Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

When last we left Middle Earth, Frodo and Sam were off to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring of Power, Gandalf had fallen into the darkness or Moria along with his fiery Balrog buddy, Merry and Pippin were hauled off by some nasty orcs, with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in hot pursuit.

The Two Towers wastes no time, picking up right where The Fellowship of the Ring left off. Quickly things are set in motion in our three diverging storylines: Frodo and Sam, lost and walking in circles, soon find an unlikely guide in Gollum, the pathetic creature whose possession of the Ring for hundreds of years drove him mad; Merry and Pippin find themselves in Fangorn Forest, where they encounter Treebeard the Ent. For those of you who have not read the books, I won't go into what an Ent is. You'll see; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli (along with an old friend who is not as dead as we all thought he was) get the bulk of the film's attention as they wind up in the lands of Rohan, where all sorts of drama is going on. Orcs have overrun the land, and the king, Theoden, has, well, not been himself for quite some time, thanks in part to his greasy, grotesque advisor, Grima Wormtongue. But trouble is brewing thanks to the evil white wizard Saruman, so our heroes have to light a fire under Theoden's ass and mobilize the people of Rohan for an impending orc onslaught (which makes for one of the greatest, most epic battles ever put on screen).

And so the stories go.

Easily one of the best films this year--if not the best (at least thus far)--The Two Towers does not manage to best Fellowship. While it is much more briskly paced, more fun and crowd-pleasing, and has lighter moments than its predecessor, The Two Towers' one flaw is that it has too many stories to tell. We lose the intimacy of the first film, when the nine companions struggled together in their one quest. Now, being forced to jump from thread to thread, we don't get as much depth and richness of character as we did in Fellowship. However, given the confines of Tolkien's source material, this is the absolute best movie that could possibly have been delivered.

The character of Gollum is a marvel. Well-written, well-acted, and the best use of computer graphics in film to date. Gollum makes Jar-Jar Binks--and even Yoda--look like crudely-drawn papersack puppets. His character design flawlessly walks the fine line between monster and human, as does his performance. Tolkien crafted one of the greatest fantasy characters of all time in Gollum, and the filmmakers captured his essence magnificently. You hate Gollum; you love Gollum; you pity Gollum; you fear Gollum; you laugh at Gollum and you cry for Gollum.

Every time I see Fellowship, I love it more and more. I'm going to see this one again and again over the holidays for sure, and I'm sure my appreciation will grow. As it is, it's a damn good film.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Movie Review: Eight Legged Freaks

I know most people either chuckle or roll their eyes whenever I mention Eight Legged Freaks to them, but I've been looking forward to this silly-ass movie for quite some time. Finally saw it today, and it induced a lot more chuckling and a lot less eye-rolling than you might imagine.

It's your standard throwback B-movie plot: Monsters terrorize a small town, and it's up to the townspeople to fight back. It's been done before, spectacularly, in both Gremlins and Tremors. While this one isn't quite up to par with those two "class A" B-movies, it's still a lot of fun. And there were quite a few big scares and big laughs.

The plot: An accidental toxic waste spill in a pond. An unwitting, eccentric "spider farmer" feeds all his pet spiders crickets from said pond. Giant, mutant spiders (and subsequent calamity) ensue. Of course, the spiders didn't count on the locals gettin' all "don't eat me" on them and fighting back. So you've got a rag-tag group of colorful townspeople, led by Chris (David Arquette), a local boy just returned home after being gone for over ten years, and Sam (Kari Wuhrer), local sheriff/single mom/love interest. You've got the sleazy, no-good mayor, the goofy deputy, the angry, conspiracy theory-spouting local radio show host, Sam's two feisty kids, and, my personal favorite, the geriatric barber, among others, all fighting back against all different sorts of scary, giant spiders.

The movie takes a little while to find its groove, but once it does, it is great fun! Non-stop monster movie mayhem! And who can resist a movie with a hair-sprayed, chain-smoking woman named "Aunt Gladys"? Not me.

I recommend it for a fun matinee, or a Friday night video rental down the road.

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Movie Review: Like Mike

Let me first say that I would never have seen this movie on my own. My aunt calls me and says she has tickets to the premiere. The premiere. The one with the red carpets and the stars of the movie.

My response was, "Isn't there someone else you want to invite?"


"Well, alright, I guess I'll go."

So I went with my aunt and her two kids and their two friends. We stood on the red carpet, saw Lil' Bow Wow in all his 4-ft-tall glory, as well as some of the other actors in the movie, including Jerry Maguire's wisecracking tot, Jonathan Lipnicki. The temptation to go up to him and inform him that the human head weighs eight pounds was strong, but I managed to keep my Hollywood cool.

Then we watched the movie.

Lil' Bow Wow plays Calvin, an ragamuffin orphan who sucks at basketball. He and his fellow orphans, including best friends Murph (Lipnicki) and Reg (Brenda Song), are forced by their Miss Hanigan-esque orphanage guardian, Stan Bittleman (the awesome Crispin Glover), to sell candy late at night in the parking lot of the Staples Center, where the fictional "L.A. Knights" play basketball. The money is presumably pocketed by the not-so-on-the-up-and-up Bittleman. It's in the parking lot that Calvin meets the Knights' coach, Coach Wagner (Robert Forster), who gives the kid a few tickets for an upcoming Knights game.

Back at the orphanage, Calvin gets a new pair of donated tennis shoes, "once owned by a famous basketball player." He looks at the inside of the shoes, to find the initials "M.J." scrawled on the tongue. Could it be? The beauty of the script is: we are never told. But Calvin believes.

