omouallem

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Reviews

How to Eat Fried Worms
(2006)

Fried Worms is delicious!
It's a strange feeling to sit alone in a theater occupied by parents and their rollicking kids. I felt like instead of a movie ticket, I should have been given a NAMBLA membership.

Based upon Thomas Rockwell's respected Book, How To Eat Fried Worms starts like any children's story: moving to a new town. The new kid, fifth grader Billy Forrester was once popular, but has to start anew. Making friends is never easy, especially when the only prospect is Poindexter Adam. Or Erica, who at 4 1/2 feet, is a giant.

Further complicating things is Joe the bully. His freckled face and sleeveless shirts are daunting. He antagonizes kids with the Death Ring: a Crackerjack ring that is rumored to kill you if you're punched with it. But not immediately. No, the death ring unleashes a poison that kills you in the eight grade.

Joe and his axis of evil welcome Billy by smuggling a handful of slimy worms into his thermos. Once discovered, Billy plays it cool, swearing that he eats worms all the time. Then he throws them at Joe's face. Ewww! To win them over, Billy reluctantly bets that he can eat 10 worms. Fried, boiled, marinated in hot sauce, squashed and spread on a peanut butter sandwich. Each meal is dubbed an exotic name like the "Radioactive Slime Delight," in which the kids finally live out their dream of microwaving a living organism.

If you've ever met me, you'll know that I have an uncontrollably hearty laugh. I felt like a creep erupting at a toddler whining that his "dilly dick" hurts. But Fried Worms is wonderfully disgusting. Like a G-rated Farrelly brothers film, it is both vomitous and delightful.

Writer/director Bob Dolman is also a savvy storyteller. To raise the stakes the worms must be consumed by 7 pm. In addition Billy holds a dark secret: he has an ultra-sensitive stomach.

Dolman also has a keen sense of perspective. With such accuracy, he draws on children's insecurities and tendency to exaggerate mundane dilemmas.

If you were to hyperbolize this movie the way kids do their quandaries, you will see that it is essentially about war. Freedom-fighter and freedom-hater use pubescent boys as pawns in proxy wars, only to learn a valuable lesson in unity. International leaders can learn a thing or two about global peacekeeping from Fried Worms.

At the end of the film, I was comforted when two chaperoning mothers behind me, looked at each other with befuddlement and agreed, "That was a great movie." Great, now I won't have to register myself in any lawful databases.

Idlewild
(2006)

Outkast's cabaret idles on wild
I am guilty of elitism. I miss the days when Outkast's music was an obscurity. When their music was my music and not everybody's. When I finally did meet someone who knew the hook to "Elevators", we were instant best friends. But alas, Outkast gave up their dark, celestial style for ubiquitous jubilation.

While I'm willing to give up smoking for another ATliens or Aquemini,I can still appreciate the festivity that now ensues when they pop up on the radio. I'm sure Andre 3000 and Big Boi, err... Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton, appreciate it even more. After all, the new vaudeville-bass quirks that they adopted have transformed them into one of the most adored groups today. It also garnered them this opulent production with HBO films.

Andre is Percival, a wholesome son of a mortician with dreams of making the Harlem music scene. Until then he plays piano before a ruthless crowd in Church. Church is hardly that, it is a Speakeasy with wild music and chichi showgirls.

Percival's best friend since childhood is Rooster (Antwan), a suave player from a family of gangsters. When his uncle is gunned down by the shifty eyed Terrence Howard, he inherits Church and it's debt with bootleggers. To get out of the red, he relies on his star performer Angel Davenport, played by the stunning Paula Patton. Angel and Percival develop the love jones.

There are tons of other catalyst characters. So many that it takes the humble narrator (Percival) ten minutes to introduce them all.

The town Idlewild is a place where Caucasians and subtlety do not exist. The only practicing minimalist is Percival and he is viewed as a recluse. He doesn't get talkative until he is alone with a cadaver.

Idlewild is visually titillating and toe-tapping fun, but a very simple story with elaborate storytelling. A period piece with CGI dance numbers, singing cuckoo clocks, and a talking flask. The music doesn't so much forward the story as tease it. When Rooster raps in Church, he paves the way for a Soul Train spectacle.

