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Wow. I mean just – wow. It’s staggering to contemplate that some producer group sat in a screening room and thought, “Wow, this is gonna be great!”  Now, I know we weren’t walking into an Oscar contender or a cult classic, that much was evident. My companion and I hoped and assumed it would be a silly fun workaday puzzle movie, like the National Treasure movies, or even what 23 tried to be. At times, it even was that. I have a distinct memory of thinking, “huh, this is kind of more entertaining than I thought it would be.”  It was a little overly spoon-feedy some – no, much – eh, really most of the time, OK, but that’s within expected parameters. It had big ideas, cool ones, about relativism and determinism, purpose and randomness. Hey, we thought, maybe this is one of those good movies with terrible scripts. Enter scientist son of a pastor (we’ve been watching Nicholas Cage for some time without knowing his deal or why he lives in a creepy ruin of a house) and the obligatory crisis of faith and then –

WHAM! A truly amazing sequence, shot all in one take! Cool! OK, great, we thought, slurping our sodas happily. Now we’re talking. Cage’s character talks weird, has no sideburns, and makes insane, counter-intuitive choices. “Hey looks like trouble over there. Let’s go over there!”  We roll with it, it’s clearly not a smart movie, just a fun one. Then POW! Another jaw-dropping disaster sequence and then open wide for the Spooning. I’d like to take a moment here to acknowledge the background, or extra/crowds. They did some extremely fine work; I shouldn’t have noticed them, since their function is actually not to stand out, but the problem is that they were better than the movie they were in. They were great, real pros, acting their socks off.

Interrupting our little fate-versus-will mystery are a bunch of guys dressed like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all Chess King trench boats and Billy Idol hair. Creepy? Sure. Relevant? How? Are they a metaphor? Are they people who can sense the numbers? Why on earth – oh but that thought is interrupted by the stakes being raised impossibly, human-extinction-level high and you forget to be properly skeptical about the Spikes.

“That was a really cool first sequence, I’d sure hate to think they would ruin it with some dorky paranormal stuff.”   You can sleep at night knowing that they did, they did ruin it, so terribly, so egregiously, that I wish I had been more intolerant of the script’s clumsiness and left, so I could remember this movie as something other than…wow.

Let’s just say the last shot (held approximately 8 minutes too long considering it didn’t have credits rolling over it) is pretty much the last thing you would expect to come from the beginning of this movie. It’s like ending Psycho with a colorful shopping montage. Wow. I give the filmmakers kudos for fully committing to an ending that others might have tried to mitigate or avert. They show some pretty hard core disasters in this movie, and there’s no fireman walking out of the house with the dog in this movie, no sir. They also fully committed to the immensely stupid surprise ending. There is a team of designers and effects people who clearly did the work of their careers on this ending (and it really does look fabulous), and all their labors did was make us hate this movie. Objectively, it’s beautifully rendered, and so so wrong. Why?

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 3/20/09

Time in minutes 121

Director Alex Proyas

Studio Summit Entertainment

What Just Happened?

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Hollywood loves making movies about Hollywood. To be fair, this business we call show is packed to the rafters with drama, sex, absurdity, double dealing, divas, and sordid glamour — who wouldn’t be tempted? Often as not, the movie is either too inside to be comprehended by the audience at large (Burn, Hollywood, Burn) or too broad and false to be enjoyable (Get Shorty). Like aspiring starlets, some (The Player, The TV Set) make it. Some (What Just Happened?) do not.

Robert DeNiro plays a Big Hollywood Producer ™ (while producing this film!) who has a typical? Atypical? Certainly stressful week, bookended by the tedious drudgery of being featured in a Vanity Fair photo shoot of Hollywood’s most powerful. He’s juggling a film in post-production called Fiercely, angling for a new unshootable script written by Stanley Tucci, and trying to get a new Bruce Willis film off the ground, all while reeling from the surprise suicide of a colleague and dealing with his two post-divorce families. He is pulled in all directions and ends up going in none. The apparent result is a disaster, I think. This movie has no sense of beginning or end or arc, with a small exception I will note later. A film has not been this aptly titled since Paycheck.

