Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mulan Rouge: “Memoirs of a Geisha” Not Very Memorable

Movies certainly have taken me to a great many places recently. I’ve been to Munich, in, you guessed it, and I’ve been all over the Middle East in Syriana. I just got back from Japan and boy are my arms tired. Wow that joke never gets old. I must say that my knowledge of Japanese culture is limited to two Kill Bill movies and doing origami while I’m bored at work. Having said that I went into Memoirs of a Geisha knowing very little about Japanese culture. Whether or not I actually learned anything is another story. What was a detailed and fully satisfying book (which is what I’ve heard, since I haven’t read it) has been turned into a Lifetime movie of the week with extremely high production values.

Essentially what we have is a “Cinderella story” as one critic has put it, in that we witness a young girl’s willful struggle to achieve the status of a geisha, which means art. Or something like that. What seems essentially like a beautiful prostitute without the whole selling of one’s body for sexual purposes part, the life of a geisha is apparently something for a young girl to look forward to in life. (Or that’s what the film seems to be portraying) We start off with a young girl who is sold to a family full of Mommie Dearests. Good thing there are no wire hangers to be found. We have the Japanese version of Jennifer Connelly (I have no idea what her character’s name is or the actress) playing the snobby older “sister.” We have the raspy-voiced chain-smoking matriarch. And also a woman who could very easily be friends with Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs (who coincidently has a small role here as an American colonel) because the poor girl gets the hose, a lot. It’s a tad difficult to really follow the story, as I don’t know the politics of geisha-dom. When grown up our hero (take a glance at if you want to know her name cause I have no clue) gets a female rivalry right out of Showgirls complete with catfight and corny dialogue. Every time I heard lines like, “I want a life that is mine!” I couldn’t help but chuckle. What about “We do not become geisha to pursuit our own destiny.” I was almost waiting for Yoda to show up.

Many are saying the film misses the dramatic impact and factual details of the novel and replaces them with beautiful photography and fabulous costumes. These people are correct. It does some have great cinematography: a young girl’s face is lit with orange lighting while in the foreground two women are shaded with blue lighting, all in one shot. Japan is a beautiful country and the film reflects that. The set design is also a striking achievement, as the screen is not filled with gratuitous computer generated images. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) obviously wanted to give the film a certain look, which he achieves but there’s not much else. The performances are fine but the characters are either too flat or not developed enough as Marshall would rather the shot look good instead of giving his actors personalities.

At the end of Geisha we’re left feeling empty and slightly annoyed. We have a film that only scratches the surface of a story that is dying to be told. All we have is interesting shots which are definitely not enough to overcome the emotionally unfulfilled feeling we’re left with after the film is over. I felt slightly cheated because I hardly learned anything more about Japanese culture than what I already knew. And from me that’s saying a lot. GRADE: C-

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Broadway Danny Doze: Despite Some Laughs “The Producers” Feels Frustratingly Flat

I think I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t really enjoy the musical Cats. I guess I just didn’t get it: a bunch of ballet dancing felines was supposed to make me emotional? What about Les Miserables? No one was more miserable than me. I had to find other ways of keeping myself entertained for its 3.5 hour running time and that didn’t include singing along. What’s my point? Perhaps I’m not the best judge when it comes to Broadway because the shows everyone seems to love I just think are so-so. The Producers comes to mind. There seemed to be so much hype built up that when I actually saw the show a singing Nazi army and costumes with huge pretzels hardly seemed to do anything for me. I definitely think my point is that if you loved the staged version of The Producers you shouldn’t really keep reading this review. The big screen version of the movie seems to fizzle when it should sizzle. It’s merely an average filmed version of the stage musical and doesn’t really add to the medium in terms of style or substance.

Having that off my chest there was plenty to enjoy about the film and surprisingly it was SNL alum Will Ferrell. Will Ferrell has never really done anything for me. He’s a funny guy sure, but he plays the same guy ad nauseam. Here he plays a whacked out German whose fondness for the Leader of the Third Reich is beyond anything you’ve seen him do before. The role seemed tailor made for him. For those of you who have no clue what this guy has to do with the story here goes: Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), a Broadway producer and general sleaze, and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), an OCD emotionally imprisoned accountant, plan to produce a flop so they can run off with the financial backer’s hard earned investments. The play they decide to produce is written by Franz Liebkind (Ferrell). Uma Thurman shows up as a Swedish actress/secretary Ulla to add additional comic relief but fails to be very funny or to have a consistent Swedish accent.

Lane and Broderick reprise their famous roles from the original musical and unfortunately (or fortunately?) I didn’t get to see the show with them in it. Here director Susan Stroman seems to forget that she has a camera in front of her actors and not a packed house. Overacting is on the menu in this film and it’s the one thing that truly bogs down the entire production. The jokes are funny although there are too few that work but the main stars seem completely wrong. I never found Broderick to be that comical and here everything about his character seems completely forced. His love of his baby blue hanky borders on annoying. Stroman wants to push the actors over the top when she should really be pushing the story over the top. The film is crying out for an R rating, but despite some mild raunchiness this isn’t Mel Brooks’ most potent writing. And lastly Stroman fails to use the film to her advantage. She stages some numbers outside of the Broadway office but there isn’t too much of a vision here. We end up with a carbon copy of the stage musical.

The most positive aspects of the entire production were the musical numbers. They were pretty much reproduced from the musical, but many of them have a let’s get up a dance feel to them. The old lady number and the song “Keep it Gay” are the definite highlights. When it comes to singing in film one has to be weary about that line of reality and the stage. Take the recent film Rent for instance. In my review of that film, I commented on the awkwardness of the realistic setting of the film with the characters breaking out in song. In the world of The Producers you totally buy it.

If you enjoyed the musical of The Producers, like the recent Phantom of the Opera and Rent, you’ll love their cinematic counterparts. I can recommend the film to those who haven’t seen the show because paying 8 bucks is a lot cheaper than paying 75 bucks. However, in general as a film, The Producers fails to advance the medium and is bogged down by over the top performances from its leads. Mel Brooks, there is something missing here. Fans expecting something along the lines of Young Frankenstein or Spaceballs might want to think again. Oy vey. GRADE: C+

Saturday, December 24, 2005

War of Two Worlds: Spielberg’s Moral Drama “Munich” is Thrilling

The last time Steven Spielberg made a popcorn adventure and an emotional drama in the same year we got Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. This year we got the terrific War of the Worlds and now Munich, a suspenseful moral drama that should be getting ready for the Academy Awards. Many people remember the tragedy that occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. A Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September took several Israeli athletes as hostages, which ended in a bloodbath. What many people don’t know is what happened afterwards. This is that story, told with an obligatory “The following is based on true events” tag that opens the film. This film’s entertaining and artistic success is based very much on Spielberg’s expertise handling of the material. Playwright Tony Kushner (his first screenplay) and Eric Roth has weaved an fascinatingly intricate morality tale. What could have easily been a silly revenge tale is told in a way that is both heartbreakingly realistic and superbly entertaining.

The story is rather easy to follow even if you’re not up on your foreign politics. In a nut shell, the Palestinians and the Israelis are not friends. After the terrorist attack at the Olympics, a small squad of hit men has been ordered, by the Israeli government, to get vengeance on those Palestinians responsible for planning and carrying out the Munich massacre. Now the film obviously takes the side of the Israelis, but should we care about them? Their job is to assassinate the “enemy.” They have been hired to do exactly what the Palestinians did. So is Gandhi correct in saying “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind?” We have an interesting situation because you care for each of the Israeli men, which includes leader Avner played richly by Eric Bana. Bana has a tough job because he has to make us care about him even though he’s a hired assassin. Of course that’s not too hard because I certainly cared about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as married assassins in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. His team includes Steve the getaway guy (Daniel Craig), Carl the clean up guy (Ciaran Hinds), Robert the bomb maker (Mathieu Kassovitz), and Hans the forger (Hanns Zischler).

Having been stripped of his identity and forced to shield this job offer from his pregnant wife, Avner enters this underground world of ethical depravity with both hesitation and honor. Spielberg handles each murder’s set up with care as he doesn’t make it as if Ocean’s Eleven is planning a robbery. Each premeditated murder is arranged in a slightly different way, complete with terrifically shot tension, which end in the same obvious result: the murder of one man is justice for the murder of another. The movie owes slightly to The Godfather in a way, which I liked, in that this tight nit group becomes a family. They sit around the table eating dinner and joking, because after all they’re human too. The film handles the violence and drama in a similar vein to Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. However Spielberg doesn’t shy away from occasional non-obtrusive comic relief, which was nice. The film is extremely heavy and at times hard to watch, but there’s a reason for it. We live an extremely violent world and that’s obviously reflected onscreen.

Spielberg has made two movies about terrorism in the same year. He’s certainly headed down a much darker path, which is most obviously due to the events of September 11th. I believe this to be a good thing because anyone can realize we live in a world that is much different than that of pre 9/11. The film doesn’t simply shove an important message down your throat. It is a perfect balance of solid popcorn entertainment and intricate human drama. GRADE: A

Thursday, December 22, 2005

See Dick. See Jane. Don’t See “Fun with Dick & Jane”

It is December. December is the time when Oscar hopefuls emerge. And stuff like Fun with Dick & Jane hopes to ride the award praise and make a quick buck. If anything, Dick & Jane is simply a missed opportunity. I watched the first five minutes unfold before me and I thought, This is gonna be a great movie. The film had an obvious sense of humor and biting wit. And then those five minutes were over and the film never recovered. Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni try their best (or do they) and are left in a film that should have been a lot better.