Bryan Barber acquired the director's chair through a strong relationship with Outkast. He is the man behind their most popular music videos. While he has an eye for pageantry, his script is too thin and unconstrained. For example, the narrator tells us that Rooster and Percival are best friends, but once we transcend their childhood prologue and reach adulthood, there are three instances of interaction. Once in the middle and twice at the end. I got the sense of two separate stories interconnected through habitat instead of plot points.

In so many ways this film is a metaphor for the current state of Outkast's career. While a movie based on the "old" Outkast would probably be a ghetto story in outer space, this one borders on nostalgia and women. Like their solo careers, Andre's character is always artistic and progressive. Big Boi's character arch is so small you could hop over it.

In the last two years there have been intermittent rumors of Outkast's breakup. Since they did not collaborate on their last album, nor the soundtrack to this film, they are together only in plastic packaging. Idlewild does nothing to squash these rumors.

Either way, there's not much I can do but throw my hands up in hey-ya, and rejoice in their gaiety like the rest of the world.

The Night Listener
(2006)

Art imitating life, imitating art, imitating Basic Instinct
In the past few years, Robin Williams' roles have taken a dark turn. From a disturbed one-hour photo developer to an even more disturbed memory editor in Final Cut. The same laugh that healed a pediatric ward back to health, was now haunting them in their adolescence. Then Williams reverted back to his goofy uncle roles for a short period of time. But after RV plummeted off a mountain cliff into a shallow lake of bad reviews, he's back to what he does (second) best – giving us the heebie-jeebies.

In The Night Listener, Williams plays Gabrielle No one, a late night radio host. For years he has been hushing his sullen audience with hyperbolic tales of his on-again/off-again relationship with a HIV+ male. No one is idolized within the gay community and in one scene a flight attendant thanks him "for all you've done for us." But Gabrielle is riding on empty, his recent breakup has left him with a lack of ideas and an abundance of grief.

What separates this sinister tale from Williams' previous, is that there is someone in the world more discomposed than he is. Rory Culkin plays Pete, a 14-year-old AIDS patient who spent years being raped by his parents and their friends for the sake of internet porn. A devoted fan of No one, he's composed the shards of his life into a powerful manuscript. His adopted mother Donna (Toni Collette) is also his agent.

The boy and the radio host generate a platonic friendship harnessed with a sky-clearing piano score. But somethin' ain't right. There is no record of Pete's existence. Nobody has seen him, and every time they try to, he is staying overnight at the hospital. Added to the inscrutability is that Pete and Donna's voice sound eerily similar.

And thus begins Gabrielle's investigation into the boy's legitimacy.

The film seems inspired by James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. Only The Night Listener foreshadowed Frey's doom when it was written earlier as a novel inconspicuously based on the Anthony Godby Johnson hoax.

The film's sudden turn into a thriller had me perplexed, but enthralled.

Director, Patrick Stettner's simple show-and-tell style allows the mystery to unfold naturally. The suspense is undermined by a patronizing score. As I alluded to before, the score is slightly on the nose. We see the body lurking outside the window, we know they're going to drive their fist through the glass, a simple strum of the violin will not intensify the situation.

The Night Listener lulls in the third act when there is no more information to give us, everything becomes a confirmation of what we already know. At one point, Donna tells Gabrielle that "his story doesn't have an ending." Still, it is a fresh concept amongst a genre of tedious plots. What makes this film especially commendable is that it doesn't end with a revelation of Multiple Personality Disorder.

The Covenant
(2006)

Trite horror that doesn't even suffice for a B-Movie
A lot of work goes into making a movie. It has to be written, mailed, optioned, sold, produced, marketed and sold again. Millions of dollars, and months are spent for your entertainment, which is why I am amazed that The Covenant made it to the SASE stage, let alone the big screen.

In the 1600's, five families possessing supernatural powers descended from an ambiguous incident. They are the Sons of Ipswich. Sons because the mystic gene is only inherited by the eldest male of each family. If women already believe that men have an unfair advantage in the work field, then these boys further the inequality.

