boring, predictable, and uninvolving?  Yet here, entire cities are destroyed and yet we feel nothing.  The stereotypical characters (the stripper who is really an intelligent woman with a heart of gold, the hotshot fighter pilot, the crotchety old man who speaks wisdom, the estranged couple who get back together, the techno nerd who saves the day, etc.) don't help matters any.  Nor do all the plot holes, coincidences, and questions.  The advanced aliens don't have anti-virus programs?  A first time pilot of one of their outdated crafts can outfly them?  The aliens count down using our number system and way of telling time?  The stripper just happens to find the First Lady?  Why doesn't anyone else join the stripper and her son in their refuge in the traffic tunnel?  A beam can destroy a city, but not Randy Quaid's aircraft before it gets inside a Mother Ship?  The ragtag group of pilots do better against the aliens than the trained jet jockeys?  (I've got lots more!)  And we've seen so much of what's in the film before - people running from fireballs, cars flying through the air, "dead" aliens that come back to life, starship dogfights.  The only things the film has going for it are Will Smith's undeniable screen charisma and the chance it gives you to play "Spot The TV/Film Actors."  Look, there's Alex from "Taxi!"  Hey, Data is an eccentric scientist!  Isn't that Cousin Eddie from the National Lampoon movies?  There's genre favorite Jeff Goldblum!  Ad nauseum.  At least the aliens get asked if they are going to return Elvis.  On a sadder note, in light of what's going on in our world today, the scenes of the nations of the world banding together seemed pretty improbable.
 


 
 
 

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Rating: * * * *

A sci-fi film classic due to its literate script, effective score, fine acting, and masterfully understated direction from Robert Wise.  Some of the images and situations from this film are now embedded in the Collective American Pop Culture Mind, and many a trivia game has asked the name of Michael Rennie's character and what the message was that needed to be conveyed to Gort.  But the serious questions the film raises and leaves the viewer with are as relevant today as they were during the Cold War.


 
   
 
 

Spider-Man 

Rating: * * * *

Stan Lee, when asked about the new film, said something like, "It is the Spider-Man I created." 

And who am I to argue with "The Man?"  The movie definitely IS Spider-Man and the cast is perfect. 

Toby Maquire IS Peter Parker, and Kirsten Dunst (and the writers, directors, producers, etc.) did a good job of bringing together all the various incarnations of Mary Jane that have appeared over the years in the comic books. 

J. K. Simmons steals scenes as J. Jonah Jameson, delivering some great lines well. 

Homages to classic comic book stories, bits, poses, and panels abound (as well as homages to Superman I and Superman II) and there's some post 9/11 sentiments thrown into the mix as well. 

The movie does an excellent job of showing Peter growing up.  And it balances the determination and sacrifice that are part of a true hero's life with what every kid knows deep down inside- that it would be a lot of fun to have Spider-Man's powers! 

If I wanted to, I could quibble about a few lines of dialog that didn't work, or the occasional special effects shot that didn't quite look right, but during the showing, such thoughts left my mind as quickly as they entered because I was being royally entertained and  enjoying myself immensely. 

As an added bonus, stay through the end credits to hear the original classic theme song from the '60s cartoon show.  My family and I sang along. 

Speaking of  family, some scenes were pretty intense and my 11 year-old daughter had to cover her eyes.  But she enjoyed it too.
 


 
 
 

Ice Age 

Rating: * * 3/4, or * * *, depending on my mood

A mixture, as most animated features these days are, of heart-stopping moments and hilarity.  For the most part, everything works, though at times the Looney Tunes-like humor and the bits with Sid The Sloth "inventing" and spoofing snowboarding and football seemed jarringly out of place alongside of families being persecuted, loved ones dying, an implied attempted suicide, and predators plotting murder.  I wondered why the creators didn't decide just to either make a funny film or else a dramatic one.  "Ice Age," in spots, is definitely darker than "Monsters, Inc."  Still, the voice work is first-rate, the facial expressions are just fine, and there's real dramatic tension between the mammoth and the man.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Ocean's 11 

Rating: * * * 1/4 

An all-star cast and a stylish, skilled director have fun with this slick caper film that uses one of my favorite movie plots, the impossible mission and how to pull it off.  Clooney and Pitt offer us a Butch and Sundance for the new millennium and Brad Pitt makes a convincing case that he is the Robert Redford of his generation.  The dialog is witty and the film is filled with the twists and surprises necessary for movies in this genre to work.  Go enjoy yourself for an evening!


 
 
 
 

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring

Rating: * * * 

I've always said that Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, would be impossible to film.  And I was right, which makes this review nearly impossible to write.