One of the film’s co-writers is Judd Apatow who previously directed and co-wrote the brilliantly, hysterical 40-Year-Old Virgin. That film took a redundant Hollywood formula (teenage sexual angst) and turned it into something cleverly witty (middle-aged sexual angst). Here we have a very funny premise, although it’s not exactly original because it was already made as Fun with Dick & Jane back in 1977. In the modern version Carrey and Leoni play Dick and Jane Harper. Dick is highly successful in his job at Globodyne. Jane has a job working at a travel agency. When Dick has an opportunity to get a highly touted promotion, Jane quits her job because of their financial security. Unfortunately the entire corporation goes under within a day and the CEO (Alec Baldwin doing a supremely fine impression of: insert huge corporate monger here) goes flying off in his helicopter. The film obviously wants to say something about economic America. But being funny certainly should have been up there too.

So we’re left with a once financially successful couple with a young son, who is constantly speaking Spanish, who now must do anything to get money. Anything. Everything they own has been repossessed, including the lawn. After unsuccessful attempts at low-paying jobs and other moneymaking schemes (such as Jane’s attempt at medical product testing which leaves her looking like the Elephant Man) they turn to the only logical solution: armed robbery! You see this is where the film should have gotten good. There is plenty of dark material that could have been thrown at us here by the writers, but alas we don’t get very much. We’re left with scenes that have silly and slightly comical undertones, but that’s about it. I honestly did laugh a bunch of times however, none of the scenes pay off and in the end we’re not left with much. For instance, when Dick’s company literally forces him on the air on an MSNBC-like show, catch all that funny stuff that scrolls along the bottom. Where is rest of the film’s sense of humor?

What is probably most frustrating is that I didn’t really enjoy the lead performances. Jim Carrey is a funny guy with plenty of range. However, here he sometimes skews into Ace Ventura mode unnecessarily. Had the film been cast differently perhaps that wouldn’t have been a problem. I was also slightly disappointed with Tea Leoni. I don’t think of her as a very funny actress but I was hoping for the best. She just kind of seems bored throughout the movie. I feel bad for David Duchovny. A lot of times in these types of movies we get blisteringly funny performances from supporting players who steal every scene they’re in. But there aren’t any here! What’s going on!

This movie should have been better. There is obviously talent behind it but it just wasn’t as fun as it should have been. It’s as if someone stole the entire film’s sense of humor. You’ll feel as if you’ve been robbed. GRADE C+

“The Family Stone:” A Christmas Story That Sinks Like a Rock

There are some things to enjoy in The Family Stone but on the other hand there’s plenty you want to forget. Watching the film is kind of like getting together with family. You get together with them hoping that it’ll be good but you end up wishing you’ll never have to do it again. The performers in the film are very enjoyable. What they do isn’t. If you’re looking for a fun Christmas movie to watch to get you in the holiday spirit I’d stick with 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TBS.

We have to give credit where credit is due. Fairly new director Thomas Bezucha has assembled an A-list cast (with the mild exception of where-hell-has-he-been Craig T. Nelson) to play the Stone family. Diane Keaton is a pristine, seasoned actress that continues to amaze even when stuck in stuff like this. And this certainly is Rachel McAdams’ year with great roles in Wedding Crashers and Red Eye. Luke Wilson practically plays himself as the youngest Stone(r). Dermot Mulroney is the eldest son whose girlfriend is Sarah Jessica Parker. There is also Tyrone Giordano in a healthy homosexual relationship with Brian J. White. Pregnant daughter Elizabeth Reaser awaits the arrive of her husband. So the family is all home for Christmas and all their little secrets come rushing out to attempt to make us laugh and make us cry. Whether they succeed either way is up in the air.

The main focus of the story involves Meredith (Parker), coming to visit the family for the first time (think Meet the Parents). Unfortunately instead of meeting with the family for a simple dinner, she opts to stay for the weekend. (Don’t these people ever learn!) Why Everett (Mulroney) would bring his obviously city dwelling girlfriend to stay with his wacky, liberal family is beyond me. And why the family despises her SO quickly is beyond me as well. She literally hasn’t gotten out of the car and Amy (McAdams) is already complaining that she doesn’t like her. What could have easily turned into Meet the Parents doesn’t thankfully, as Parker becomes slightly uncomfortable in the house and opts to call her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come with her and stay in a motel.

Most of the movie involves ways for Meredith to piss off Sybil (Keaton) even though she’s such a warm, loving mother. She prayed for her sons to be gay but alas only one of them is. I can’t very well see Sybil hating Meredith so much since she obviously is so accepting of her own son’s homosexuality. Of course this conflict is what is supposed to give the movie some flavor, but unfortunately it doesn’t. I loved each of the performers but I didn’t really enjoy their roles. I did enjoy Meredith’s role as a woman striving to be accepted into a family that obviously doesn’t know the meaning of the word acceptance.

When Julie enters the picture of course all hell breaks loose because some are going to fall out of love and some are going to fall in love. Not to mention, the movie enters Stepmom territory when we find out that one of the Stone members is fatally ill. Frankly, anything is better than being stuck with these wackjobs. GRADE : C

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tale as Old as Time: “Brokeback Mountain” Breaks Through to the Mainstream

What are the great romances in film? We have the ever-repeated cinematic representation of tragic love with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. There’s never a dry eye in the crowd, or an awake person for that matter, during screenings of Casablanca. And we all gave a damn when Rhett totally dissed Scarlet after 6.5 hours in Gone with the Wind. All of these loves had two things in common: tragic departures and man/woman love. Could modern audiences ever give a hoot when seeing the same exact story poured out on screen with two men falling hopelessly in love? While many independent films have given homosexual love its due, director Ang “Crouching Tiger” Lee’s splendid Brokeback Mountain just may make history.

While filmed with a low budget Focus Feature’s Brokeback feels like anything but an independent film. It has all the elements: we have seemingly uncomplicated camera shots and movements that utilize every bit of creativity as artistically possible, a straightforward story, no flying spaceships, oh and sexual scenes that would make Madonna blush (not to mention most of our Government leaders). We start off with a spectacularly poetic opening. Two young men, in 1963 Wyoming both take jobs herding sheep through Brokeback Mountain for the summer. The two gentlemen bond as men usually do during outdoor gatherings. But something’s different here. What begins as simple brotherly friendship soon turns into passionate love. The men are played radiantly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. I don’t know what’s better, Australian born Ledger’s sensationally authentic southern accent or his powerful facial expressions that pour out words in lyrical form. Ledger will be dooking it out for an Oscar this year. Lee wrings out uniformly excellent performances out of everyone.

So what we have here is a compromising situation: after their summer o’ love, both men part ways destined to live “normal” heterosexual lives because that’s what the world is telling them. Their hearts speak differently. The film mainly focuses on the life of Ennis (Ledger) and his marriage to Alma (Dawson’s Creek’s Michele Williams in an emotionally wrenching Oscar-worthy performance). After four years, Jack (Gyllenhaal) decides to follow his heart and contacts Ennis. This leads to several “fishing trips” that consist of…not fishing. These trysts take place in the only place that will truly accept them: nature. It’s their natural love and affection for each other that get to the audience so convincingly. You don’t see this couple as two men, you seem them as human beings. Whether conservative groups will see the same thing is another story. But this is a realistic portrayal of how real love can’t be denied.

Brokeback Mountain, vulgarly dubbed “the gay cowboy movie” since its times-are-a-changing production hit headlines, is a movie that can easily appeal to a wide audience if people are willing. There’s just as much heterosexual lovemaking as homosexual lovemaking for those who feel it’s just two men doin’ it the whole time. The film is never sappy although it’s sad. It’s never lapses into stereotypes which is why this is a seminal film for this time period. This is a movie that portrays an onscreen love many people will want to categorize as different but will ultimately realize that it’s just the same. Romeo and Juliet and those other classic love stories are gone with the wind. Brokeback Mountain is a stunning and deserving slice in the historic cinematic timeline. I think the big ape has some competition; the Oscar race is on. GRADE: A

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Return of the King: “Kong” Remake Puts the Motion Back in Motion Picture

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has made a moving, emotionally resonant epic adventure – all without a Hobbit in sight. It takes somebody who made three 3-hour plus films all at once to get the nerve to take on the king of all movies, King Kong. He has succeeded in a) paying tribute to a classic film without seeming pretentious (take note Gus Van Sant) b) recreating a stunning 1930s New York City c) making the audience buy everything that is so completely outrageous about a story involving a huge gorilla that falls in love with a woman and runs amok in the city only to climb the Empire State Building and have more than his heart-broken. Even at its three hour running time King Kong never seems long-winded, it is fast, fun popcorn entertainment with all the emotional weight of an intimate drama. We’re reminded why they used to call these things moving pictures.

When you sit in your seat and await the start of King Kong get cozy, cause you don’t see ape boy for a while. And that’s definitely not a bad thing. Remember you didn’t see the shark in Jaws until, oh, 45 minutes before the final credits rolled. Jackson along with writing partners Fran Walsh (his wife) and Philippa Boyens have created largely appropriate backstory for our main characters. In the original 1933 version, meager Ann Darrow is caught stealing an apple and catches the eye of film director & adventurer Carl Denham. They talk for a few minutes and before you know it they’re sailing to Skull Island to make the greatest picture anyone has ever seen. Yeah, like that would ever happen. Here though we get completely convincing character motivations and a paying tribute to the passion of making movies.