Our leading man is a shark, but he’s perpetually capitulating power to the stronger forces in his life, like his cold, sharp boss Catherine Keener or his most recent ex-wife, Robin Wright Penn. He juggles industry divas like Fiercely’s director (Michael Wincott, a high note in this otherwise flat film) and SuperStar™ Bruce Willis (humorously self-parodic) and agents like the chronically weird John Turturro. He can’t seem to deal with anyone on a truly human level, and we can’t connect to him. It’s hard to empathize with a super rich man whose high stakes are both superficial (audience response to a movie) or inappropriate (after 2 post-divorce years, still proprietary of Wright Penn).

DeNiro plays the energy of this character well, the lying and twisted sincerity, but the story lacks a connection for us with the characters, the comedy, or the drama. It’s a pretty decent snapshot of a day in this absurd, unreal life and job, but it’s remoteness and aimlessness makes it difficult to engage with. A standoff over a beard and the squabbles over a film’s ending sequence provide the only throughline of story to link together this mish mosh of events too abstract to appreciate.

Shot in a super-artsy way, with pleasurable and pointless footage of the freeways and hallways DeNiro haunts, What Just Happened? looks like an art film trying to bag on Big Hollywood — except it has nearly all pretty big stars in it (I neglected to mention Sean Penn, Kristen Stewart, and the Cannes Film Festival).

Directed by Barry Levinson, whose career has no doubt slalomed as much as the week he depicts here, the film succeeds in giving us plebes a peek at what the Hollywood Elite suffer to entertain us, but it does nothing to atone for the results (I’m looking at you, Made of Honor!). Use your best discretion.

MPAA Rating R -language,violent images, sexual content, drug material.

Release date 11/13/08

Time in minutes 104

Director Barry Levinson

Studio Magnolia Pictures

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X-Files: I Want To Believe

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Full disclosure: I watched the X-Files television series until the first movie came out. I was so disgusted with the transparent clumsiness of the story (so much more forgivable on TV) that I stopped watching the show. Curiosity and a cautious sort of press buzz (“it’s a stand-alone episodes even non-fans can love!”) drew me back in. I am not so dishonorable as to spoil any plot points, since the few surprises are nearly all the pleasure this film affords. However, I will say that it does feel like an episode, padded out to 104 minutes (that’s a full extra hour) with unnecessary scenes of walking, driving, helicoptering, and reiterating circular and uninteresting arguments. So no, I didn’t so much like it.

We meet Scully and Mulder again in real time, ten years since we last saw them. To say they are jaded about their FBI experiences is no understatement. They are called in — well, Mulder is — ostensibly to provide the unique experience and talents developed from the X-Files heyday. However, despite basically being in the same room as the investigators and their targets, Mulder does nothing that hasn’t already been done by the regulars and contributes nothing but doleful monologues to the proceedings. It’s like having H & R Block in to review your completed 1040 EZ forms.

The story adheres to the show’s tradition of stand-alone episodes, without involving conspiracy, aliens, bees, black oil, Cigarette Smoking Man, or any plot devices that require the audience to have see the show before (unless they want to understand the relationship the leads have). The fun of Mulder and Scully’s dynamic on the show was Mulder’s credulousness and Scully’s scientific skepticism, coupled with his implied atheism and her Catholicism. It made for a fun give and take when they were confronted with demons, space invaders, faith healers, circus freaks, lunatics, and government conspiracies.

Here, despite a conservative hospital, a disgraced clergyman, and Mulder’s natural tendency to believe in the paranormal until proved normal, X-Files 2 does not wrestle with faith or tenacity of beliefs so much as fling pebbles at these concepts from across the schoolyard. Scully spends a lot of time insisting on keeping her life as it is now (which is also unclear) and not regressing to those dark days working with Mulder. To someone who didn’t see how they left it at the end of the show, she seems to be fully engaged in that life anyway.

Billy Connolly is wasted in an interesting role, reduced to resolution-free bickering and an irritating lack of arc for someone who merits his own movie, rather than facilitating this one. Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica) appears, entertaining my companion and I as we attribute all his behavior to the fact that he is a Cylon. Actually, such a plot device would have been more X-Filesy and more entertaining and less silly than what actually occurs, which is more like a gag cut from Futurama. Perhaps I have said too much.