Did I like the movie?  Yes.  Do I want to see it again?  Not especially.  Was it a classic?  No, but it wasn't terrible, either.  Did it do the book justice?  No, but it certainly was a valiant attempt that deserves credit.  Did I expect it to do the book justice?  Not really (see the paragraph above).  The book evokes so many very personal feelings, images, and memories as a reader goes through it that a short (by comparison to the novel) film simply can't capture.  Does this mean that the movie left me cold?  No, there were moments when tears welled up in my eyes and a lump came to my throat, though whether these were because I had read and loved the book or not, I couldn't say.  Was the film at three hours too long?  Well, it felt like it was shorter than Harry Potter!  There were parts of the film I really enjoyed and, while I was experiencing them, I found myself thinking, "This can go on all day.  I won't mind."  There were other parts where I fought the temptation to look at my watch.  Was I disappointed?  Yes and no.  Let's take each feeling one at a time:

Yes.  The battle scenes ( much more numerous than in the book) are of the modern day cinema's "a handful of good guys can successfully take on a platoon" variety.  The fights and flights in the book are much more realistic.  And the film's battles use "The Mummy Returns" level special effects and "Tomb Raider"/MTV quick cuts and swirling camera angles which are jarring in a film set in an ancient, mythological world.  Not to mention the fact that at times, it was incredibly hard to figure out what was going on.  The only really satisfying, blow-by-blow combat was when Aragon fought the Orc warrior at the end.  Lothlorien, instead of being the near heavenly place of the novel, looked like a set from "Planet Of The Apes," and Galadriel, instead of being an angelic figure inspiring love and devotion, was a mysterious, maybe evil, being that the fellowship couldn't trust.  Since a film can't really depict the passing of days, weeks, and months in an interesting way, the Fellowship changed environments rather abruptly at times.  And instead of Evil being subtle, as it is in the book, here it uses high tech special effects and swelling music.

No.  See the very first paragraph.  The casting was perfect, especially Bilbo, Gandalf, and Aragorn.  The acting was uniformly excellent.  Some of the scenery is breathtaking.  The depictions of The Shire, Bilbo's birthday, his leave-taking, and his relationship with Gandalf were right on, as were all the lines the many characters spoke (although you'd probably have to read the book to know this, as character development takes a back seat to motion in the film.)  The insertion of Arwen into the action (probably to sell action figures) was inoffensive.  In fact, most of the changes made for the movie weren't that bad, as long as I told myself that it was a film and not canonical Tolkein.  The tricks used to convince us of the heights of the hobbits and dwarfs worked, although there were an awful lot of close-ups and head-and-shoulder shots used.

The movie is too intense and sorrowful for younger children.  They would find much of it very scary as well.

Thanks to my son for some thoughts and observations used in this review.


 
 
 
 
 

The Matrix

Rating: * * * * 

Is this movie cool, or what?!?!?!  Mind-blowing concepts, intense acting, riveting action sequences, attractive leads, eye-popping stunts, creepy villains, special effects that set the standard, a look and feel all of its own, and love, resurrection, a savior to defeat evil and lead people to The Truth, moments to cheer, moments to ponder, and two sequels on the way!  What this film doesn't have, a film doesn't need.  (Note: I'm reviewing the version broadcast on TNT.)


 
 
 
 

Monsters, Inc.

Rating: * * * *

This movie captivated me with its novel concepts., but it goes even further.  There's even character development as the monsters start to examine what they really do for a living and begin to care about little Boo.

The final third of the film is rousing, touching, and ultimately emotionally satisfying.  The jazzy, big band-like sound track is great, the animation is mind-bendingly superb, and Sully is one of Disney's most memorable, endearing characters.  The film is family friendly.  There is a sequence with very, very mild, minor bathroom humor, but it's pretty inoffensive.  If your child is old enough to realize that even though things may look bad during some parts of a movie there's a happy ending coming, then he or she is probably old enough to see this film.  You may need to cover very little ones' eyes when Sully is asked to demonstrate a roar to the new recruits.  But other than that, take the family and enjoy the movie.


 
 
 
 
 

Red Planet

Rating: * 

More plot holes than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time), a story line that has to be advanced by voice-over narration, cliched characters, and a heavy-handed anti-pollution message make this film a clunker.  The killer robot looked cool, though.


 
 
 
 
 
 

The Princess Diaries

Rating: * * * *

San Francisco looks mah-ve-lous! and Julie Andrews hasn't lost one iota of her screen presence in this delightful film that delivers both laughs, tugs on the heart strings, and some tears.  I appreciated that I could take my daughter to a movie without being embarrassed or feeling like I wanted to cover her eyes or plug her ears.  The fact that adults can get a kick out of the story and the performers, too, was a bonus.  It's also good to see a film that makes the point that character counts, unlike so many movies of today which glorify scuzzballs. Take the whole family and enjoy it!!!


 
 
 
 
 
 

The Wild, Wild West 

Rating: * * 

I was disappointed, not because they changed James West's background and made the character a vehicle for Will Smith (actually Smith is quite good here and could easily play more James Bondish-type heroes), nor because West and Gordon begin as antagonists (the film could be seen as portraying the origin of their friendship), but because of all the sex, body part, sexual orientation, and gross out jokes and the partial nudity, all of which pushed the PG-13 envelope and none of which was necessary to the story.  Too bad, because the action, fight scenes, sci-fi/fantasy elements, and non-off-color humor worked just fine.