The leads are now played by Naomi Watts (in a stunning performance) as Ann the struggling actress and Jack Black as Carl (slightly strange casting, but he does the job adequately) the amoral (we’ll learn why soon) film director. We get characters that are wholly developed. We now fully accept that Ann will venture to an uncharted island (or as Carl tells the crew, they’re headed for Singapore). Of course we add in Oscar winner Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll, who in the original was a hardened seaman, but here he's a seasoned playwright and screenwriter to Carl's film. Jack falls for Ann (and vice versa) but he's not the only one...

So where does the giant gorilla fit into all this? Well he’s our tragic hero! At first seen as a monster, especially by the island’s disturbingly, unhinged natives, we learn that Mr. Kong has feelings too. The natives capture Ann and use her as an offering to the great primate, with Jack, Carl and the ship’s crew in tow (one of which being toughened Billy Elliot). Kong is an especially lovable animal, yet his viciousness towards everybody and his passion towards Ann make for an interesting love triangle. Jackson fully plays out the connection between Ann and Kong which was very much missing from the original. Although the original Kong showed he was truly King of the Jungle, his flings with the constantly scared Ann lacked any emotional depth.

And what an adventure this island offers! We get dinosaur stampedes that would make Jurassic Park’s John Hammond jealous. And an eerily disturbing gigantic bug sequence gives The Temple of Doom a run for its money and who could forget the fleshy man-eating worms that crawl out of the sceen and under your flesh. Let's not overlook that heart-stopping T. Rex fight... times three. After nearly losing his life, Carl decides he wants to skip making a movie and wants to make history by capturing Kong alive and putting him on a Broadway stage complete with tribal dancing and vaguely familiar Max Steiner music. Somebody call PETA! Jackson has crafted an intense, fun and wholly fascinating adventure that ends with a spectacular final showdown atop you know where.

King Kong is a film that has everything and can appeal to the widest possible audience. There's enough fantasy to please the Rings nuts and enough realism to turn on the fantasy dismissers. If you thought Jerry Maguire had everything (sports for girls, romance for guys, wait, strike that, reverse it) wait until you see King Kong. This is an epic that will set new standards of movie making and storytelling and will stand the test of time just like its predecessor did (and I’m not talking about that crappy Jessica Lange, monkey-suit version). And did I mention all this with nary a Hobbit in sight? GRADE: A

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fuel Intentions: Ensemble Drama “Syriana” Never Pumps a Dry Well

I’ll be the first to admit that, at times, I can be as dumb as Paris Hilton is on a good day. At least I have a college degree. (Give me a little credit) I never really enjoyed History class in high school, I used a certain yellow & black companion to get through English and I don’t think I knew what IRS stood for until about a year ago. Having got that out of the way I must say I was both intrigued and wildly confused during the newest political drama to come out of Hollywood since oh, last week. From the makers of Traffic as the trailer so proudly exclaims comes Syriana a movie so tightly made, with such strong performances and so much going on that if you’re intellectual with a strong knowledge of global issues you’ll get it and if you’re well, like me, you’ll nod your head and just go along with it. Never since the first Mission: Impossible have I been so into what’s happening onscreen, yet had no idea what was going on at the same time. That’s inspired movie making.

So what exactly is going on in this knock of corporate power? Much. We have several different storylines ala let’s say Magnolia or Crash. However, the relationships between the characters are more much significant. Syriana, as you probably know, is about the globe’s powerful, and possibly corrupt, (didn’t see that coming did you?) oil industry. The film takes us around the world from the Persian Gulf to DC to Sweden and back again. The film is as multi-layered as its set of characters. We get a glimpse of the oil field workers (including Pakistani youngster played by Mazhar Munirwho) who get laid off because two of the world’s most powerful oil corporations are merging. We get CIA operative George Clooney with one scraggly looking beard, who is investigating who knows what. We get energy analyst Matt Damon, who fits comfortably into his role, (Amanda Peet is his wife in a potent but too small role) who becomes buddy-buddy with a powerful Gulf prince. We also follow attorney Jeffrey Wright, who channels that guy from Good Morning America with ease, as he refines the merger of the aforementioned oil companies. And what would this film be without your Armani-wearing corporate big boys in their clean offices as they shake each other’s hands for a business deal well done (great supporting performance again Chris Cooper).

So what does all this add up to? We get to observe (through a sometimes shaky camera) the inner workings of a massive machine and how all the little components make up the conglomerate whole. I think I’m doing pretty good so far right? Paris, eat your heart out. The film works on the same level as the film Traffic, which deservedly won Steven Soderbergh a best director Oscar several years ago. Syriana’s plot weaves itself in a very similar manner, but with a different subject. They make two very good companion pieces. The captain at the helm this time is (Oscar winner) Traffic screenwriter Steven Gaghan who does a great job of getting the viewer caught up in the corruption onscreen at nearly every minute. The nontraditional music score by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat helps tell the story. I knew when to feel suspense and when I could relax just from his music.

The film has an obvious leftist bend, which seems refreshing and overdone at the same time. However, any film that Republicans are sure to argue about makes it all the more worthwhile. Speaking of which, according to an anonymous message board poster at a popular movie website, “What ever happened to movies that were entertaining? I am a conservative who agrees with the war, but as a normal human being I'd like to watch a movie that is entertaining.” I guess I’m not as dumb as I thought I was. Hey I’m all up for movies that are entertaining, but of course what could be more entertaining than watching a conservative squirm in his seat watching a film like this? Sadism at its best. Paging Michael Moore, get your next film, Sicko, out stat. GRADE: B+

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let’s Get Political: History Repeats Itself in “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Ah, how far America has come since the 1950s… or has it? Good Night, and Good Luck is a very strong film with a very strong message about a person that dared to be outspoken. Co-writer/actor/director George Clooney has chosen to be unpolitical by making one of the most political films that has come out of Hollywood in a long time. Clooney succeeds on several levels but the most praise that can be given is how the film itself reflects its message: dare to be outspoken and speak your mind without fear of persecution.

Good Night, and Good Luck is shot simply, acted quietly, yet magnificently and defies any expectations of what we’ve come to learn from Hollywood films. We have a historical fiction film that looks like it could be a documentary. A film made in 2005 with nary a spot of color other than black, white or gray. And a storyline that doesn’t journey as much as just sits still. Choosing to take on an era in American history that no one who lived through will forget yet none seems to discuss: the Second Red Scare.

Clooney places us on the television news floor of CBS during the 1950s. We’re introduced to Edward Murrow (played with subtle intensity by David Strathairn) and his fellow team of broadcast journalists during the McCarthy era. Onscreen titles refresh our memories as to what was going on politically in the country. Those that were thought of being a communists or even communist sympathizers were exposed and blacklisted. These “witch trials” all began with Republican (shocker!) Senator Joseph McCarthy when he feared a breakdown in American patriotism. Ok, but enough of the history lesson. Mr. Murrow has the gall (or as dirty liberals like myself would say, the backbone) to attempt to bring down McCarthy on his own TV show. He turns the table on a man that evoked fear in anyone with an even slightly leftist bend. Real footage of McCarthy (Clooney didn’t want to torture an actor into having to play him) with Strathairn is seamless and provocative. Clooney’s choice to shoot simple and with a documentary style gives the film a chilling realness. The film seems to transport us through time. It appears like something we’d see on the History Channel. That’s the best compliment in my opinion.

Clooney’s camera never seems to leave the CBS studio and that is something that is so different yet so affective. Whereas other historical dramas tend to use many unrelated characters to support the bulk of a film, Clooney sticks with his journalists and doesn’t give us too much of a glimpse into the social world outside the studio. This film is entirely about how these broadcast journalists were affected by the McCarthy era. It was the onscreen presence of Murrow that dared to defy his government and simply question the almighty.

If anything this film couldn’t have been made at a more appropriate time with a country so divided and foreign tensions so high. If there’s any film that should be seen by our government as a simple reminder that sometimes history does repeat itself this is it. If there’s any film that won’t be seen by our government it is this. My advice for sitting W down and seeing this: Good night, and good luck. GRADE: B+

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Cash: “Walk The Line” Has a Heartbeat

When you venture out to a concert with friends there’s no greater anticipation than waiting for the performer you’ve traveled all the way to see run onto stage and play the tunes you love so much. The film Walk the Line brings all of that anticipation and then some, and it pays off in buckets. It is everything you want in a biography drama and that’s why it’s so good. These are words straight from a person who loves movies yet knows nothing of the late great Johnny Cash. Before I saw this film if you put a gun to my head and told me to sing a line or name the title to one of Cash’s songs I’d be a dead man. Going into the film knowing very little one comes out knowing a lot. The music is great and the actors are terrific. It’s one rockin’ shindig.

One must mention that after the success of last year’s other music biopic Ray we must look at Walk the Line with a clean slate. Comparisons are inevitable. I was lucky enough to go into this film without having seen Ray (although I felt like I had with everyone talking about it constantly) so I never had that film in the back of my mind. Walk the Line is everything that is standard in a biographical drama. We get a glimpse into the star’s childhood and family life. We learn of the trials and tribulations of a person who just wanted to be someone special. We witness our hero’s conventional fall and his eventual rise. And while at first glimpse the film seems just ordinary, it is anything but.

The performances, not surprisingly, is what keeps everything together. Joaquin Phoenix is simply sensational as Mr. Cash. He is not an actor playing Johnny Cash, becomes him. The real surprise here is Reese Witherspoon, as June Carter, who is always fantastic whether it’s teen fare like Legally Blonde or social satire such as Pleasantville or Election. This film no doubt marks a turning point in the young actress’ career. I’m sure an Oscar nomination is hers as well as for Joaquin. Witherspoon nearly steals every scene she’s in which are numerous because of her honestly raw performance. She doesn’t need to take her clothes or makeup off to be just simply moving. She’s the perfect foil for Joaquin. And wouldn’t you know the T-1000, Robert Patrick, turns up as Johnny’s abrasive father. Everyone is excellent from the members of Cash’s band, to Johnny’s first wife (Ginnifer Goodwin).