The X-Files were special when they were on the air, new and dark, thoughtful and complex, with lots of luxurious faith versus credulousness conversations and scary bits. The then-new possibilities of topics and long story arcs on television were exciting novelties back in the days when studios would never believe audiences would have such long memories or ardent fandom. Unfortunately for this movie, television evolved well past this degree of silliness and spoon feeding (see also: Space: Above and Beyond), leaving our beloved old friends in the vault. I wanted to believe it would be a fun movie, but my companion put it best: “This was definitely time spent.”

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/25/08
Time in minutes 105
Director Chris Carter
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Diary of the Dead

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George Romero. George George George. You created a mini-genre out of what was at the time an oddity: a monster movie (specifically zombies, for their unique properties) which also was a statement about modern day life. Countless follow-ups by you and others continued this trend and made Zombie Movies an event worth collecting friends for. You wrote the rulebook. You were a pioneer. Sure, Land of the Dead was a little dorky, but it was a hoot and a half. This Diary of the Dead of yours is just rewarmed leftovers from the past 13 years of filmmaking (from To Die For, as my sage companion noted, through Cloverfield).

One of the most tragic things about Diary of the Dead is the moments that are flashes of inspiration. It’s like someone sat down with a compendium of the lore and said, “Ok, what hasn’t been done?” and then did it. Our band of survivors being the cast of a student-grade mummy film? Awesome. A zombie dispatched at the same time its victim suicides with a scythe? Sweet. Um…there were a few others but I already can’t remember. My point is, the humor is always there, lurking under the surface, in any zombie movie, but here it’s used for evil rather than for good.

Our filmmakers are shooting a mummy movie (the original proto-zombie, yes George we know it was you who invented the modern-day zombie) and the world goes hooey. Nothing new there, of course. The MESSAGE is that the cameraman doesn’t stop filming, even when fleeing, even when seeing things that would make a sane person respond by perhaps fainting or screaming. The camera is passed between participants — even participants who yelled at cinematographer #1 to stop filming already — to get better coverage..

“But wait,” you might interrupt at this point. “You freaking LOVED Cloverfield. That’s the same thing.” And for the record, I enjoyed Blair Witch as well. For one thing, the latter two films used the cameras as if the character were really using the camera — dropping it, running with it, addressing it directly, sneaking around with it, dropping their camera hand to show the ground or their leg at a moment when a character would do that. The characters are filming in Cloverfield because they think there should be a record of this event, and also to remain emotionally detached from their terror, and out of Gen X-Y habit, perhaps as well. Later it’s their only connection to “not here.” In Blair Witch, of course, they were specifically documenting what happened to them in the woods, so it was more of an obligation to record everything even when it was a burden. Diary of the Dead is a hackneyed attempt to hijack that convention with none of the justification and all of the moralizing.

Also wrong with DotD: There are forced interviews and unaccountable hostilities among the players that are unclear. And then there are the horrible horrible characters who say terrible terrible dialogue just past the ability for us to mock them. There’s even an older, weary pseudo-statesman professor, British of course, whose dialogue literally smacks of narration no matter what he says. It hurts to watch. My companion recalled Gus Van Sant’s culturally prescient 1995 film To Die For, where Nicole Kidman’s character had a pathological need to be on television in order to exist (I am paraphrasing) and every meta-narrative since then has been more and more diluted from that message. See also: the reality-TV boom.

Diary of the Dead, even for zombie diehards like my little group (we watched Shadow: Dead Riot, for pete’s sake), was not very good at all. I mourn. The rating is Catch the Network Premiere for the few bits that were fun and creative, but it will never be on network television, so…

MPAA Rating R-strong horror violence and gore, pervasive language
Release date 2/15/08
Time in minutes 95
Director George Romero
Studio Dimension Films

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Star Trek: Nemesis

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I must say up front that I am a Trekker, specifically Next Generation cast and I don’t wear costumes to premieres. What I like best about Star Trek movies in general (unlike say, the X Files movie) is they operate on a higher level than the episodes, but complement and/or add to the existing lore. I am also a subscriber to the even/odd numbered quality meter for Star Trek films; i.e. even numbered ones good, odd ones bad. Until now.