 
 
 
 

Planet Of The Apes
(2001)

Rating: * 1/2

Okay, the apes are cool - for about 10 minutes or so, but they get old really fast when there's not much of a story for them to appear in.  I did like the fact that they still acted like animals, no matter how evolved they were, but not all the make-up was equally convincing and not all the actors were comfortable with the false teeth or adept at talking with, and through, them.  There are no characters to care about and it's hard to get worked up over "Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger/Xena:Warrior Princess" fight scenes where a person flies backwards fifteen feet when socked, slams into a stone wall, and then leaps up again.  In fact, the final fight where the chimp gets knocked around is laughable.  And that's one of the problems with this movie.  Director Tim Burton doesn't seem to know if he's making a comedy, an action/adventure, a social satire, a sci-fi epic, or an episode of "The Twilight Zone," so none of the elements of these genres that he tries to include works.  And Mark Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston.  In fact, in this film, he has no charisma at all.  I won't even list all the plot holes and all the "surprises" that my son and I could see coming light years away.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Jurassic Park III 

Rating: * * * 1/2

An old-fashioned thrill ride of a movie with the "Us Versus The Monsters" plot.  Better than other summer flicks in that it has good acting, characters we care about, and just enough realistic, cutting edge special effects to benefit, not overwhelm, the story.  The movie has emotional resonance, too, because it's theme is family.  From Dr. Grant's and Ellie's implied, regretfully failed relationship, to the Doc's father-like mentoring of his student, to the divorced couple's reconciliation while rescuing their son, to even the raptors and the pterodactyls caring for their young, to Tea Leoni's last line, the movie stresses that sacrifices are worth it to keep families together, there's no place like home, you should let people know you love them often, "boring" family members are actually complex individuals and can still surprise you, and parents ought to let their instincts take over and actively parent.  There's some great humor in the film as well involving such things as Bill Macy's true profession, the "mercenary" who ends up with the survivors, an omnipresent cell phone, and Barney the purple dinosaur.  It was great to see Sam Neal and Laura Dern again (two stars who, like Harrison Ford, actually get MORE attractive as they age).  I know some reviewers have complained about the film's length, but for me it was like a good roller coaster - just long enough to be fun, but not long enough to make you sick.  The PG-13 rating is for the suspense, the fearsome dinosaurs, and violence. There may have been some swearing in it that I can't remember, so it must have been negligible.


 
 
 
 
 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 

Rating: BOMB!!!!

The  Emperor has no clothes!  There, I said it!

And I feel so much better now.


 
 
 

Unbreakable 

Rating: * * 3/4

An entertaining enough movie that held my interest despite some weaknesses.  It's very slow paced.  There are plot holes that I can't go into without giving away spoilers, but one example will suffice: No doctors, coaches, parents, physical trainers ever questioned a student athlete's claim that he was hurt in an accident?  The scene where the boy has a gun is meant  to be suspenseful, but it comes across as ludicrous.  There's a sick sadist who appears briefly in the film, as well, and I didn't enjoy looking into his world.  The movie ends just when it seems like things are getting started.  And the most serious flaw is that I constantly found myself arguing with the film's premise that comic books reflect, albeit in an exaggerated way, a reality in which The Powers That Be send a super powered hero into the world when things are getting bad.  As a comic book fan, I do believe that many story lines and characters in them reflect reality in that they say something about the human condition, show the sacrifices that must be made to advance The Good, are a tribute to creativity, and even touch on spiritual themes.  I don't believe, though, that there is a Clark Kent living in Philadelphia (or anywhere else for that matter).  When I'm watching "Buffy" or viewing the film about the X-Men, I can accept their premises because they are taking place in universes where the fantastic is commonplace.  "Unbreakable" is set in "The Real World," however, and because of that, it doesn't quite work.  I also didn't buy the "yin/yangish" duality stuff which would claim that, if I'm sick a lot, then my opposite somewhere else is enjoying good health.

But, the acting is first-rate and the direction and camera work are exceptional.  Comic book collecting is treated with respect.  The film gives us plausible reasons for why a costume could come to be associated with a hero and why a hero might want to remain anonymous or have a secret identity.  What's said at the end about super villains certainly is true - think Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, Thor and Loki, Superman and Lex Luther.  And the themes that writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan repeats from his "The Sixth Sense" - we're given gifts in order to help others, marriages are important and should be treasured and worked on, everyone needs to find his or her purpose in life - are certainly ones that I, as a Christian, can go along with.

All in all, it's not the best movie you'll ever see, but it's certainly not the worst one you'll ever likely rent.