The story itself is very straightforward with Cash’s drug dependency taking up most of the second act. It is his affection for June that proves love can conquer all. Oh and did I mention the music? The film opens with a distant drumbeat, perhaps a concert being performed miles away and it subtlety gets louder until our unknown performer is about to make his appearance. But it isn’t until we first flashback several years before our musical wants are met. Director James Mangold whets our music appetites and when he finally delivers, he delivers in spades. If anything, the film seems to end abruptly but you’re willing to forgive it because frankly you can’t really have a six-hour film that completely chronicles a man’s entire life. What’s shown is important and worthy of a filmed story and the script does what it’s supposed to do.

Whether or not you know or are even a fan of Cash’s music there’s no denying the emotional weight that comes with each beat of the drum or pluck of the guitar. The music is the film’s heart and it beats on and on. The film’s rhythm makes you want to stand up and dance. Why bother going to see the mundane Rent when you can have emotional performances in a film that has its own heartbeat, and blood pumping through its veins. GRADE: A-

Monday, December 05, 2005

“Rent” on the Big Screen: I’m Not Buyin’ It

Let’s start out by saying that I love the film version of The Who’s sensational rock opera Tommy. While way back then an entire film sung in a synthesized version of a popular rock n roll album was very new and hip, today it just seems silly. While not from a rock group’s album but rather a smash Broadway musical, Rent as a film isn’t really bad but it isn’t as entertaining as one would hope it would be. How could I enjoy Tommy but not Rent? I’m a fan of the Tommy album and know nearly all the words. Rent is strictly for those who enjoyed the stage version and has little else to offer.

The biggest problem is because the characters are singing to each other most of the time (which I never really found annoying because alas I love Tommy and that is entirely singing mostly off key by the way) we don’t really get to learn much about them except that they have good vocal talents. While it seems that the script is attempting to make each person unique everyone is really the same. The story follows a year (or 525, 600 minutes) in the lives of a group of twenty-somethings in New York’s East Village. The film is supposed to take place on the onslaught of the 1990s but you could have fooled me. There doesn’t seem much of an attempt to make this a period piece, as nothing about the characters’ wardrobes, looks or anything else going on in the background would indicate it is 1989, except for the absence of cell phones.

While the characters themselves are just mildly interesting, their acting counterparts don’t really do them much justice. Most of the original actors from the original Broadway cast return to reprise their roles and with such amazing voices, unfortunately they were meant for the stage. Their facial expressions are more reminiscent of theater than film and it immediately makes me disconnect from them. Stage acting is all about overacting and that doesn’t translate well here. The actors have tremendous range and I was especially surprised by Rosario Dawson. Adam Pascal is also very good and he’d definitely trying. His vocals seemed ripped from The Who’s lips, which is a good thing. The cast does well with what they’re given but by now it’s just like they’re going through the motions. Even the story these characters are given seems to be nothing special. Having not seen the stage version I thought there was going to be a lot more emphasis about the AIDS crisis but alas it seems like more of an unimportant subplot here as is Dawson’s drug habit. AIDS is mentioned in the first 10 minutes of the film and then never seems to be discussed again until about an hour in. The characters sing about making ends meat to pay their rent, clever right, and just go on and on about how their lives are miserable.

For a film that seems to require so much style it’s surprisingly lacking any. Perhaps we should credit director Chris Columbus who is known for his comedies and the first two Harry Potter films. I enjoy his movies but he seems out of place here. I figured since I didn’t know the music too well I would at least be taken in by the beautiful shots usually found in musicals. Alas my eyes were rather bored, although my tapping feet did get quite a good workout. The music is good and inspired and I’m sure is much more fun to listen to on a CD and dance around your room. But when put in context of a filmed story it just doesn’t offer a Rent virgin much of anything. Wasn’t I supposed to feel some kind of emotion at the end? I felt exactly the same as I did in the beginning.

Those who loved the show will surely love the movie. I’m not bashing the film as much it may seem but it’s really no fault of Rent itself, but more of the musical genre itself. I loved the recent filmed version of Phantom of the Opera while many despised it. At least that musical takes place in and around actual operas, so when the characters break out in song it doesn’t seem so unnatural. I understand how non-fans would dislike it. The film Chicago is a great example of a musical that can be enjoyed by everyone. I think I’ll pop the campy Tommy into my DVD player, at least its got Ann-Margret rolling around in baked beans. GRADE: C+

Bosom Buddies: Ryan Reynolds & Amy Smart Are “Just Friends”

The film Just Friends takes place in a magical world (free of hobbits thankfully) in which ugly people become pretty and pretty people become ugly. Of course this is just on the outside. It’s what’s inside that always remains the same. If you’re willing to buy that up and coming uber-stud Ryan Reynolds was at once a big-hearted obese nerd who used to lip synch to songs by All-4-One than you will be pleasantly surprised by this light, fluffy romantic comedy. As directed by Cruel Intentions’ Roger Kumble, Just Friends is a fun trip down suburban memory lane into a time anyone with adolescent orthodontic work will remember dearly.

Rooting for the romantic leads to get together in the end is one of the delights in viewing a film like this because we don’t need to worry about twist endings and who’s gonna bite the dust. We know how everything will end up, but it’s the road that takes us there that’s enjoyable. And a good trip always begins with great company. As a once geeky teenager who grows into what we see in films like Van Wilder and Blade: Trinity, we know Reynolds is anything but a loser. He has always been in love with his best friend from high school, Amy Smart, but a humiliating graduation night makes him leave his small New Jersey hometown to pursue a life of great things. He ends up as a music producer. Now a ladies’ man, he ends up stuck back near his hometown with a hysterically obnoxious Brittany Jessica Aguilera pop star. She’s played by the tremendously appealing Anna Faris of the Scary Movie films. She plays her pop princess better than anyone else ever could hope to and she’s just enough to recommend the film to others. One highlight comes after her plane takes a sudden detour as she screams out for Ashton Kutcher of Punk’d to come out of hiding. If this girl gets the right script with the right director she may just act her way to comic Oscar glory one day.

So back in his suburban birthplace he’s forced (while practically babysitting Faris) to spend some time visiting his mother and younger brother while seeking out the girl of his dreams since he’s in town. The story of course is mildly entertaining but it is the writing and terrific performances that make the grade. Everyone does just what he or she is supposed to. Julie Haggerty from my favorite film Airplane! plays Reynolds’ mother with an innocent glow. She’s like so many suburban mothers out there that even her one-dimensional character is fleshed out because she’s practically like our own mother. So let’s see here. The pop princess likes our main guy Reynolds while he goes all geeky again without the fat suit because he can’t confess his love for hottie Amy Smart who is being love hunted by pretty boy Chris Klein who is in fact pretty ugly on the inside. Phew! It seems like we’re entering Roger Altman territory or something.

No, this isn’t Altman or even Woody Allen at his worst. This is innocent fun that doesn’t get irritating or boring. It has charm and class and wants you to like it. It has characters that want to steal scenes and say witty things and just wants to entertain you. If anything it just wants to be your friend, just friends. GRADE: B

A Rotten Egg: “Chicken Little” is a Turkey

Wow. I bet all of the traditional Disney animators that go laid off must be laughing their butts off. The newest CG animated film Chicken Little is one of the worst movies to be branded with the Disney logo ever. Period. Chicken Little is like eating a sour candy. Your face grimaces. You can feel that acid taste in your mouth and you think that if you keep at it the flavor might just get better but never does. The film is a complete mess from start to finish and just when you think it might actually start to get good it just gets worse. Director Mark Dindal who helmed the amusing Emperor’s New Groove has made a very uneven film.

Where does one begin? Since it’s an animated movie let’s start there. The animation is simply ugly. The characters are so repulsively unattractive that they make those in Corpse Bride look like cartoon supermodels. The film looks muted even with all its pastel colors. Our little hero Chicken Little is the cutest one of the bunch, which is a good thing. He’s surrounded by characters that aren’t just annoying to look at, but have annoying traits and personalities. Little’s friends are all various storybook characters we all know such as The Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack) and Foxy Loxy (Amy Serdaris) to name a few. The Runt of the Liter (Steve Zahn) is an obnoxious pig with OCD. The characters act so zany that even those with ADD will be irritated. The voiceover work is the film’s greatest asset but that’s no surprise. If you hire A-list actors then you will have A-list voices.

Chicken Little (Zach Braff) is a little troublemaker because one day a piece of blue sky falls on his head, he alerts the town, causes a panic and everyone gets mad at him. And wouldn’t you know his widower dad doesn’t know how to handle the small tyke. This leads to excruciatingly boring scenes in which he feels the need to “prove himself” by joining the school’s baseball team. We get a typically clichéd baseball game just 15 minutes into the movie. How fun! The father-son theme takes up nearly the first half of the film and THEN the film gets going. If I was nine I would have been asleep already.

Finally aliens appear and disappear into the sky and of course leave one of their own behind ala E.T. This sets in motion a plot that should have begun 40 minutes earlier for the alien “invasion” is the most exciting part of the film at which time REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” blasts on the soundtrack. References to War of the Worlds are taken with a grain of salt. However this seems like more of a copy than an homage. Of course by then it’s too little too late and I’ve already checked my watch about five times.