The bloodline has transcended time and lives in Caleb, Pogue, Reid and Tyler—four 17 year-old heartthrobs. They use their addictive powers wisely: jump starting cars, triumphing in 8-ball, and lifting skirts to bet on the color of panties. They are what Harry Potter would become if he hung with the wrong crowd.

But of the five families, one was evil and used their powers for corruption. They were eradicated in a genocidal witch hunt, or so the Ipswich thought. When new-guy Chase is transferred to their school, bad stuff happens. Bad, evil stuff.

Ten minutes in I was hit with a juggernaut of deja vu. I realized that I was watching the bottom-shelf, President's Choice version of The Lost Boys, save the ingredients that made it a cult classic.

Director Renny Harlin (of the Oscar-snubbed Mindhunters and Nightmare on Elm Street 4) has constructed a pastiche of B-movie clichés. Insert high-octane car chase here; frightened girl in shower here; sporadic, head-spinning, jump-cutting ghoul here, here and here. Typical of the teen horror genre, it is as if Joseph Stalin had set quotas for gratuitous titillation.

The dialogue is no more potent. With so much back story and exposition to be communicated, we are subjected to lines like, "Those powers that you and your friends developed when you were 13, are nothing!" Anymore on the nose and it would be a nose job.

With virtually no star power, The Covenant relies on a cast of Toshiba robots whose only promising feature is their stifling beauty. Because the powers they use cause rapid-aging, the teens appear to be in their mid-twenties. This may also explain why the cast of 90210 was so overdeveloped.

The film does offer a didactic "don't do drugs" moral of sorts. These powers are addictive and are only to be experimented with. When they are abused, it is to their detriment. Impressionable teens can learn a lot from this. As well as how to evade police through a narrow forest road, fly off a cliff, then drop from the sky from behind them, only to taunt.

Aside from the ostentatious cinematography, this film offers nil, leaving me to believe that it is a tax write-off.

Flyboys
(2006)

Flyboys soars on modesty and spectacle
Flyboys is a WWI action/drama inspired by the Lafayette Escadrille, a French Air Service squadron comprised largely of American Soldiers. The soldiers were aspiring pilots volunteering long before the United States entered the war, making them the nation's first fighter pilots. Now I say inspired because if it were based upon the facts, it would be neglecting them, as well as the laws of gravity.

Although there were many French soldiers in the squadron, the film ignores them, instead focusing on a roster of starry-eyed, all American boys. It's most prevalent face is James Franco's, who plays Blaine Rawlings, the heroic GQ hunk and, if he were real, inventor of the frosted tips hairstyle a century before their fashion. Our only French militant is Captain Thenault acted by – surprise, surprise – Jean Reno. He is a respectable buffoon and delivers some of the film's best moments

The boys are not daunted by the three-week life expectancy, nor by Cassidy, an American who just won't go home. After two dozen kills, he is still waiting to take down Germany's Black Falcon, a vicious MaCguffin (an ambiguous plot device that gives motivation but little relevance.)

Following a brief montage of grassroots training, the boys are ready to go airborne and blast countless bullets in countless rounds of combat. The action is chaotically choreographed with hair-raising spectacle. Each battle interspersed with Blaine trying to romance a homely French woman.

Although it is not the type of movie I would pursue on my own wallet, Flyboys understands it's audience and caters to their amusement. It has a self-conscious coyness, coming off as completely unpretentious. Unlike Pearl Harbor, it does not bombard us with botched patriotism and the harshness of war. Flyboys offers about as much insight into war as PS2's Socom.

It gives us what we expect in unexpected ways. When the pilots crash land, they are healed by savory French ladies. But instead of your typical nurses, they are prostitutes from the local brothel.

While the pilots may be charming, their characters are so vague and easily transformed that once they strap on their goggles, there is nothing left to advance their journey. When they do exhibit change, it is barely internal. Beagle learns how to hit a target; Briggs learns to work with a black man; Lyle learns that no matter how strong his faith in Jesus, the Lord cannot save him from ammo to the face.

To regress to my Socom comparison, Flyboys starts to become a video game. Gradually distancing itself from reality until, in one scene, a German sprints atop an exploding Zeppelin. Each fight becomes less and less significant, lingering on, making me wish for a cheat code that will wrap the game.