This cast has always had delightful ensemble on the small and big screens, and previous directors have taken advantage of this chemistry and their acting pedigrees as well. To the degree that this script allows it, they have that chemistry again; but the script is pretty bad, and has no focus. Not only does this film not complement or add to the vast existent Trek universe, it actually sucks material from other films (bad and good) and puts a big stain on the carefully built Trek universe. Ecch.

After a forced, pseudo-merry introduction, the film proceeds (misguidedly) to try and emulate the empirical colonialism vibe of the most recent Star Wars crap, including meaningless CGI work, heavy reliance on our familiarity with the characters, blatant disregard for the existing knowledge base of the series, and even a freakin’ firefight in a corridor. (When you see it, as I know you suckers for punishment will, you will know exactly what corridor I mean.) The “central conflict” is between two planets (Romulus and Remus) we have never cared about, one of which has apparently been enslaving or keeping down the other in the name of commerce. Oh, but we are ultimately supposed to sympathize with the enslaving capitalists! But that is actually far secondary to the cosmic, personal struggle that screenwriter John Logan (Bats) has in store for us. Ooh I am all atremble.

The titular Nemesis is a – well, I don’t want to give anything away, but it rhymes with bone. The film seems to think the big shocker is pretty obvious, and then crabs about having to tell us. It’s like a bad comedian having to explain a joke that was never funny in the first place. When bee-stung lipped Shinzon (Tom Hardy) appears, it’s really only obvious he’s a bad guy who’s taken fashion tips from Ming the Merciless. Maybe it’s the “Hello, My Name Is Dr. Evil” name tag.

I can’t even go into all the humongous reasons why Data’s Little Orphan Android subplot is irritating, but for the fans I’ll say this: What about Lore?

The film annoys far more people than it entertains, and only raises questions to which we don’t care to have the answer. Most of Nemesis has the same arrogant blandness that George Lucas has perfected, which is of course, bad. I have generally preferred Star Trek to Star Wars for Trek’s non-mythologizing of goodness and cooperation. Trek was founded on the ideals of solving the world’s current problems and exploration and cooperation. Star Wars (see previous reviews) enlists a theocratic elite to battle the imperialist pigs. Sure, it’s all down to taste. But the movies are marked with differing standards of creativity. Trek gives me Vulcans and Borg. Wars gives me Jabba the Hut and Jar Jar and tie-ins. Nemesis gives me more of Jabba’s motiveless random craziness and not enough good stuff like Q; mischief with reasoning. Instead, we have RSC vet Patrick Stewart wasting his sublime and masterful character on scenes with Mini Me. And the music – what the hell is that?

Brent Spiner (with a writing credit) throws away some potential actorly moments, and thankfully I didn’t miss his big moment despite dozing off during the big last battle scene; director Stuart Baird (Tomb Raider) didn’t grab the dramatic brass ring when he could have. Nemesis is an aggravatingly middling movie, which practically guarantees there will be no more in the future. I am very disappointed.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/13/02
Time in minutes 116
Director Stuart Baird
Studio Paramount

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Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever

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Based on the video game series, Ballistic appears to have been intended for the raging youth demographic. Casting Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu was, theoretically, to draw in the regular people. Banderas is Ecks and Liu is Sever (this takes 40 minutes for the movie to “explain”) and they do go ballistic, so the title is not at all misleading, however much it may be off-putting. An aggressive, guitar-frenzy of rock soundtrack underscores generally motivation-free verbs. Trust your gut: Skip this film.

I like an action film as much if not more than the next gal, but I do require the barest minimum level of effort to make it not completely boring and/or confusing. The opening drips TV B movie cheese, but I can look past that. There is a lot of mysterious running around and shadowy behavior at the beginning (nicely lit, I do admit, though generally dark), which I suppose was meant to hook my interest. Soon, however, my interest was lost. When? I can’t say immediately, because there was so much confusing and conflicting information thrown at me (with spare, messy dialogue) that I gave up.

Then enters an incredibly boring, painful, witless sequence that starts all gunplay gunplay gunplay (Who’s shooting who? Who’s the bad guy?), and ends up in a painfully boring car chase chase chase chase…I actually dozed off for a second despite the din. Then BLAMMO – a big explosion, another big explosion, a decent car stunt, and yawns all around. Even the parts that evoke my favorite things about Area 51 (destroying property) don’t yield any satisfaction – no secret rooms as payoff!