The film doesn’t overload with pop culture references the way Shark Tale did, but there are plenty of puns that adults will get, which is good right? Wrong! Any attempts at jokes towards anyone over 17 fall miserably flat. The filmmakers have gone so far as to flash the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark at us. The live action film plays in the town’s movie theater as a real boulder comes crashing through their screen. I wish a boulder crashed through my screen so I could end it all.

This is a major downer for Disney. Their recent breakup with Pixar has left their creative team pumping a dry well. This film looked good from its amusing ads and I genuinely was excited to see it. This movie could have been good but I wanted it to end after about four minutes. At least the movie had a rather short running time. Walt himself must be rolling in his grave. Back to the drawing board boys!

Go watch Finding Nemo or Chicken Run ASAP it will help to get the bad taste out of your mouth. GRADE: D

“Saw II:” It’s Bloody Dull, But At Least It’s Bloody

Saw II delivers exactly what is expected: a grisly, bloody film that relies on gruesome death scenes to keep the audience interested. Notice how I said interested and not scared. The deaths in Saw II aren’t really scary, they are very grotesque and it is slightly fascinating to see the various ways in which our characters (if you really want to call them that) bite the dust. Can it be true that people actually enjoy watching people suffer and die? Oh you bet I do. Why do you think Paramount made all those Friday the 13th movies? The gore hounds loved the kills and I’m sure the studio execs loved seeing the critics cringe just as much. Nothing else is very exciting in Saw II, but at least it isn’t The Fog.

Saw II exists simply to make its audience squirm. It fails and it succeeds. The three young girls sitting in front of me shoved their hands into their faces several times. I didn’t. Although there was one scene involving a pit of syringes that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. And I enjoyed every second of it. Roger Ebert has said some movies exist just to be mean-spirited and gruesome like the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He says, “The filmmakers want to cause disgust and hopelessness in the audience.” Hey this isn’t The Sound of Music! I say what’s wrong with causing pure disgust? If a film can make you feel uncomfortable (on purpose of course) I think it succeeds. I’ve been waiting to get that off my chest. However, in this film, it only rarely succeeds.

It seems as though our cancer-stricken psycho from the first Saw hasn’t bought the farm yet and decides to trap several more unsuspecting victims. Now, breathing from an oxygen tank and bound by a wheelchair, Mr. Jigsaw has trapped eight people in a house filled with more booby traps than a Home Alone movie. Not a bad feat for someone who can barely breathe. One in the group is the troubled teenager of policeman Donnie Wahlberg. Yes that Wahlberg. It seems Mr. Wahlberg has more of a connection with these people than he realizes.

Now we can get to the good stuff: the death scenes. Most of the characters are annoying and deservedly get slaughtered. Amanda, a survivor from the first film, comes forward as the smart one who knows a thing or too about Jigsaw’s game. At times I actually found myself slightly drawn to her. I wanted to her to be o.k. The rest of the cast dies in excruciatingly bizarre ways, which I won’t spoil here. You’ll have to waste your money to find out what happens.

The film’s “style” if you can even call it that emerges as a kinetic, head-ache inducing rock video with quick edits and full 360 pans. If only director Darren Lynn Bousman could only let his camera stay still. This isn’t a film in which what you don’t see scares you. It is bloody and gory and shots should linger on the gore, which it does after causing motion sickness. Mr. Bousman must have realized his film was so flimsy, cheap and ludicrous that the only way to make it look “cool” would be to just shake the hell out of his camera. His instructions to his editor must have been “make a cut every 1/10th of a second.”

Saw II can’t really overcome its flaws but in a time where every filmmaker cuts out the blood just to let 10 year-olds in, sitting in the theater watching Saw II can’t be that bad right? I can picture the next installment: a madman forces a captive audience to watch Saw IV. The horror. GRADE: C

Moral Combat: “Jarhead” is a War Film Without the War

War isn’t funny. It isn’t pretty. It turns innocent people into ruthless killers. The film Jarhead changes all that. If you’re expecting to see men in combat shooting at each other ala Saving Private Ryan or Platoon you’ll be in for a surprise. If you want man on man fighting you’d better rent Fight Club or get your Playstation out. Jarhead, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes is a war movie with out the war. The entire film, set in 1989 before the onslaught of the first Gulf War, is an anticipation of the horrors that we have seen in other great war films, but never come. These Marines – they are known in “the suck” as empty-headed Jarheads – have been trained to be all they can be to show their loved ones back home that they are willing to fight and die for their country.

The film has a sharp sense of humor that was frankly unexpected and at first slightly awkward. The entire audience seemed to be cracking up while I gazed around in surprise. It’s not that what was said onscreen wasn’t witty or humorous, but going in knowing that this is about the horrors of war one doesn’t expect it to be rib-tickling. I soon found comfort in the humor (the scene in which the soldiers strip for a news crew is funny if not slightly pretentious), because we laugh so we don’t have to face the horrors of life. Why do you think horror films are almost always laced with a sense of humor? We laugh to relieve the tension. That works in a drama as well.

Jake Gyllenhaal is only one of many fantastic actors in this truly ensemble piece. The story is told through his point-of-view much like that of Charlie Sheen in Platoon. The film opens with his enlistment in the Marines and his reason for being there is simply because he “got lost on his way to college.” It’s actually very sad because so many young men and women enlist in the military just because they have no other option. As real-life Anthony Swofford Gyllenhaal brings an emotional electricity that for the first time truly lights up the screen. He’s been good in other films but this is truly his chance to shine. Peter Sarsgaard who is always great gives an Oscar worthy performance as fellow jarhead Troy. And as the Staff Sergeant Jamie Foxx lets us forget he was ever in Stealth. The entire platoon of Marines is great. We see them bond, joke and connect emotionally. We are right there with them from the moment they lay their hands on their first rifles, to the point in which they never have to shoot at the unseen enemy.

The film is technically well made too. Mendes balances the humor and drama well and is more interested in using his frame to his benefit. We get magnificent vistas both colorful and drained of any hue. There are moments in which the background is nothing but a monochrome canvas waiting to be painted. It works so well because we don’t know what’s out there in the endless desert and neither do the soldiers. The editing isn’t flashy. Mendes doesn’t rely on editing to tell his story, but uses it to aid his story. You wont find any nauseating jump cuts here. If you’re looking to have a seizure check out Domino. He also uses his soundtrack to his benefit. When you hear the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” coming from the speakers you know this isn’t an ordinary film.

Jarhead is an emotional and witty film that shows what it is like to be a Marine, not in combat, but waiting to be in combat. These men have gone through their training. They watch Apocalypse Now to get “pumped up.” They want to fight. The only battle however is between two scorpions. They signed up to experience the horrors of war. They’ve been taught to shoot at long distances and they are ready for blood. They don’t want to sit in the horrendously hot desert anymore. They want a release. Jarhead isn’t about the horrors of war; it is about the expectations of the horrors of war and what that does to a human being. After all, what could be more horrifying? GRADE: B+

Big Fat Kosher Family: Meryl Streep & Cast Shine in “Prime”

If there’s anything we can learn from the movies its not to let your family have total control over your love life. Of course that’s part of the premise of Prime, a new romantic comedy that owes more to the likes of Woody Allen than to Cameron Crowe or Rob Reiner. On the surface Prime, which was written and directed by fairly new guy Ben Younger, seems like any other boy meets girl tale. We get to see a relationship form, falter and you know the rest. We get a vastly religious family who breathes down the boy’s neck because the girl’s not Jewish! Is this just a retread of My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Not at all.

The film plays with the formula and relies first of all on character. Meryl Streep plays Lisa, a therapist who has a long time patient Rafi played by Uma Thurman. Rafi is recently divorced and from what we can gather from just one scene is a mess. That is until she meets the man (or boy) of her dreams: David (Bryan Greenberg). But he is only 23 and she’s 37. Rafi’s not so sure she wants to rob the cradle. That’s not really the worst of it. You see Lisa and David are mother and son. If that wasn’t bad enough, David has an extremely Jewish family (although they certainly aren’t as crazy as those Greeks).

The film’s humor comes from fleshing out the characters and placing them in awkward situations. Such as Rafi coming to David’s apartment. She thinks he has a couple of normal roommates, but the plastic on his furniture tells her otherwise. David lives with his grandparents. David’s friend Morris decides the best way to get even with a girl that refuses a second date is to slap her in the face with a pie right at her doorstep. A great scene occurs in a Crate & Barrel store as Lisa spies on her son and Rafi and ends up nearly hiding underneath a bed. A sales girl lets her know that she’s disturbing the other customers. There is some suspense as we’re let in on things along with the characters. We don’t find out right away that David is Lisa’s son and then Lisa does find out about the couple but neither David nor Rafi know that she knows. Phew!

The film has an interesting visual style that seems more reminiscent of Woody Allen at his most creative. We get some handheld camerawork and some night color lighting. The camerawork is never annoying. It’s subtle enough to not make you nauseated; yet we know it’s there. It is an overall well directed film. Younger gets the most out of his actors. Streep is especially good, after all, when isn’t she good? She slips into her role with ease. I wouldn’t say it’s a stretch for her, but she does it well. The look on her face when Rafi talks about having sex with David is priceless. Thurman and fairly newcomer Greenberg are also very good. The film is realistic, feels fresh and is very enjoyable. It doesn’t end with a cliché although it does have its obligatory “You had me at hello speech.”

Prime is a showcase for actors who are in top-form. It is witty, romantic and never makes you doubt that Prime is high class. GRADE: B

Reality Show: “Stay” Plays With the Mind

I’m surprised that most viewers in the theater stayed for the whole thing. Stay isn’t really a bad movie; it has its strengths and weaknesses, but I’m not too sure that mainstream audiences are ready for such a headache-inducing foray into the mind of someone who’s going…bonkers. One has to admire the camerawork in Stay, which was directed by Marc Forster. He’s the guy who made Halle Berry come to the Oscar podium and delivered last year’s Finding Neverland. I’m not sure if the word auteur reflects his work, but it’s obvious that he’s trying hard. Or perhaps hardly trying?