But it's a fun game, and if I didn't have better things to do with my life, I would continue with it until Flyboys 2: Operation Hitler-Takedown replenishes my amusement.

The Woodsman
(2004)

Ignore the low rating
I saw this movie at the Vancouver Film Festival. Not only was it one of the best movies I saw at the fest, but one of the best of the year. I truly believed it to be Bacon's career performance.

The script is solid, full of great dialogue and thick symbolism. The characters all fully developed and never one-sided. Each has their dark side. A commendable effort to Emmy winner, Mos Def, who makes us hate him when he's a good cop, and love him when he's a bad one.

The reason the rating is so low is because it's hard to accept a character that is a child molester. Probably because everyone knows someone or is someone who has been sexually abused. This is a film about redemption and forgiveness--something we can all definitely agree with. It is also a story about humanity--something we all have in common.

The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess
(2004)

Arhouse MOW
Canadian director Bruce McDonald hasn't released a film since his 1996 cult classic, Hard Core Logo. He went through a series of jobs directing for television, followed by 2001's effort at a big budget film-noir, Picture Claire. The movie never saw the light of day.

Now, three years later, he makes his return with the Love Crimes of Gillian Guess, a weird comedy/action/drama/animation and at times, yes, a musical. About halfway through the film I underwent strong sensations of deja vu. I realized I had seen this movie before. A decade ago when it was called Natural Born Killers.

No, I shouldn't be too hard on this film. It is one of a kind. However it borrows from NBK's tone and style. It is based (but not really) on Canadian media sensation Gillian Guess. A bodacious, blonde juror who had an affair with the suspect on trial, an Indo-Canadian gangster. In real life, she claimed it was love. In this movie, it's all part of her lusty attraction to young hard bodies. Her nymphomania is impulsive, irresistible, and consistently funny.

Visually, Bruce McDonald is on top of his game. Each shot has been carefully chosen. Each scene filmed in its own unique way in accordance to the tone set in that moment. Flashbacks. Flashforwards. Commercial breaks. Cartoons. It tells a story that was made-for-TV in a made-for-cinematic fashion. However, regardless of its daringly original execution, nothing could save this script.

The movie does not know what it wants to be. At first it relies on flashbacks to develop characters, and then the entire third act becomes one big flashback that tells us nothing about the story. The screenwriter, Angus Fraser (Kissed, 1996) tries to wind in irrelevant moments in a far past. Moments that have little or no merit to the actual story. These flashbacks try to serve as insight into Gillian Guess, her character, her mentality. But it only serves to squash the fun and humor that was this film when it began.

The laughs are lost. The melodrama seeps in. And with just 10 minutes left, seats began to empty out and the man next to me began to snore. It became impossible for this film to climb out of its own grave. Bruce McDonald may have the tenacity to take on such a challenging story, but nothing could resurrect this back to life. Only the writer and, with a little restructuring, the editor.

Male Fantasy
(2004)

Laugh out loud, cry inside
This is a hilarious comedy about Andrew, a perpetual loser. Having separated from his wife months, maybe years ago, he is yet to conquer love. Until he has a revelation. That he, and we are all gods. We create this reality. The only thing stopping us from getting what we want--ourselves. So he repeats this to himself ("I am a god. I create this reality.") for a few hours as he follows woman around the city asking for a date, the time, maybe just some coffee.

Eventually he does score. With a low-esteemed woman named Lucy. At first it could be love at first site. We quickly realize after the deed has been done, that she was just a source of inspiration for Andrew's new found confidence. Now he really is a god, and any woman he wants is at his disposal.

You can guarantee to laugh at Andrew and his quirky friends. Hilarious it is, but there are character moments so pathetic, you can feel your heart churning. This is one of the best Canadian features this year, and possibly the best off the west coast.

Karpuz Kabugundan Gemiler Yapmak
(2004)

Moovey Paradiso
Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds (Karpuz Kabugundan Gemiler Yapmak) is a most charming film out of Turkey. It follows a teenage boy, Recep, working as an apprentice for the local Happy Watermelon Man. His mother is evil (involved in some unexplained human-ear baking ring), but a nearby woman wants to take him under his wing. "Auntie" as he calls her, is somewhat flirtatious and very much weird. Recep has a crush on her eldest daughter, who resents him.