 
 
 
 
 

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Rating: * * * 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Lara Croft.  Angelina Jolie magnificently incarnates the cyber heroine, giving the part her all.  It's too bad the creative team couldn't have given an "Indiana Jones" level script back to her, but the story is entertaining enough in a "summer movie, see lots of cool stuff" kind of way.  The music video approach to some of the early action scenes was a little disconcerting to this 46 year-old viewer, but I could understand enough of what was going on to be able to appreciate the fact that Lara uses fast thinking, as well as quick reflexes and deadly aim, to overcome her foes.  Some scenes, especially the temple in Cambodia, play like video games, but is that so surprising seeing what the source material was?  And there are scenes derivative of "The Fugitive," "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," and "Star Trek," but they are fun and when I go to see a movie named "Tomb Raider," I don't necessarily expect it to be startlingly original or to make perfect sense.  In fact, the movie gave me about what I would expect from a matinee named "Tomb Raider" and in Ms. Jolie it gave me a lot more.  Her riveting screen presence, her air of superiority, the way she can go from vulnerable to in control and from fun-loving adventurer to ruthless killing machine, the stunts that she really did (and in interviews she insists that she's not as crazy as people think she is!!), and hearing her toss off witticisms as she dispatches her adversaries in a flawless British accent made me wish that the next 007 movie could be about JANE Bond and star Ms. Jolie.  A smart producer should sign her and Hugh Jackson to do a spy thriller together.  With young talent such as these two possess, the genre would be in good hands.


 
 
 

Miss Congeniality

Rating: * * * 1/4 

A sit-com that is often "fall out of your chair" funny, this film is like "Galaxy Quest" in that it spoofs an American institution, in this case, beauty pageants, while also affectionately reinforcing what's good about it.  The film gives some depth to its stereotypical characters, particularly the main one and her friends who come to appreciate her for what she is, and the contestants who learn to be human.  Sandra Bullock is equally adept at playing a social misfit and a beauty queen, and the veteran actors, Shatner, Caine, and Bergen seem to be having a good time.  There are a few unnecessary sex jokes and some crude language (especially at the beginning), but one sequence is notable for hilariously pointing out the total absurdity of taking the Lord's name in vain.


 
 
 

Finding Forrester

Rating: * * * 1/4 

Though the first time screen writer "cheats" once in a while (ex. We don't hear the essay that Sean Connery reads in the lecture hall), this is still a fine film dealing with creativity, family, friends, grief, commitment, forgiveness, and love.  There is some coarse language and tough talk, but it's consistent with the characters and their inner city environment.  The performances are uniformly excellent.  And there won't be a dry eye in the house at the end.


 
 
 
 
 

The 6th Day

Rating: * * 3/4 

Another of Arnold Schwarzenegger's sci-fi action/adventure movies.  This one has some great, off-beat black humor involving a talking doll and bad guys who keep dying and coming back as clones.  There are some twists and turns, as the movie doesn't offer the expected explanation about why Arnold's character was presumed dead and then cloned, and as we find out we've been wrong with one of our assumptions near the end of the film.  Questions about cloning, the nature of Man, and souls are asked and explored.  Yet the movie does have some drawbacks: Quick MTV-like cuts that are jarring and hard on my old eyes and tired brain; An excessive amount of swearing, coarse language, and sex jokes for a PG-13 film; A story line that's interesting, but not very suspenseful; An already dated reference to the now defunct XFL.  It will hold your attention, but it's no "The Terminator" or "Total Recall."


 
 
 
 
 
 

The Mummy Returns

Rating: * * 

Bigger, louder, and faster doesn't equal better.   This film is an exercise in how many computer generated menaces the producers can throw at our heroes and whether or not the soundtrack can break the record for the number of gun loading clicks and hammers being cocked ever in a movie.  There are interesting things to see on screen like in a video game, but it's about as involving as watching a video game play itself.  Too bad, because the stars are all very watchable.  It's just a shame the writer/director didn't bother giving them much of a story.  And there are lots of nits to pick!  Why are mummies able to shrug off shotgun blasts until they are about to kill a star and then they blew apart?  How were Evelyn and her brother able to keep everybody in their sights and lines of fire and how were they able to get down from the cliff so quickly and run into Rick?  Where did all those magi come from?  Do they let anybody join the order?  How is it that ancient Egyptians know karate and judo?  I could go on and on, but I won't.  And I saw the three big "surprises" in the movie coming a mile away.  To be fair, though, my fifteen year old son loved the film.


 
 
 
 
 

Spy Kids

Rating: * * * 1/2 

A fast-moving festival of imagination for the eyes and a near perfect blend of kid's humor, adult jokes, thrills, spoofs, and several touching moments that emphasize the importance of love and the family.  And this is a film the whole family can see together.  There are just a couple of mild potty lines to get the PG rating, but nothing too objectionable.  The acting is great and everybody seems to be having a good time and invites you to join them.  The gadgets are cool, the vehicles are cute, and the villain's castle is every bit as intriguing as Oz of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.  Look for George Clooney in an amusing cameo role.  And the Thumbthumb guys are delightfully absurd, yet in a strange way logical, too, seeing as how they are derived from a kid's show, as they dress up as ninjas, visit the "nurse," and have framed pictures of their families and sweethearts in their living quarters.  I, for one, would love to see a sequel in which the Cortez family go on another exciting mission.