I’m not jaded. I don’t need movies like XXX to push the boundaries of “action sequences,” I just need good filmmakers to make the action interesting and exciting (see upcoming review of The Transporter). Honestly! Then more of the same until my male action-film-loving companion was begging us to leave. There was one cool fall that I will spoil for you – the camera follows the victim all the way down, from above, close range, through the smash into the top of the car. That is worth a dime in a Cineola but nothing more. A decently choreographed two-person fist/knife fight at the end starts in a promising fashion, but as with the whole movie, peters into a sad, dull mess.

Lucy Liu doesn’t speak for almost 45 minutes and when she does she is veiled and curt. Liu is pigeonholing herself as a cold-blooded woman who’s “hard to know,” and it’s not doing much for my interest in her career. Even Ling cried on Ally McBeal once. Banderas is scarred and blasé about danger, and well, hell, he has no character either. I don’t expect much, as I’ve mentioned, but I expect something. The editing was no help either – locations were confusing, characters’ allegiances and their motivations were confusing (and not in the way they were in Gosford Park, either, I mean). Some moments were surprisingly inept. A golden sunset (composite) but cool blue light on the face of the person, for example.

We should have known when we saw that it was directed and produced by someone called KAOS. If only Maxwell Smart had been here to foil KAOS yet again…

MPAA Rating R for strong violence
Release date 9/20/02
Time in minutes 91
Director Kaos (no, really)
Studio Warner Brothers

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fear dot com

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One of the greatest tragedies of some substandard movies is when one element is executed so well, so competently, so effectively – but the rest of the film is a laughable mish mosh of crap and silliness. This is what viewers of feardotcom will suffer.

First: The stuff that works. These people worked hard and deserve recognition (and are the reason the film isn’t relegated to Avoid At All Costs status), and heaven knows they probably won’t get it anywhere else but here. The premise is that there is a website called feardotcom.com (not www.fear.com, but www.feardotcom.com, which is stupid, but I am sure there was some licensing problem) which contains horrifying imagery, and 48 hours after one views this site, one dies a pretty unpleasant “natural” death, generally having to do with one’s worst fears. For example, an arachnophobe would be fatally bitten by a spider, or some such. When in doubt, a quick and dirty brain hemorrhage will do the trick.

Anyway, in the world of cinema, such conceits can be accepted, just like we accept the Matrix and alternate universes where Mel Gibson remains single into his 40’s. The site itself is a horrifying live-feed torture-and-snuff show, run by a known serial killer, known as The Doctor (Stephen Rea), with pretty intense graphics and disturbing, heebie-jeebie-arousing stuff. This, while perversely twisted, is actually executed (no pun intended) in the film brilliantly. No real gore, no actual violence is shown, yet it’s more disturbing than any moment in Silence of the Lambs or The Cell. And the “website” is also very spooky and cool. Bravo to the filmmakers for creating such a deeply terrifying cinematic invention. There is also a level deeper than just “evil doctor makes snuff site that kills,” which is a little corny but at least it’s trying.

However, the problem lies in the rest of the film. The dialogue is painful and motiveless, but nothing unexpected. See, Stephen Dorff (already a bad sign) is like, a cop, right, who knows the serial killer’s name and MO, gets letters from him every day, yet is unable to catch him. No doubt, a maniac with the web capabilities and bandwidth that The Doctor has, would have a paper trail. Don’t rent “Dorff on Policework” any time soon. Seriously, if he had watched 3 episodes of Barney Miller before taking this role, he would have been infinitely more convincing. Waving his gun around anywhere but where it could be useful, stumbling through a crime scene, and of course, his determination to find the culprit by becoming a victim are just examples. Not only did the audience groan and snicker, they laughed, hooted, and tsked. Once he calls in the forensic programmer, it was all over.

Enter the dame, Natascha McElhone, who, as an unspecified employee of the Department of Health, has less street cred than Dorff but at least she has an excuse; she also happens to be more resourceful and uses both sides of her brain at the same time to solve the case. Every time these two hapless yahoos are on screen, the movie is tedious and almost-funny. When the Doctor or the website lady (a Sharon Stonesque blonde who apparently wants you to watch her be hurt, but then kills you) are on screen, the movie is genuinely scary.