The youngest daughter is infatuated with Recep, who doesn't take her seriously.

On the side, Recep is also trying to build his own movie theatre with two friends. They've got the film, the wooden projector box, a light and lens. Now all they need is to find a way to manually move the film at 24 frames a second.

Boats is witty, wonderful and at times, weird. It's a what Cinema Paradiso would be if David Lynch directed it. It is not perfect. There is a lull about 2/3rds into the movie that is hard to ignore. But this is one of those rare smart films for the whole family.

10 on Ten
(2004)

Digital film school
This isn't so much a documentary as it is an 80 minute class with Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarstomi. Using his movie "Ten" as an example, he breaks down his theory of filmaking in 10 chapters, ranging from his preference of camera, to his take on character and directing.

Don't expect a doc with include scenery and talking heads. There is only one talking head, Kiarstomi's, as it drives cross countryside alone. But that's the beauty of this. It was just him and a camera and some free time.

He's talking directly at us. Giving us a very personal talk that would otherwise take place in his head.

Kiarstomi is an ego-centric who says something profound and knows it. Sometimes he says something hilarious and doesn't. But he is honest and proud, with a confidence worthy of envy. At the end of the film he promises us some scenery. He gets out of the car, living the window open to a blurry tree. And then you hear him, peeing, somewhere off camera.

Fairuz, we hielden zoveel van mekaar
(2003)

An Inspirational Love Song to a Nation in Ruins
It is said that Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East. During the civil war, it became the Sarajevo of the Middle East. Afterwards, it was the Prague of the Middle East. Before the battle, religion was irrelevant to a person's integrity and overall, people loved each other so much more. When war broke, the only thing the Muslims and Christians could agree on was Fairuz--popular artist and musical goddess.

This documentary interviews people who grew up on her music and shared the same love for their nation that she did. Her music held together whatever scraps of Lebanon left. Her music is timely and poetic. Universal. Undeniably benevolent and positive in a world where negativity rules.

Filmed beautifully with obvious dramatic rehearsals, it makes great use of its' interviewees, as well as the nation's geography. Both its beauty and deformity. The talking heads are charming and insightful, at times tragic and hopeless. They look back at a time where their was something to lose. Meanwhile todays generation experiences only the bottom remains and sees nothing lost.

But by listening to the music of Fairuz, they can taste, we can taste, the sweet flavor of a country thriving on equality and free will.

L'esquive
(2003)

Needs to be trimmed and toned down
L'Esquive is the coming (and going) of age story about Krimo, a resilient, emotionless, passive teenage boy living in a French ghetto. He is surrounded by his macho violent homeys, confused girlfriend, conniving teenage girls and a beautiful actress named Lydia, played by what may be the Olson Twin's long-lost triplet.

It plays out like the French "Kids", without the poignancy. It's tedious. In fact, it gives new meaning to tedious. These shrill teenagers are constantly at each others throats. The few moments of calmness were not enough to hold people in there seats at the Vancouver Film Festival. After 40 minutes of hormonal bickering, the theater was half full.

There is not enough story or character to keep this going. In needs to be taken back to the editing room and trimmed of down 40 of its 120 minutes. No doubt this would leave you with a short tale, but it's as long as this thin story needs to be told. Many scenes are used to explain what we've just scene. One-topic dialogue runs for as long as 10 minutes, in pointless circles until an opening is made for another superfluous scene.

However I will say that the drama is very realistic and plays out in a natural ways that is commendable. But for story and entertainment's sake, things need to be cut, sharpened, explained and unexplained.

As the end neared, I could feel my ears trembling, knowing that whatever the climax was, it would be ten times more shrill and irritating as the rest of the script. But I was wrong. Not only was it quieter and tolerable. It was void of a climax, at all. Not only is there no character change, but there seemed to be an adamant effort to avoid this natural convention at all odds. Even of it could have saved the movie.

There are short moments of charm, wit, humor and a minuscule amount of beauty. However, L'Esquive is nothing you can't find at your local Blockbuster.