We’re introduced to all together psychiatrist Sam (Ewan McGregor) and he has a new patient Henry (The Notebook’s Ryan Gosling). Gosling is the weird art student who wants to kill himself. We’re not really sure why although after a few minutes it’s obvious that the kid seems to be missing a few screws. Before you can say, “Get me a straightjacket,” McGregor is plunged into a mystery about why exactly Henry is planning on offing himself on Saturday at midnight. And when I say mystery I mean it. Soon other characters refer to Sam as Henry, we see people walking around in the background who all have a twin, and simple events keep repeating for Sam in broad daylight ala Groundhog Day.

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on for a couple reasons. Forester is keen on finding an original way to move from scene to scene. One interesting segue involves the next shot appearing in a pile of photographs. It’s seems cool at first but can tend to be slightly distracting. You think you begin to have things figured out, such as the idea that Sam and Henry are the same person and it is Henry who is suicidal. After all, there only seems to be real interaction between Henry and Sam. Henry doesn’t really talk to any other characters. This seems way too obvious to be the “twist.” Just when you seem to have it figured out Forester throws a curveball.

So yes the “twist” ending does come eventually, but I’d prefer to call it a resolution because the movie is so twisty that the end seems like the most logical thing in the whole picture. I was genuinely intrigued by the idea. This is one of those films in which after you see it you have to think back to all the points in the film to see if they connect. Most of them do. It’s hard to tell what genre this film is because it’s not really scary (besides a very terrifically intense car accident) and it’s not all that dramatic either. I wouldn’t call it science fiction although it does play around with how we see ourselves and our notion of reality. I’d call it a psychological noir. This is more of film to admire if you like the way it wraps up. But others may see it as ripping off other films that have a lot more to say and are frankly a lot more involving.

A film like The Sixth Sense for instance doesn’t need to RELY on its surprise ending to make it a great film. The ending is a shock and it makes the entire film, that much better. Stay only works when the resolution is revealed. It comes together nicely, but take away the ending and the whole film collapses under its own weight. GRADE: B-

“The Fog:” Hazy with No Chance of Suspense

Were you really scared of the ghostly pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean? Were you at all frightened that the CGI skeletons in The Mummy could ever really hurt you? Is there any show on the WB that makes you genuinely terrified? If you answered no to any of the above questions, skip The Fog and do ANYTHING else. The recent remake of John Carpenter’s earlier version of The Fog isn’t an exceptionally horrible film, but it’s just kinda ehh. There are parts during it in which you think, did I lock my car door? I have to run to the supermarket to get milk and eggs. The dog needs to be let out when I get home.

The problem first of all isn’t necessarily the fog itself. I wouldn’t really want to be caught in a white cloud as thick as pea soup knowing there are monstrous beasts within earshot, but those monsters themselves are what drags down the film. While I’m no fan of the original Fog, it had the skills to use its relatively low budget to make the scary attackers real as opposed to something made on an iMac. Instantly you are brought out of the film and you say, “Oh that’s fake.” I’ve seen TV shows with better effects and I’ve seen TV shows with better acting.

Coincidentally the film stars TV regulars Tom Welling of Smallville and Maggie Grace of the outstanding Lost. Welling pretty much plays a fisherman version of his Clark Kent character, except with more stubble and Grace isn’t exactly graceful in the role of Welling’s girlfriend. She walks around the movie with the same expression on her face. (She is my least favorite on Lost anyways) Oh and one question, does anyone ever wear pants while walking around their homes? Other clichéd characters make appearances such as Selma Blair as a twenty-something disc jockey with a kid who appears to be twelve. Mmmhmm. And it wouldn’t be a crappy horror film without the offensively typecast Black sidekick.

Okay, here’s the story: back in the 1800s the founders of this California village murdered some other villagers on their ship and now those that were murdered are coming back, in the fog of course, to get revenge on the descendants of those who killed them. (Now you know why the first film wasn’t exactly exceptional as well) The first film took a strange premise and went with it, and was relatively successful in creating an eerie atmosphere. After coming off of Halloween, creators Carpenter and Debra Hill were hot.

The Fog isn’t horrible. You don’t really expect the film to be terrific so you’re really not too disappointed when it doesn’t excel. There are plenty of jump scares for the weaker crowds, but that’s probably because the film is so darned loud. In regards to the story, you just don’t really care about what’s going on, you just want to figure out what to make for dinner. GRADE: C-

Bloodshed 101: “A History of Violence”

Viggo Mortensen imbues small town innocence with stern ferocity that he almost hides his blood-splattered shirt. As mild-mannered diner owner Tom Stall, Mortensen embodies the soul and heart of wholesome Middle America: a place where blood and violence rarely tred…or does it. In what appears to be David Cronenberg’s most “normal” movie, we are given the story of how violence always seems to lead to even more violence. But are regular audiences ready for a mainstream film from the guy who gave us blood-crazed freaks in Shivers, exploding heads in Scanners and sex-crazed auto collision-philes in Crash?

Having not moved away from his fetish of blood and gore, director Cronenberg has painted a picture of a little Indiana town where, according to the sheriff, only good people live. But what happens when a local family man becomes a hero after brutally killing two men about to rob his eatery? See this film to find out. That’s basically all I can say and that’s basically all that’s given away in the trailer.

The performances are top-notch. Mortensen embodies Tom as if he were born to play the part. It must be good to get to act with real actors and not CGI creatures from all those Lord of the Whatchamacallit movies. There’s nary a green screen in sight. (Although some of that horrid bloodshed seemed a little computer generated to me). Tom is a family man and his family certainly is just plain – ordinary. They eat breakfast and dinner together, have their normal lives and live in their normal house. What secrets really befall them? The oldest child, teenager Jack, played by fresh-faced Ashton Holmes gets his own subplot when he is provoked at school by the popular jock. (This guy is mean, but doesn’t hold a candle to some of the other psychos in this flick) What we have here is echoes of violence that can and IS happening all over the country. Maria Bello is good as Tom’s concerned wife. Ed Harris is a standout as a strange man from Tom’s past. Perhaps Mr. Harris will have yet another supporting actor nomination come Oscar time. His role is short, but extremely affective.

Based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Cronenberg has not been credited with writing the film, but rather Josh Olsen has. Perhaps that is why the film seems so “normal” for a Cronenberg film. And that is exactly why this is one of his best movies. Everything from the way it is set up seems vastly unlike anything he’s done before, yet during moments of shocking violence and moments of graphic sex, the viewer is immediately smacked on the side of the head, as if he’s saying “Hey it’s me Cronenberg!” He wants to paint an average little town and he does it extremely well. Everything about how the film is set up works. It is filled with tension because the violent acts come out of moments of shock and desperation.

The film wants to move us and shock us and beat us over the head with its strong imagery. The musical score by Howard Shore is used sparingly but underscores the tension very well. This is a film where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It messes with your mind… and you’re all the better for it. GRADE: A

Under the Sea: “Into the Blue” Strikes Gold???

As I sat back into my chair with annoying 12 and 13 year-olds chatting away around me I prepared myself to witness a film catered to the under 75 IQ crowd… I was shamefully wrong. Into the Blue works because it isn’t nearly half as bad as I thought it would be and therefore was a pleasantly entertaining, well-shot film.

The film stars Jessica Alba's bikini and Paul Walker's board shorts, both of which would most likely be contenders if the Oscars had awards for Best Performance by an Article of Clothing. The swimwear's human counterparts don’t actually portray real characters, but is anyone really surprised by this? The acting isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t reach Oscar caliber. It’s not supposed to. Alba and Walker are late twenty lovers who work (whatever their definition of work happens to be) in the Bahamas. Walker’s boat is pathetic as he spends more time pumping water out of it than actually taking it out onto the open sea. Alba works at a Sea World-esque amusement park, where the only amusement I could image for the crowd would be watching Alba swim with dolphins. Walker’s old pal comes for a visit with his fresh love “interest” who appears to be giving Paris Hilton a run for her money. Walker’s pal and lover are played by James Caan and Ashley Scott. The foursome goes diving and snorkeling and happens upon an airplane sunk on the bottom of the sea. The only treasure to be found is lots and lots of cocaine. Caan wants to take the cocaine and make the deal of a lifetime. Walker is very content on just exploring the ocean floor and looking for buried treasure. Caan makes a very big mistake and ends up getting the four of them in heaping trouble with some scary tropical drug lords.

The film works for several reasons because a) the plot is plausible, b) suspense is sustained relatively well c) plot points and action don’t make you slap your forehead and d) the film is technically well-made. The film doesn’t rely on big action set pieces to create excitement in the way that The Island did a few months back. The story works, is interesting and you genuinely like the characters (or maybe you don’t want them harm because everyone wears a bathing suit rather well). Whether or not you realize who the bad guys are and what’s really going to happen, you get so caught up in what’s happening right there that you don’t really care to jump ahead and predict what’s going to happen. I specifically remember a few moments where I had do grab the armrest because I was caught up in a few suspenseful sequences. And finally the film is very beautiful to look at (beach bodies notwithstanding). The color blue is used to great effect and the underwater photography is crisp and richly detailed. I was almost expecting Nemo to swim by.