MPAA Rating R for grisly torture, nudity and language
Release date 8/30/02
Time in minutes 98
Director William Malone
Studio Warner Bros

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Drowning Mona

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As my companion sagely pointed out, the dark comedic elements of Drowning Mona could have raised feature film virgin director Nick Gomez to the Farrelly Brothers’ sick level, and at times it looked like he had it in him. But his TV experience, and that of his writer, Peter Steinfeld, may have overcome any hope this film would have had to be the next Something About Mary, or even the next Weekend at Bernie’s.

Made for an astoundingly skimpy $8 million, Drowning Mona was a little movie that got a huge cast of famous (and, you’d think, super-expensive) faces to stock it up. The only main character I did not recognize was Marcus Thomas, playing the son of the titular Mona (Bette Midler). The IMDB is shamefully lacking in information about this movie, considering it opens in like, 2 days. But come on! Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campbell, Casey Affleck (at his most flat and unwatchable), and some other folks should guarantee at least an amusing time. But indeed, Drowning Mona was lucky for her – she got to be dead most of the time while we didn’t get that luxury. Midler (who of course appears in posthumous flashbacks) is an uncompromising bitch, which is great. Many of the flashbacks are the best part of the movie. Structurally it does work better with them as flashbacks rather than killing her in a linear sense…but the movie is just too simplistic and overdone and silly to work. It’s a shame.

Interesting tidbit – everyone looks awful! William Fichtner’s makeup, while horrid, makes him look terribly withered. Jamie Lee “Va Va Voom” Curtis looks nothing like her Baroness self, Casey has bad hair, Neve has the same stress acne she has in Scream 3, and DeVito…well, actually, he looks pretty good. Midler – yow! That Isn’t She Great movie must have taken it all out of her. Will Ferrell has the same terrible SNL makeup he always wears *and* he is more unfunny than his Spartan character – he’s the mortician, for goodness’ sake – it’s a black comedy about death – USE THE MORTICIAN! Oh woe is me. The burly female mechanic looked familiar (Say Anything as one of Cusack’s friends?) but the IMDB drew a blank for me. I liked her, though.

The film is set in 1990 in Verplanck NY, and everyone drives a Yugo with vanity plates. This is actually kind of funny after a while. Thank god for vanity plates, else we wouldn’t know who was parked where and why that would be interesting at all. Jokes about dinner theatre are a little funny. The machinations of the town around DeVito’s investigation, his “first mate” cop is pretty amusing in a predictable, Type-A kind of way, and the guy from Repo Man is still playing the same character – in fact, he was also playing this character in Erin Brockovich. He’s even the same kind of stupid deus ex machina – what is this?! We get some funny vignettes/flashbacks as the townspeople gossip about each other, and that is entertaining. Best of all are the ones regarding Casey Affleck’s business partner, who is a pure idiot. That’s kind of funny, but he’s so unlikable that you can’t help but wish a lot would have been trimmed to make this a one hour TV movie. Basically, the movie is all promise with little payoff. The biggest crime of all. Certainly, it’s a bigger crime than the one being investigated.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/3/2000
Time in minutes 91
Director Nick Gomez
Studio Destination Films

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Isn't She Great

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No, she’s not. The preview fooled me. I had no idea it would be a smarmy biopic about Jacqueline Susann, who wrote the then-groundbreaking Valley of the Dolls. Basically the majority of the stuff that makes this movie enjoyable (besides the painful production design – and it’s painful because it’s true what they say about the 60’s and 70’s!) is in the preview. John Cleese and David Hyde Pierce aside, this seemed like a flamboyantly trashy, can’t lose comedy with two very funny comedy vets, Bette Midler and Nathan Lane. Yes, yes, I know they have done some stinkers before, but my god, I mean, how could I know?

Oh I am ashamed. And it took me forever just to get around to reviewing it, because it was so wretched that I wasn’t sure if I should admit to having seen it. Now I have to generate enough content to convince you not to go. From what I could see of the box office, and the empty seats around me, that won’t be too much of a problem.

Bette Midler plays Jackie Susann, and to be completely fair, the character is perfect for Midler’s particular brand of…whatever – she can pull off crass trash and glowing diva with the best of them, and Susann’s story was not known to me, so in that respect I was interested by the story. Nathan Lane is inexplicably drawn to Susann, and perhaps his real-life counterpart was gay as well, but he is thrown away in Susann’s shadow (much like his real-life counterpart) in this script.