Cidade de Deus
(2002)

Unforgettable
City of God's central story revolves around two opposing drug-rings in the title city. These two rings, although related to one-another, divide the city in tyranny, gangs, wealth, power and in the end moral stance. These rings are run by Little Ze and Carrot, two hoods who have grown up murdering, stealing, and influencing others. Each ring is composed of kids, (infants really) teens, and young adults, all waiting to become the next Lord of their city.

Oddly enough, our narrator, our eyes throughout the movie, does not play much of a direct influence on either side of the war. He's definitely involved, but his story focusses on survival and choosing the correct path, one of individualism.

The style of this movie can only be described as cool. It is very much a product of the Tarrantino generation-and proof, once again, of North America's influences over other cultures. In a sense, the film is very much like the character Benny, who decides he wants to start looking `groovier' and more seventies-orientated. City of God dresses itself in the fashions of another culture in order to stand out amongst a crowd of replicates.

When we first see the story unravel through the 1960's, the rio slums are portrayed as a gold-saturated and content world, not luxurious or perfect, but still has a chance for hope. By the end of this film, it is tinted blue, gritty, puddles of blood cover the concrete. It is no place to be alone.

We are tied to the story by one neutral character, Rocket, who, although inactive through most of the film, is the most empathetic since he never pulls a trigger. He is virtually the only character to not take the life of another.

Roger Ebert described the film as a masterpiece, `One of the best films you'll ever see!' Of course this is a very bold statement, but City of God is definitely a movie you will remember.

If there's one thing that makes this movie so unforgettable, it is the dramatic reality we witness. Using real people that more or less act as themselves, directors Katia Lund and Meirelles have created a documentary in the sense that what we see happened and continues to happen in slums like this all over the world.

Darkness
(2002)

The most beautiful bad movie I have ever seen
First off, I have a confession. I came across this film illegally. Yes, I am an internet movie pirate, and I am not proud nor embarrassed of it. I meant to download Elf but ended up with this movie that has nothing to do will Will Farrell or Christmas!

It's called Darkness.

It's a shame that they had to tell this story the way they did. It's about an American family that moves to Spain, into an old haunted house. Slowly the isolation of the rural home and foreign country begin to drive the father insane, and the little boy scared. But the screenwriters of this film had such little insight into how a real American family lives and speaks, their characters were just picked from other American films.

Why? Well the script was written by Jaume Balagueró and Fernando de Felipe, two Spanish filmmakers whose first language happens to be…you guessed it: Spanish. The voices are all identical and the dialogue skeletal. They speak on the nose and in sentences that describe only the bare minimum. The reason for this, I believe, is that the filmakers all got together and had a American Horror movie marathon the week before production.

This film not only relies on clichés, it utilizes them. Some of these elements include: an old swing set; dead children who contact the living to help solve their neglected case; a boy who draws innocent pictures of blood and gore; evil that only preys in pitch darkness; use of title cards to document the days of the week; twin girls who stand at the far end of a hallway; an evil house that consumes a man; causing him to go crazy and bust through a wall with an axe and; an old crazy ghost-lady. (Those last four were taken right from The Shining, a film Darkness borrows from more than it's fair share.)

But there is something about the swing set ending up in the kitchen, something about the boy feeding pencils to the creature that lurks below his bed, something about ghosts trying to convince humans to turn off the lights so that they can kill that really passes for glimpses of brilliance. Not to mention the incredible cinematography and sound editing (the use of heartbeats in this movie is powerful enough to stops yours). The use of colors and camera technique are also commendable.

The directors touches are where this movie gets heavy. This man knows how to scare. As much as my eyes were rolling during the moments of drama, the moments of horror had my eyes wanting to shut.

Roger Ebert once described Aliens 3 as "the most beautiful bad movie I have ever seen." I would like to borrow from Roger and hail Darkness as my idea of beauty gone wrong.