 
 
 
 

What Lies Beneath

Rating: * * 1/4 

This supernatural thriller uses every old movie trick in the book to get you to jump - loud noises shattering silence, slow pans around  characters that suddenly reveal shocks, false starts because animals are walking in the hallway and coming through doors, etc.  And jump you do!  Although after awhile it gets kind of tiring, like an amusement park ride that goes on too long.  Speaking of too long, could they have dragged out that ending any more?  The climax of the film was the genuinely terrifying bathtub scene, but then the movie just goes on and on and on.   I agree with the critics who found it incredible that the creators and the studio would give away an important plot point in the trailer for the film.  When you watch the movie, you already, therefore, know a partial answer to the question of what's going on and you know one of the shocking things that's going to happen, so you find yourself saying, "All right already!  Let's get to it!"  Michelle Pfeiffer is still a knockout and Harrison Ford actually gets better looking as he ages.  The stars turn in fine jobs here with Ford effectively playing against type.  I just wish the script had been better.  The film doesn't use foreshadowing subtly enough, either.  I knew the cell phone on the bridge and the paralysis medication had to figure into the story near the end.  All in all, an okay way to spend a few hours, but certainly no classic, and not a movie I'd want to see again.


 
 
 
 

Freaky Friday

Rating: * * * 1/4 

A film that the whole family can enjoy, as a daughter and her mother switch bodies and lives for a day.  Kids will enjoy the slapstick, the exaggerations, and the silly situations.  Adults can appreciate those things, too, but also will enjoy watching Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster act, and a couple of genuinely touching moments.  And this film proves that once upon a time Disney could make fun live-action features without resorting to bathroom and booger jokes.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Dunstan Checks In

Rating: * * * 

At the heart of this movie lies an old-fashioned screwball comedy and a family film, and, indeed, there is much here that everyone can enjoy.  However, the creators threw in sex, crotch, and bathroom jokes, probably in order to get a PG rating.  Too bad.  The movie doesn't need them.  The orangutan is funny and expressive, and Faye Dunaway was obviously enjoying herself as the boss (and bossy) lady.  the real revelation here is Paul ("Pee Wee Herman") Reubens as a hilariously macho and obsessively insane animal control officer.  And the climactic fight between Dad and the villain using food and kitchen utensils is a riot.  Another thing the film didn't need was the Disney-ish references to Dunstan's family having been killed by the villain.  The threats to Dunstan of beatings and being locked in his crate would have been enough.


 
 
 
 
 
 

A Civil Action

Rating: * * * *

A topnotch legal thriller with fully fleshed out characters who are neither all good nor all bad, excellent performances by everyone involved (including the bit players), and imaginative writing, editing, and directing, particularly in the use of quick cuts between past, present, and future.  Based on a true story about a lawyer going for broke (literally) to bring suit against two giant companies for causing the deaths of children because of pollution, the film rivets your attention to the screen, not with car chases, gun battles, and spectacular stunts, but with human drama and the questions it asks about the value and quality of life, our legal system, and the sacrifices (for good and ill) that EVERYONE must make for their professions and lifestyles.  Given the subject matter, the film stays remarkably free of sentimentality, self-righteousness, and political correctness.  Even right-wing Republicans can enjoy it!  The location shots and authentic sets made me feel like I was back home in the Northeast again.  The movie is rated PG-13 for intense adult (in the best sense of that word) themes and brief usages of crude language. 


 
 
 
 
 
 

Mission To Mars

Rating: * 

An extremely slow moving movie in which supposedly highly trained characters behave stupidly in crises in vain attempts to generate suspense and advance the plot.  Some of the special effects are good, but the creators saved some money filming much of the last fifteen minutes in a barren, white room.  The dialogue mostly explains the obvious to us, or becomes mired in techno-babble.  The film doesn't explore new territory, but rehashes bits of "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," "Total Recall," and "Galaxy Quest."  I expect a sci-fi film to take me someplace new.  Special dishonorable mention goes to the soundtrack and the most ridiculous computer voice ever put on film.  HAL is rolling over in its grave.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Gladiator

Rating: *  1/2

I know I'm going against all the critics who hailed the movie as one of the best of the year 2000, but I found it slow moving, overly long, predictable, and filled with anachronistic attitudes, words, and actions.  The film thinks it's important (you can tell by all the people wearing pained expressions on their faces and speaking in intense whispers), but the storyline is basically straight out of a western or an old Charles Bronson or Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.  The much hyped action sequences are no better or worse than you would see on "Xena: Warrior Princess," only there you wouldn't find the R-rated blood, guts, detached limbs, and gore.  As for the supposed "star power" of Russell Crowe, his appeal is lost on me.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Titan A.E.