The film ended and I had to pinch myself. Was I dreaming? Did I actually enjoy this film? Surprisingly yes. The film is far from terrible and is worth seeking out, even on the ocean floor. GRADE: B

D.O.A: “Corpse Bride” Leaves You Wanting

If there’s anything to be learned from Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, it is that the world of the dead seems much more fun and exciting than the world of the living. The film opens on a black and white world with plenty shades of gray.. At first Mr. Burton’s latest fantastical stop-motion animation fairytale seems dreadfully mournful and unenchanting. What’s even worse is that after five minutes the pear shaped characters with their enormous heads and little chicken legs break out into song. Are we really watching this? Don’t worry, it gets better.

Tim Burton obviously has his heart in the right place, but at first glance his latest pic seems more attempt at being anti-Disney than anything else. However, as the film progress we are treated to a vivid world of corpses. I see dead people. Burton insists on displaying the dead life (?) as more exciting than live life. The characters in the living world include those voiced by a slew of fine actors such as Johnny Depp, Emily Watson, and Christopher Lee. These people parade around as if attending a permanent funeral. Although Burton has always had a flavor for the gothic. Victor (Depp) is a fumbling man who can’t really get his act together. He is to be married to Victoria (perhaps cause their names are so similar?) and her parents are not exactly thrilled. But that’s the way arranged marriages work. Perhaps Burton is making a social commentary that sanctity of marriage isn’t very sacred anymore. Before we know it Victor has messed up his wedding vows and stormed of into the woods ala Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas. There he “accidentally” weds a dead woman named Emily, voiced by Helena Bonham Carter.

From here Victor is taken to the world of the dead and it hasn’t been this much fun since Beetlejuice. Here we finally get a worthy song from composer Danny Elfman and we do get some interestingly bizarre characters. (Check out the guy who splits himself in half) The imagery here is so lively and magical that you want to forget about the stiffs walking around above in the world of the living. Down here is where the party is.

The picture is very stunning and a worthy successor to the better Nightmare Before Christmas. But after waiting twelve years for another Burton stop-motion movie, after sitting there for only 74 minutes, you’ll have yourself thinking: this is the best they could do? Let’s hope the third time’s the charm. GRADE B-

Plan to See “Flightplan”

If you happen to be one of many people who have seen the countless number of ads for Flightplan, the latest movie guaranteed not to be your next in-flight film, you know that Jodie Foster’s young daughter disappears on a plane mid-flight. “Have you seen my daughter?” she asks. “Julia! Where’s Julia!” she screams. There’s plenty you already know going into Flightplan, and there’s a little bit you don’t know. It’s what you don’t know that is just a little bit hokey. If you’re willing to let a few things by, you have a good time.

The first hour of Flightplan is well executed and has great performances. Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a mother who has recently been through a terrible tragedy. Her husband was killed in an accident after plummeting to his death off a roof. Kyle works as an engineer of a new super duper airplane that has two floors and a galley and a whole bunch of other jetliner lingo hiding places. Kyle is pretty miserable and far from over her husband’s death. She is traveling from Germany, where she lives, to the States, with her hubby’s casket in tow below. She has one person left to love: her 6 year-old daughter Julia. Or so she thinks. Foster is completely at ease in the role and you suffer just as much as her. When her daughter seems to just vanish out of thin air you wish you were right there searching the plane with her. The flight crew is helpful but not altogether very bent on really helping her out. Where’d they get these people anyways?

The opening of the film sets up the possibility that perhaps Kyle is suffering from a mass delusion: that both her husband and her daughter were killed. Why is this? Apparently there’s no record of the little girl ever having been on board. So we get to play is she insane or is there something else sinister going on? After all the film is called FlightPLAN.

The third act stretched credibility but nonetheless works in a way that is successful in bringing the plot elements together. The supporting cast is good including the ever-flexible Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean as the pilot. And I don’t know if he likes movies about gladiators. To say anything else about the film’s plot would ruin the fun.

The film is technically well-made and although it would seem as though the director (Robert Schwentke, who is, you guessed it, German!) would seem limited in such a small, cramped space he makes it work, as did Wes Craven in last month’s Red Eye. No doubt comparisons to that film will be made. If you are looking for pure thrills and heart-pounding suspense I’d suggest Red Eye. If you’d rather have a less suspenseful, more “is that lady just a wacko” storyline stick to Flightplan. Both films tend to give up believability toward the end, but at least they do it swiftly and well. GRADE: B

“Cry_Wolf:” You’ll Cry… A Lot

The scariest thing about the latest slasher dreck to the hit the multiplex is having to pay money to see it. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Where to begin? First of all, the film has the gall to be rated PG-13. I have a great idea! Let’s make a movie about a killer attacking and killing teenagers and let 8 year-olds in! While the film is hardly family fair, the film is insultingly directed toward the under 15 crowd. It’s not very surprising, but after all most slasher films are loaded with blood and gratuitous sex, so therefore by cutting out all the good stuff, we adults are left with a Mary-Kate and Ashley attempt at horror. I’m not buying it. Well, unfortunately I did, at least it was only five bucks.

Director Jeff Wadlow, who won a short film contest that gave him the chance to make this train wreck, attempts to add some flash and style to his flick. As if that could help the fact that his shaking camera makes some shots virtually unwatchable. This isn’t The Blair Witch Project after all. Many shots even seem to be a commercial for Abercrombie and Fitch, minus nude models. The score is painfully annoying, dialogue is eye roll inducing, and the acting is… you guessed it.

What of the story? The problem here is that there seems to be too much and yet not enough going on all at once. After a local girl is murdered, a brainless group of stuck-up teens at a nearby private high school decide to spread a rumor that it is the work of a serial killer dubbed The Wolf. They send an email to everyone in the school warning them of the killer’s o.m. Online technologies play a part, most notably instant messaging. According to the film’s logic, one can sit in front of a computer and someone can send you an instant message without ever having actually signed on. Of course. Wouldn’t you know our main character British-accented Owen, the new kid, keeps getting threats from someone claiming to be The Wolf. And wouldn’t know accusations fly faster than the audience out of the theater. There’s something in here about lying and telling secrets and a bunch of other bologna. Any attempt at a “plot twist” results in forehead slapping. The problem here is that nothing even remotely scary happens until nearly 70 minutes into the movie (which isn’t really scary anyways). And sorry to spoil it for you, but the body count is exceptionally low. In fact the whole movie is just a red herring. I knew that PG-13 rating had something to do with it. There are plenty of solid PG-13 scary movies, such as The Sixth Sense or The Ring. It is one thing to make a slasher movie that has bad acting and a bad script; it is another to leave out the blood and guts. I think Jared Padalecki should have just gone on to House of Wax 2 instead of headlining this drip of a film. The rest of cast is made up of a bunch of unknowns who seem to be dooking it out to play the lead role in some WB dramedy. Are these Dawson’s Creek’s rejects? Rocker Jon Bon Jovi takes a role as a teacher. His record sales must not be doing so hot.

This is a sad excuse for a horror film. A slasher movie where hardly anyone dies without a hint of bloodshed? Did the Goosebumps guy write this? All of the ten year-olds in the audience seemed to be having a fun time. Why couldn’t I? You’d be better off with reruns of Are You Afraid of the Dark? GRADE: F

Devil in a Nightgown: Skip “Exorcism of Emily Rose,” Stick with “Exorcist”

It’s amazing that whenever a character is possessed by a demon in a film it is always a young girl and she always wears a damned nightgown the whole time. As if attempting to add something new to a scary devil possession movie, director Scott Derrickson decides to add a little courtroom drama to the stale proceedings. As if you couldn’t tell from the film’s marketing campaign, the film follows the “true” story of a college girl named Emily Rose who becomes demonically possessed. What the ads don’t tell you is that the movie is simply a made-for-TV courtroom drama told with some cinematic style. The film attempts to avoid obvious comparisons to other demon films such as, oh let’s say, The Exorcist, by not having the girl’s head spin around or having her puke pea soup. However, she does some wildly unnerving bodily contortions that creep up your spine. That’s about it.

The film isn’t so much about the exorcism of Emily, as it is about the trial of the priest accused of her death after he performed the ritual. Father Moore is played well by Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson. He is joined by another great performance by Laura Linney, as Father Moore’s lawyer, who continues to amaze even seven years after playing Jim Carrey’s phony wife in The Truman Show. The conflict in the film isn’t so much what will become of Emily because that’s ruined in the first 3 minutes of the film, but whether Linney’s agnostic character will come to believe in evil demons that are supposedly around us. And also, will this hotshot lawyer make partner in her hotshot firm. This spiritual conflict occurs in several cheesy scenes involving Linney awakening every night at 3AM (the devil’s hour of course!) to strange sounds and smells. Yawn. In fact, it’s not even a surprise that 3AM will play such an important role in the film as the camera tracks in on her watch striking 3:00 in what has to be the most obvious close-up as if to say “Hey viewer! Pay attention to this!!” We’re not that stupid Mr. Derrickson.

The story is told in flashback with Father Moore’s trial taking most of the screen time. Since we know what happens to Emily and that Father Moore survives (unlike the priests in The Exorcist) very little suspense is sustained. What glimpses of Emily’s life we do get really don’t do anything for us. We don’t get to know this girl except that she gets accepted to college and we learn that she is easily prone to demonic possession. Who isn’t after all? Maybe she should of stopped sleeping in the same nightgown Linda Blair never really made fashionable over 30 years ago. There are a few chills and thrills to be had here and there, mostly due to the loud soundtrack. The camera work is decent and the film doesn’t rely too much on CGI scares. Although I’m pretty much sick of scares involving other characters’ faces violently changing into demonic visages, i.e. The Ring, White Noise, The Grudge, etc… That’s old hat.