Hulk
(2003)

All the Hulk had to do...
...was smoke a joint. Seriously, Mr. Banner, Mr. Bruce Banner and his hundreds of antagonists, instead of forcing this monster to undergo so much stress related tests and anxiety -- what you should have done was roll him a joint and smoke it. Hell, Mr. Ross, Betty, the Hulk's Father should smoke one too. I wish Ang Lee smoked one, then maybe he would have sat down, chilled, and thought this one out before he signed on the dotted line. The many screenwriters on this project (doesn't surprise me that there were so many, money-gobbling films like this tend to undergo as many rewrites as physically possible until one draft contains enough dialogue and irrelevant action to make you cringe) -- well the writers probably smoked a whole once every morning before they pulled up a seat to their PC's. That would explain the reluctance to focus on one topic.

Look, of all the Comic books movies out right now, this one is the most stylized. But style does not make this worth seeing. Nor does its great cast. It suffers from a lack of integrity. It condescends to its audience by repeating facts over and over again, it disguises back story as essential to understanding this opus. Too many damn antagonists for one (or two) protagonists, and with an inciting incident that comes 30 minutes in, you wonder why it was so necessary to take two-and-a-quarter hours to explain the story. Not too mention the fact that the excess use of flashbacks will have your eyes rolling so far back, you're going to see white.

The last twenty-minutes are so laughable, so inconveniently placed to set up a sequel, you will wonder -- why not use that footage as part of the sequel. But that would probably make the next Hulk 3 hours long, and god forbid they ever do that to the public. 145 minutes as long enough.

This film had potential, as do all the comic book films of this year (excluding LXG). I mean look at X-Men (and X-2) they are great simply because they merge great story with great storytelling.

Save yourself some time, some money, some dignity.

Sshhh...
(1996)

Absolutely phenomenal
I saw this feature at the Anza Film Club today, on my way to the bar downstairs to get a drink. I only caught the last 7 minutes, but all it took was the sight of a child mixing poisoness chemicals to keep me for the end of the credits.

I will not give you a synopsis, but I will tell you this dark, disturbing drama is absolutely amazing. The entire audience was just 'sshhh'ed when it faded to black.

Smith proves himself to be a very skilled director with a style of his own. I hear his next film Falling Angels is equally victorious.

Snipes
(2001)

A surprising urban hit
Now this isn't one of the great thrillers of our time, but it is one of the best of the year. It's smart and fascinating, surprise-a-minute crime film that's held together with a great line of unknown talent. Even pop-rap superstar Nelly, (the main bill on the box art) did a wonderful job as a cocky and arrogant, yet undeniably talented rap artist.

In comparison with Black-urban action flicks, this is almost right up there with Hype Williams overlooked masterpiece, Belly. In fact, in comparison with most rap-movies (ex: anything by Master P, or Dame Dash) this is Oscar worthy (in comparison, of course).

From begining to end, this cause-and-effect thriller will hold you onto the edge of your seat and let go of you with a sharp blast to the frontal head.

Couch
(2003)

Found it, saw it, didn't really like it.
Being a huge advocate of PTA, I hunted for this video forever. Eventually I found it. So I saw it and, well, aaah--didn't really like it. Sandler walks into a furniture store and in an attempt to find the perfect sofa, his legs end up over his shoulders--go figure. So its funny in one way--Sandler's mullet.

If Only I
(2000)

A captivating story about human dignity
I caught this short documentary on TV about 15 minutes in, but what I had witnessed was the most emotionally compelling picture I've seen. It follows a young woman, previously homeless and always in-and-out of mental hospitals all her life, who has just recovered from a suicide attempt. Unfortunetely, she was limited to a wheelchair and unavoidable scars all throughout her body.

A man, who himself is not so far above this woman in caste, ends up taking her in. For her own survival she allows him to force himself upon her sexually. We see in a five-minute real time interview with her, what this and her scaring childhood has done to her dignity.

I fell in love with this film even though I only caught half of it. By far the most hard-to-take, yet human, aspect of this film is her interview on why she is what she is. What is so depressing about this film is that after watching it, you will feel, as I did, that she is hopeless. And you know that she will not last long in this world of ours, full of rapists, exploiters, and neglecters. I don't know where this woman is today, but I am almost sure that she has not gotten too far. I recommend this to all who seek a more advanced appreciation for their own lives, but warn that you will lose much respect for the society we live in.