Rating: * 

Seeing traditional two-dimensional animated characters mixed in with computer generated three-dimensional backgrounds, landscapes, ships, and equipment is jarring and prevents one from really getting into the story and the action.  Of course the story, action, and characters are about on the level of a bad Saturday morning TV show.  There are more holes than plot, but what there is of it is derivative of "Star Wars," "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan," "Silent Running," "Independence Day," and dozens of Disney movies.  I found it hard to believe that Ben Edlund and Joss Whedon had hands in writing the script.  Just goes to show that anyone can have a bad day, or as my college English professor, Dr. Hurley, used to say after he'd make a bad joke, "They can't all be gems."  Although if this is the best screenplay the human race can produce, maybe it deserves to be extinct in the movie.  At least the producers probably saved money by having the lead shout, "Akima!" and "Go!" just once and then dubbing these into the soundtrack over and over again.


 
 
 
 

U-571

Rating: * * * 1/2

"U-571" is an old-fashioned submarine warfare movie with modern special effects including blood and gore, a gritty, Year 2000 feel to it, and some coarse, PG-13 language.  There are some holes in the plot of American sailors trying to get home with a Nazi Enigma code machine aboard a crippled U-Boat and some stereotypical characters but you won't care.  The movie is really about holding your breath waiting for the next depth charge to go off and anticipating the ocean crushing you like an eggshell as the skipper orders you to dive deeper than the specs allow.  And we watch, fascinated to see whether or not the new captain will be crushed by the pressures of leadership.  The film understands both the glory and, paradoxically, the horror of war, and the exhilaration, yet sheer absurdity, of going under the ocean in what could be a steel coffin in order to sneak up on the enemy.


 
 
 
 

Deep Impact

Rating: * 1/2 

A boring film with extremely crude language about people we don't know enough to care for awaiting the possible end of the world.  I never bought the plot complications or the special effects for a minute.  Robert Duvall elevates the material, as he always does.  Tea Leoni does as well, at least initially, until the creators use her as a cheap narrative device to inform us what's going on via her news broadcasts.


 
 
 

Vertical Limit

Rating: * * *

Let me admit right off the bat that the movie does have its weak points:
 

- There's a slow moving stretch in the film where too many characters are introduced.

- The crude language and crude humor is totally unnecessary.  Granted that the producers wanted to get a "PG-13" rating, but surely the violence and the gross-out survivalist scenes should have been enough to guarantee that.

- The writer plays fast and loose with the facts about mountain climbing.  Yes, people do get pulmonary edema, as they do in the film, but one can't arrive at base camp one day and set out to climb the next.  You need to spend time getting acclimated to the altitude and atmosphere.  Also, there's no way Chris O'Donnell would be able to run and make a flying leap across the chasm.  At that altitude, he would barely be able to stand.

- Doesn't anyone in the story know the properties of nitro and how to pack it?

- Much of the plot is very predictable and by-the-numbers. 

However, the film has much to commend it as well:

- Breathtaking stunts, scenery, and special effects.  And that first climbing sequence is incredible, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

- Surprises thrown in.  Just when you've predicted the last five plot points and character developments, something happens that's totally unexpected.

- Good acting.

- Some appealing characters are religious (though not Christian).

- Excellent use of sound.  See the film in a theater that's properly equipped.

All things considered, it's an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.


 
 
 

The Fifth Element

Rating: * * * 1/4

I read that this film is based on a story the director wrote when he was 14 and I believe it.  The movie is an amalgamation of everything.  It starts out as Indiana Jones/Stargate, then becomes a Silver Age comic book, then morphs into a social satire and future spoof ala The Jetsons or Futurama or Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, then changes to slapstick, screwball comedy, then pokes fun at the travel and entertainment industries before becoming "Die Hard" in space, then an anti-war film, and finishing with a "love makes everything worthwhile" moral.  And the last scene is right out of a James Bond movie.  But it all works somehow in this very entertaining package.  WARNING:  Very brief nudity in the background of one scene, and one fairly long crude joke in another sequence.


 
 

Stargate

Rating: * * 1/2

It was good to see a studious, "nerdy" type as the romantic lead and to watch him get in on his share of the action and adventure, too.  It was also fun watching the squad learn how to interact with another culture.  All in all, this movie is an okay way to kill two hours, although plot holes abound and the defeat of Ra and his chief henchman must have seemed a lot cooler on paper than it did on the screen.


 
 

X-MEN

Rating: * * * * 

As a fan of both comic books and the movies, I have usually been disappointed when Hollywood has attempted a marriage of the two.  I could count on one hand the number of good superhero films that have been made.  There's Superman, Superman 2, Batman Forever, The Mask Of Zorro and...that's it.  Until now.  Add X-Men to the list because this time Hollywood definitely gets it right.

X-Men is thoughtful, character driven, and even very touching at times, without sacrificing the super stunts and action.  The material is treated seriously, which is a good thing seeing as how the X-Men comic books, like this film, have the themes of persecution, fear, alienation, and trying to find acceptance, love, and a family running throughout them.  The villains are sympathetic.  Seeing the way the world has treated them, we can understand how easy it was for them to give in to despair and fear.  Serious questions are asked.  When does striving to advance a noble cause become fanaticism?  How does one keep loving and sacrificing for people who hate you (a question Christians constantly wrestle with )?