The film basically works if you believe that demons could exist and if you find religious morals fascinating, but for your 9 bucks, I’d recommend staying home and catching the latest Law & Order marathon on USA and finishing the evening with The Exorcist right before bedtime. At which point feel free to slip into your nightgown, if you dare… GRADE: C

Sex Appeal: Check Out “The 40 Year Old Virgin”

Who knew watching some hairy middle-aged dude try to lose his virginity could be so painstakingly hilarious and heartfelt? In probably the biggest summer surprise, actor/co-writer Steve Carell has delivered a warm and sincere portrait of a man just trying to be himself, with a side of cool to go with it. Carell plays a 40-something stock boy at a Circuit City-type electronic store who has a dastardly secret, no he’s not gay, he doesn’t have eleven toes and he certainly doesn’t have multiple wives; he’s never had sex. The film takes a subject mostly dealt in American Pie type comedies and transplants it into a film that even fifty year olds will enjoy. In fact, at 22 I felt that I was perhaps too young to “get it.” On top of that, I was surrounded by dozens of 16 year olds laughing hysterically. I guess sex comedies are ageless. Besides, aren’t we all sick of watching Jason Biggs trying to do it and seeing his everlasting attempts fail miserably?

I was worried that Steve Carell, while no doubtfully funny in scene-stealing supporting roles in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, wouldn’t be able to carry an entire picture. Did I mention that the film is nearly two hours as well? Come on people, this is a summer comedy not Forrest Gump. I was amazed that watching Carell and his interactions with his fellow chumpy yet confident yet overwhelmingly insecure co-workers just simply fascinating. Their dialogue is crisp. I never rolled my eyes because these were actually real people. We don’t get sick joke after sick joke JUST to be funny, but it is the situations that lend themselves to comedy and help push the story along as well. Who would have ever thought that would work right? Rob Schneider take note.

Rookie director Judd Apatow deserves credit for taking what could have easily become stale material and breathing new life into it. It’s not so much about Carell being a virgin and forty, but his “coming out” to people he never thought he’d ever be able to socialize with. It is about a grown man finally coming to terms with himself (after all Carell is in many ways like all of us), and the audience is there every step of the way. His life is rigid and repetitive, which is aptly reflected on his bed comforter. Apatow has selected a supporting cast that shines, particularly Paul Rudd whose performances, like a fine wine, get better with age. Does anyone actually remember that he was in Halloween 6? Didn’t think so. And wouldn’t you know that Christopher Guest semi-regular Jane Lynch turns in another amusingly strange turn as Carrel’s odd boss, who feels she just might be the one to deflower our hero. Catherine Keener again plays it straight as Carrel’s love interest. She works at a store where she sells people’s crap on eBay, though nothing in the store is for sale right there. Brilliant. While Keener’s character is warm and likeable, Keener again just seems to look as bored as she always does, as if she means to say, okay let’s get this over with. Minor quibble aside, the cast is uniformly excellent.

A real winner from Universal and, amazingly, none of the best jokes were ruined in the trailer. The film is original, funny, witty and even with all its frank sexuality, never mean-spirited. This isn’t a Farrelly brothers movie after all. Do yourself a favor and check out The 40 Year Old Virgin, if only to watch Carell’s excruciating screams as his chest hair get waxed off. He certainly takes one for the team. That alone is worth the price of admission. GRADE: A-

Craven Cursed No More: “Red Eye” Takes Fright

What was that crappy-ass werewolf movie Wes Craven "directed" no less than 6 months ago? Like his long running career Craven had seemed cursed to deliver the impossible: a PG-13 rated werewolf horror movie. Knowing the horror genre well and being a seasoned filmmaker, Craven delivered what was probably the worst film of his career, not to mention the worst film so far this year. Hey it isn’t entirely his fault. Let's just say that Craven has moved on to make another movie that is very different from his horror laden films of the past, and I'm not talking about Music of the Heart Part 2.

His latest film, Red Eye is a quick, well-paced thriller that actually thrills. Set aboard, for most of the film's second act, an airplane, Cillian Murphy plays a devilishly charming passenger who bonds with fellow passenger Rachael McAdams. What begins as friendly conversation soon turns to terror as Murphy unleashes a fiendish plot in which McAdams must play a vital role. Cat-and-mouse mind games ensue as McAdams attempts to get help. What help is there really while you're aboard a plane mid-flight?

The audience is let in on Murphy's plan as the film goes on and there is the inevitable cutting back in forth from inside the plane's cabin to the ground as the characters interact via the in-flight payphones. The film's claustrophobic tension is masterfully handled by Craven and his cameraman, as your heart pounds just as much if not more than McAdams'. The acting is fantastic. It is amazing to see Murphy go from charming to terrifying in less than a minute. His piercing blue eyes are at once mesmerizing and then a second later scary-as-hell. McAdams is definitely a wonderful up and coming actress she has been terrific in every film she’s been in, and Red Eye is no exception. It’s a breath of fresh air to see her character go from happy-go-lucky to scared-to-death just as quickly as Murphy goes insane.

Many critics have been complaining about the mundane final act, which does not take place on the plane. (To say anything about what happens specifically or whether anyone gets off the plane is to ruin the film for you) Craven handles the third act as he would any of his Scream films and you know what? He does it well. Something similarly happened earlier this summer in The Island. Michael Bay seemed to deliver a film much better than Armageddon or Pearl Harbor but instead of continuing the film's thought provoking first half, he goes for what he does best and turns his film into an explosive action chase film. In Red Eye, Craven goes back to the basics of the psycho-stalks-girl formula and frankly I welcomed it. His film doesn't all of a sudden turn bloody or gory; he just knows how to make a suspenseful and scary ending to his film. That is exactly what Craven has done. Clichés aside, I still jumped when the psycho pops out from behind that damned door!

You would be doing yourself a favor to check out Red Eye. It's a killer ride. Forget being cursed, even at 66 Wes Craven has still got it. GRADE: A-

Oh, Stewardess! I Speak Jive: An Ode to "Airplane!"

Airplane! is my favorite movie of all time and definitely the funniest.

Surely, you can’t be serious?

I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

From the bravado Jaws homage opening to the moment blowup automatic pilot Otto flies his 747 majestically back into the air with his new blowup girlfriend, the film Airplane! is a laugh riot from start to finish. In fact, the film is funny even after it’s over! (Catch those crazy credits and that poor taxi passenger) Airplane! lifts full lines of dialogue (For instance, "Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle.") from a little known disaster film from the 1950s called "Zero Hour!" which is almost as funny as "Airplane!" Writing-directing team ZAZ (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker) turned what was supposed to be a serious film about food poisoning striking the passengers and crew of a jetliner into a hilarious spoof hell-bent on squeezing in gut-wrenching laughs nearly ever other second. Sight gags after sight gags abound, including shit literally hitting a fan, a watermelon falling from the sky, and Robert Stack removing two pairs of sunglasses for emphasis.

Some seriously funny actors headline the cast, mainly Leslie Nielsen in his first spoof movie role. Nielsen, as Dr. Rumack, (we know he's a doctor because he wears his stethoscope as if it were a necktie) delivers completely straight, deadpan lines such as this exchange with a stewardess:

“You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.”

“A hospital? What is it?”

“It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.”

This is why the film works so well. The actors say completely hysterical things without cracking a smile, which makes the audience laugh twice as hard. You think, did they really say that? And who knew the Beav's mom could speak jive?

What about our fearless Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves) who succumbs to food poisoning like most of the plane’s passengers because he had fish and not steak for dinner? (Thank God Dr. Rumack had lasagna!) He spends his time chatting with a little boy passenger who is excited to take a tour of the cockpit and bother the co-pilot, Kareem Abdul Jabar. (Inspired casting right?) Graves delivers some of the film’s funniest and most popularly quoted lines directed at the innocent young boy such as “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” and “Ever seen a grown man naked?” You can't get away with that stuff today.

So the crew all eat fish and therefore the only man to save the day is war veteran pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) who flew fighter planes, but this plane has four engines. It’s an entirely different kind of flying, altogether. "It’s an entirely different kind of flying." Ted has a drinking problem, not involving alcohol, but rather his uncontrolled tick of throwing his drink into his face. Ted also hasn’t been able to get over his love of Elaine (Julie Hagerty) who is a stewardess on this ill-fated flight. Ted and Elaine used to be in love and so happy and used to frolic on the beach with catfish and seaweed ala "From Here to Eternity." Can Ted get over his hang-ups, land the plane, and save the day? The plot seems out of a really bad movie doesn’t it? Well it is, remember I mentioned "Zero Hour!?" It even has flashbacks which lead to an uproarious send-up of "Saturday Night Fever." The inane "Airport" series gets its due too. Every airplane disaster cliché is accounted for. Reluctant hero who must save the day? Check. Newspapers headlining the flight’s impending doom? Check. Heart transplant child patient? Check. Pesky religious zealots? Check. Out of control passengers who must be slapped and then eventually whipped and beaten? Check.

Even if the film isn't all that polished (you can clearly see the tape holding the set together in some shots), with this film the ZAZ team triple handedly invented the zany spoof comedy subgenre. Though many people agree it started with Mel Brooks. While Brooks’ films, such as the great "Young Frankenstein," did precede "Airplane!" on the cinematic timeline, you would be doing yourself a favor to check out this brilliant satire if you haven’t already (Even it's underrated ZAZ-less sequel isn't terrible, as is ZAZ's follow-up "Top Secret!"). In fact, "Airplane!" is funnier than any of Brooks’ films, and I’m a huge Mel Brooks fan.

Surely I must be joking.

I’m not joking… and stop calling me Shirley. GRADE: A+