When one of the bully orphans tosses his new shoes up on a power wire, Calvin goes up one rainy night to get them. Just as he grabs them, lightning strikes the wire, imbuing the shoes with special powers.

Calvin is wearing them the night he goes to the Knights game. His seat number is randomly selected for a halftime challenge, where he gets to play Knights player Tracey Reynolds (Morris Chestnut) for 2 minutes. Of course, the shoes help Calvin put on quite a show, and the team's general manager (Eugene Levy) decides to put Calvin on the team--as a publicity stunt to raise the sagging attendance of the Knight's games.

Calvin's mad B-ball skillz of course not only boost attendance, but lift the Knights out of their slump and help them kick ass. Calvin also thinks he may have found a possible "dad" to adopt him in his teammate, Tracey. Morris Chestnut does a great job as Tracey, an emotionally distant guy whose dysfunctional relationship with his own father dictates his intial distance with Calvin.

Tracey and Calvin's relationship is the heart of this movie, and the movie does have heart. It also has the fun basketball stuff. For adult viewers, this movie kind of struck me like SpyKids: watching Calvin in those shoes--like watching the two spy kids with all their gadgets--makes you feel like a kid again. You feel that fun and magic and exhilaration.

The movie has its slow spots and a silly scooter chase ending, but all in all, I had a fun time watching it. Crispin Glover's understated performance as Bittleman cracked me up to no end--he is so off-kilter and weird; kids in the audience didn't really "get" him, but, shit, he was funny. And Morris Chestnut did a great job; he didn't just "phone in" a performance for some silly kids movie, but rather gave his character a sense of humanity and emotion that contributed greatly to the film.

Anyway, if you've got kids, be sure to bring 'em to this one! You'll enjoy yourself as well.

Sunday, July 7, 2002

Movie Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Half romantic comedy, half fish out of water/culture shock comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding equals one very funny movie. Written by and starring Nia Vardalos, the movie tells the story of Toula (Vardalos), a plain, 30-year, Greek American woman who turns her life around by going back to school, changing her career and meeting the man of her dreams, Ian Miller (John Corbett), who, as you can tell by his name, is not Greek. Through planning her wedding, Toula learns to embrace her cultural heritage while at the same time molding it into something new, marrying the first non-Greek in her family.

Maybe that doesn't sound very funny, but this movie is filled with such hilariously colorful characters (and some funny non-colorful ones as well, like Ian's parents), and some amusingly awkward situations. It also avoids most of the pitfalls of romantic comedy haminess and cliche, by staying true to its tone and its characters.

It's hard to find in the theaters, so you might have to wait and rent it when it comes out on video.

Movie Review: Mr. Deeds

I was absolutely certain that Mr. Deeds would suck. The previews sucked, except for that part where John Turturro stabs Sandler's foot with the fire poker. That made me chuckle. So it was with great apprehension that I got dragged into this movie.

The premise of the movie: Mr. Blake, a billionaire media magnate dies, leaving no apparent heir. A search for his next of kin reveals a simpleton nephew, Longfellow Deeds (Sandler), who has never even left his small northeastern town. Blake's second hand man, Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher), whose intentions are less than noble, pays Deeds a visit, telling him he has inherited hundreds of thousands of shares in Blake's corporation; shares which Cedar offers to buy from Deeds for $40 billion. The good-natured Deeds agrees, and flies to New York to finalize the deal.

Here he meets "Pam Dawson" (Winona Ryder), a tabloid journalist posing as a sweet school nurse in order to get the scoop on Deeds. We also meet Deeds' "sneaky" new butler, Emilio (John Turturro), who has the uncanny--and hilarious--ability to pop up unsuspectedly.

Anyway, predictably, the two leads fall in love, she feels bad about lying, he starts figuring out that Cedar is up to no good, etc. Will Deeds and Pam find happiness? Will Cedar's evil plot be foiled? What do you think?

Mr. Deeds, while not Sandler's best movie (those honors go to Happy Gilmore, or maybe The Wedding Singer), did not, in fact, suck (those honors go to Big Daddy. Ugh). There are some good laughs, mostly from secondary characters like Emilio, Steve Buscemi's Crazy Eyes, and Cecil (Erick Avari), and a riotous cameo by tennis legend John McEnroe. I thought Ryder did just okay, and Sandler was, well, Sandler.

I recommend it as a renter.

Movie Review: Lilo & Stitch

Ugh. I really wanted to enjoy this. It looked like a fresh, funny, exciting movie, from the jokey previews featuring Stitch inserted into other Disney "classics" like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Just a warning: those were just jokey previews! Those other Disney characters have absolutely nothing to do with this movie.

Stitch is an alien. More specifically, a genetic creation of a mad scientist alien named Dr. Jumba. Despite his little, blue, big-eyed cuteness, Stitch was created to be an indestructible killing machine. The Alien Grand Council sentences both Stitch and his creator to prison. But Stitch escapes and hijacks a shuttle and warps to a random planet, which happens to be Earth. Here we meet Lilo, a cute but troubled Hawaiian girl who might be put into a foster home if her sister/guardian, Nani, fails to get her act together.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jumba and another alien, a one-eyed Earth expert named Pleakley, are sent to recapture Stitch. He avoids them by allowing himself to be the "adopted puppy" of Lilo, a dangerous plan since he is programmed for mayhem and destruction. Together, they form a strange friendship and bond, and learn from one another.

This movie wasn't very funny. It has some cute moments, but it plays like a heavy-handed afterschool special, cramming the message of "the importance of family" down the viewer's throat. The character designs are clever and cute, the backgrounds are beautiful and colorful, but the look of the movie does not help the loosely constructed plot.

Meh. Maybe the younger kids will like this one.