Messianic and Christian themes are present in the film as well, from Xavier forming a redemptive community out of rejected misfits, to the most unlikely character being the one to make the ultimate sacrifice because of love, to each one being called on to use his or her gifts for the common good.

Not that the movie is all heavy issues and no fun.  There are plenty of "way cool" moments as the characters and their powers are brilliantly brought to life on the screen.  A couple of in-jokes and many accurate references kept the comic book fan in me happy, but I believe that the film is accessible to everyone.  The final battle, with the characters first fighting solo and then using teamwork, combining their powers to escape the trap and defeat the main villain, is classic comic book stuff.

The acting and casting were uniformly excellent (well, okay, with one exception - Cyclops was too young and cocky).  Special commendation goes to Anna Paquin and Hugh Jackman as Rogue and Wolverine, the most alienated mutants and newcomers to the X-Men's world, and hence, the center of the film and the characters which provide the audience with a point-of-view.

Forget the quibbles that the most zealous comic book fans have with the changes that were made for the movie - black costumes, Rogue a teenager, etc.  Heart and soul, this film IS THE X-MEN!!!

WARNING: This movie is too intense for younger children and there is brief use of crude language.


 
 
 
 
 
 

Star Wars Episode One:
The Phantom Menace
 Rating:**

George Lucas wants to have it both ways.  Before this film was released, he was on TV and in print talking about how Star Wars was a myth for today and how it captured the essence of classic legends that speak to mankind.  After the movie was savaged by many critics and some disappointed fans, Lucas then started saying, "Hey, what do you want?  This is just a kiddie's matinee movie."

And he's right.  I kept expecting Barney or the Power Rangers to show up.  It is a kid's movie - and a boring one at that.  True, there is a lot to look at on the screen, but the story is slow-moving and convoluted, the characters are uninteresting and unappealing (though I can see why teenage boys get hot and bothered over Natalie Portman), and the big victory parade we're supposed to join in on at the end is only playing into the hands of the future evil emperor.  So, the bad guy won!  Strike up the band!

The much-hyped pod race?  I'd already seen the classic chariot race in "Ben Hur," and the flight through the asteroid belt in "The Empire Strikes Back," and the chase through the forest in "Return Of The Jedi."  The pod race was just a rehash.  The video game is more exciting.  I did like the fact that Jabba had to be poked awake at the end of the race.  I knew just how he felt.

Jake Lloyd can't act at all.  Liam Neeson sleepwalks.

Shaggy and Scooby Doo save the day with their bumbling.  Oops!  I meant Anakin and Jar Jar Binks.  Honest mistake.

The Force wills and plans, but is impersonal and neutral?

Jedi can see the future, but are constantly taken by surprise?

Jedi are so dangerous they can threaten an entire star ship, but run when guard robots are sicced on them?

Negative emotions turn you to the darkside, even though we see Jedi, including Yoda, expressing them all the time?

Anakin was born of a virgin?  Oh, puh-lease!

Microscopic thingys in the blood tune one into The Force?

Bleeck!!!

However, this movie had to be made in order that Weird Al could give us his brilliant parody of "American Pie" entitled "The Saga Begins." 

Also, the light saber duel at the end is breath-taking.  Far beyond anything Luke and Vader did.
 


 

The Sixth Sense
Rating:**1/2

There are some genuinely scary moments in this little thriller which send chills down your spine and raise the hair on the back of your neck.  (A warning to parents: There are also a couple of "gross-out" scenes.)  And there are some poignant moments dealing with the death of loved ones and the process of grieving which will bring tears to your eyes.  But ultimately, the story lets you down as you begin to realize that it has plot holes big enough to drive several hearses through.  And I guessed the "surprise" ending.  If you've watched a lot of old black-and-white "Twilight Zone" episodes and can put yourself in an O Henry frame of mind, you'll probably be able to as well.

The acting is uniformly excellent with a subdued Bruce Willis, a convincing and touching Toni Collette, and an intense, brilliant performance by Oscar-nominated Haley Joel Osment, who can act rings around many adults I could name.  The writer/director does a good job of sustaining a mood that is both eery and yet realistic at the same time.  It's just too bad that the narrative fails to live up to its promise and ultimately hits several big bumps in the night.
 


 

Galaxy Quest
Rating:****
 

Absolutely the best Star Trek movie ever made!  And it wasn't made by the crew from Paramount.

Part spoof, part tribute, part valentine, part nostalgia, part adventure, the film is both laugh-out-loud-uncontrollably funny and yet, very moving as it gently probes the natures of heroism, friendship, family, innocence, hero worship, teamwork, and dreams.  And you'll find yourself cheering as the geeks really do inherit the earth.  If you are a fan of Trek, let nothing stop you from seeing this movie.  RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!!!  Conversely, even if you despise The Enterprise, you'll still be entertained by this picture.