Stockard Channing, also a glam-trash diva herself, gets a little screen time being extremely fabulous (her bits are the most watchable in the film) and the rest of the folks behave in a shockingly tiresome and predictable way, especially considering it is a true story and one with which I was not familiar. Oh woe is me! If you’re interested in fashion from the 1960’s and 1970’s and narcissistic ingrates, go for it! It’s not fair to say Jacqueline Susann was an ingrate – but it took personal tragedy for her to appreciate anything, and even then…

The title comes from Lane’s character’s constant extroverted support for his wife – and he is pretty much relegated to trying to prove to the world how great she is. Maybe she is/was, but the movie isn’t. Not unlike another biopic about an abrasive celebrity (Man on the Moon), Isn’t She Great offers us thin (if any) insight into what drives the main character – we just watch her go and go and go and abrade and abrade and abrade. It did make me want to read Valley of the Dolls, however, even though probably by today’s standards, Valley of the Dolls is as shocking as Peyton Place.

Skip the movie, read the book, and go see Galaxy Quest again.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 1/28/00
Time in minutes 90
Director Andrew Bergman
Studio Universal Pictures

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John Carpenter's Vampires

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Avoid at all costs and sue the studio

I have not been this upset by a movie since Anaconda, Batman and Robin, and Sphere, or as bored since The Avengers , Lost in Space, or the X-Files. However, I have not wanted to make a film STOP (either by walking out or by pressing stop and which I regret not doing) since The Silence of the Hams (Dom DeLuise). Oh how awful. No, it’s not campy trashy fun. No, it’s not goofy tongue in cheek faux drama. No, it’s not genuinely exciting, interesting, or even pleasant. It’s awful. Terrible. I walked into that theatre (thank my lucky stars I only used a free pass 5 days from expiring) with the best attitude possible – we had just gotten done doing a vampire musical and me and the girls were going to watch James Woods kick some bloodsucker butt. Oh horrors upon horrors as terrible, not-even-slyly-silly dialogue assaulted us, stupid, motiveless behavior insulted us, and a fat Daniel Baldwin repulsted us. OK, repulsted isn’t a word, but it should be.

John Carpenter, the man who brought us The Thing remake and Halloween for heaven’s sake, now pulls a Dracula: Dead and Loving It and ruins the vampire genre with an abominable piece of crap. Driving home I yelled at my friend on the cel phone how lucky he was that he hadn’t joined us for the movie, and I dug through my mental thesaurus for words to describe the execrable, detestable, fetid, stinky, crappy, ghastly, monstrous, wretched, rancid mess I had just seen.

So, Woods and Baldwin are vampire killers in a town where cops party with prostitutes and vampire killers, and this ethereal very tall actor plays the head vamp, and he busts up the party in a stupidly gory way, only to incite the ire of the vampire killers. But first he bites a prostitute (Katrina, her name was, and I moaned in agony) and so naturally they take her with them, and shove her around, beat her, whatever, then Baldwin loves her inexplicably and Woods keeps walking in slo-mo towards the camera every chance he gets.

My first impression of the beginning of the movie was that the director of photography was kind of a rookie; or else he was playing a little self-reflexive game of “look see it’s a movie – aren’t filters cool?” and that he was purposefully making it look like an expensive, color-matched student film. This impression, after some stupid cuts and shots and horrific continuity, was strengthened by the fact that the movie was visually totally unstimulating, despite blood, sweat and tits. Hmm more adjectives. Heinous. Vile. A total turkey. Now I know some people liked the Avengers, Lost in Space, and the X Files movie, and you can read my reviews if you haven’t already, but by golly, those movies lulled me into a stupor I can’t get with my white noise machine, a gut full of liquor, and a grueling day at work and theatre. I *wish* I could sleep that soundly at home!

I’d almost be willing to see Bride of Chucky just to get the taste of this piece of dreck (drek if you want to be more true to Transylvania) out of my mouth! Jebati, John Carpenter!

MPAA Rating R-vampire violence&gore, language and sexuality.
Release date 10/30/98
Time in minutes 107
Director John Carpenter
Studio Columbia Tristar