The performances are great with Tim Allen portraying both the disillusioned, washed-up actor and "come through when the chips are down" hero his character is.  And he and Alan Rickman evoke Kirk and Spock without trying to do impressions of Shatner and Nimoy.  And Sigourney Weaver is a riot as the Lt. Uhura/Counsellor Troi character - a beautiful woman who doesn't really have much of anything to do on the ship besides continually stating the obvious.  All involved were clearly having the time of their lives and it shows.  Top-notch special effects add to the fun.

You'll be quoting lines from this one for weeks, months, and possibly years to come:

"Don't you guys ever watch the show!?!?!"

"Whoever wrote this episode should be shot!!!"

"At least he's outside."


 
 

The World Is Not Enough
 Rating:***1/2

James Bond is back for cinematic adventure number 19.  And quite an adventure it is, too, containing the requisite number of adrenaline-pumping action scenes, from one of the best pre-credit sequences ever, to helicopters carrying gigantic buzz saws, to Bond running out of air while swimming outside a submerged submarine.  The film also has a plot that keeps you guessing with some twists, turns, and surprises, and amid the one-liners and explosions, there is also human drama going on as characters wrestle with the moral shades of gray in the intelligence business, the consequences of their actions, and the nature of relationships, or the lack thereof, in the spy/military community.

The film contains many Fleming-like touches:

    - a man who can feel no pain or pleasure due to a bullet in his brain.
    - Bullion, who keeps his gold with him, on him, and in him at all times.
    - a lovable rogue of questionable and shifting loyalties.
    - Bond strapped to an exotic torture device.

The film's assets include:

    - A rousing score mixing modern and "traditional" James Bond music.
    - Pierce Brosnan.  Okay, so he's not Sean Connery.  But he can go from cold, ruthless, professional to adolescent prankster to X-treme adventurer to haunted man to righteously indignant and determined hero to international charmer to Epicurean to furtive cat-burglar to commanding presence to struggling person about to die, with ease.
    - Elektra King.  Actress Sophie Marceau and the writers, producers, and director have created the Ultimate Bond Girl - complex, intelligent, inscrutable, fiery, and with high-voltage sex appeal.
    - A touching "father-son" scene between Bond and Q.
    - A cool, high-powered mini-boat.
    - Judi Dench as M, who this time gets personally involved in the case.
    - The line, "I never miss." You'll know why when you see the movie.

The film's liabilities:

    - Denise Richards.  Yes, she's pretty, but she can't act her way out of a paper bag.  To be fair, though, the writers didn't really give her much of a character or much to do.
    - John Cleese (who I normally love) as an unfunny, bumbling Q wannabe.
    - The "Bond finally saves the day" sequence seemed like a denouement or a tying up of loose ends because the true dramatic climax of the movie (which was excellent) had occurred earlier.
    - A groaner of a sexual double-entendre to close the film.

The movie earns its PG-13: LOTS of people die; the torture sequence is pretty intense; there is more sex than in "Tomorrow Never Dies," though not quite as much as in the Connery Bonds; the movie deals some with adult themes (in the best sense of that term) and younger children (and adults) who may not be familiar with terms from the world of espionage and police work, or the world events of the last several decades, may get lost from time-to-time.


 
 
 

MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 2
Rating: BOMB!

I loved the intrigue, complexity, actions, and acting of MI:1.  This film feels the need to bludgeon us with endless explanations of what's going on.  There's no intrigue or complexity at all!  In fact, stretches of the film are quite boring.  And the action?  Scenes are designed not to make any sort of sense, but to show us how cool Tom Cruise is and how good he looks in slow motion. And it's not even Mission:Impossible-style action!  It belongs in a cheap Hong Kong karate flick.  The acting, except for the villain, is horrible.  All Cruise does is keep a dopey grin on his face the whole time and the female lead mistakenly believes that a vacant look conveys sorrow.  The much hyped "love story" is of the "I just met you; let's have sex; now, although I don't know you, I'll become obsessed with you and make unbelievable sacrifices for you" variety.


 
 
 
 
 

THE MUMMY
Rating: * * * 

An old-fashioned B-Movie, only with better special effects, more action, and a sly, '90s wit.  The leading man is handsome, fearless, and determined.  The leading lady is beautiful and plucky.  The monsters are way cool.  The supporting characters are intriguing.  What more do you want?  Rent it!  You'll have fun!


 
 
 
 
 
 

BOWFINGER
Rating: * * * *

A smart satire on Hollywood that manages to be affectionate and savage at the same time.  Plus, it is "fall out of your chair, laugh out loud" funny.  You won't believe how much fun it can be to watch people con and use one another.  And we root and feel for these lowlifes who only want to make movies, have someone notice them, and get that magical delivery from Fed Ex.  Every character is fully realized and the acting is uniformly excellent.  Special kudos to Steve Martin (who also wrote the screenplay) and Eddie Murphy (who is amazing in a dual role).  Murphy is always better in movies that someone else writes, directs, and produces.  If he kept doing movies like this, he would go down in history as one of the big screen's best comedians.  He's that good.  And so is this film.  There are enough in-jokes to delight film buffs, but the majority of the laughs can be had by all.  WARNING: Contains some strong language.


 
 
 
 

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