Remember the Titans
(2000)

Well worth a trip to the theatre.
We seem to have set a similar standard for sports movies these days. A team in doubt gets a new coach, and suddenly their self confidence is boosted. The players go on to win a few games and advance to the finals. You see the tension when they off on the wrong foot, but in the end, they always win. Thankfully, this is not the case Remember the Titans. Well, maybe a little.

Titans, a Jerry Bruckheimer production, is the true story of African-American high school football coach, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), who had to build a football team from the roots of racism. Boone's first inference is that half his players are white, and the other half black. The players, ignorant to the other kind, refuse to even cooperate with each other. This sends Herman Boone, along with Assistant coach Yoast (Will Patton), on a mission to force his players to get along. Through extensive exercising, and a lot of prep-talk, Boone manages to create one talented -- and most importantly –- colorless team.

What separates this film, from most sports movies, is has less to do with football, and much ado with the ignorant community. The locals cannot even begin to understand how two opposing races can work together. Ignorance from the white residents tries to dissolve that black coach they've heard about, and prevent their kids from playing with those `monkeys.'

All this works well with the actors, though young and inexperienced, give fantastic performances. However, the movie falls short of great with it's questionable dialogue (`Who's your daddy?' asks Coach Boone) and the failed attempt to make a story out of the coach, and assistant coaches daughters. Yoast's daughter Sheryl, a tom boy, disrupts the screen with her annoying yelling and dull character. Another flaw would be the unsatisfying film work on the field. Director Boaz Yakin game action is too simplistic, offering nothing new, and nothing surprising.

Washington, as always, is great. His charisma plays well with the audience. Overall, this film works great with Disney, and is well worth a trip to the theatre.

* * * 1/2 out of 5

Requiem for a Dream
(2000)

The best cinematic experience of 2000.
Allot can be said for writer/director Darren Aronofsky who's debut sci-fi Pi shook the independent film scene forever. Though Aronofsky has little experience in cinema, his unique flavor plays out like a pro.

Requiem for a Dream, which carries the very rare NC-17 rating, is a compelling drama about four people, closely related, all dealing with drug addiction.

There is the story of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) an elderly women addicted to diet pills who dreams of being on TV, dressed in her fabulous red dress, with fabulous red hair. The tale of her son (Jared Leto) Harry's heroin addiction, who hopes to save enough through dealing dope to one day open up a fashion designing business for his talented girlfriend Marianne (Jennifer Connelly). And the story of Harry's best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) who's dream is similar to Harry's, and addictions as well.

Of all four outstanding performances, Ellen Burstyn's acting stands strongest. Nominated for an Academy Award, Burstyn's lovable character compels the viewer into a state of worry. One must tip their hat to Burstyn who plays most of leading performance by herself in her apartment; hyperactive, but then gloomy and depressed frightened from a living refrigerator.

Another surprise was Marlon Wayans as Tyrone C. Love. Wayans, who has never given a believable or even respectable performance, takes drama to new heights. His supporting role plays well with Leto at hand, as an anxious and worried friend.

If you've seen Aronofsky's Pi, you're going to remember the mind blowing pill scenes. The psychedelic frame shots played frequently through the film are used in Requiem as well. The characters hallucinations are genuinely portrayed as either beautifully felt or horrid and terrifying.

Darren Aronofsky's well performed and very well edited movie is only the beginning for this young director. He has signed on to direct the next Batman epic due in 2002. But for now Requiem for a Dream serves as a reminder of the desperation drug users are thrown into. Requiem is the best cinematic experience of the year.

* * * * * out of 5

Traffic
(2000)

The most powerful movie of the year.
When the Godfather came out in 1972, it did more than just open the eyes of movie-goers to the life of organized crime. The Godfather opened up to the American government. It sent a powerful message to our leaders and questioned their authority on the justice system. Now, Traffic steps forward with plans to follow in the same direction.

The cast of Traffic is like that of no other. It stars Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Don Cheadle just to name a few. Separately, they are only a supporting piece in the puzzle, but collectively; they create the most astounding performances of the year.

When Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is hired as the new US drug control officer, he is sent to Mexico to research the drug trafficking. Wakefield is tough on drug violations, but unaware that the real war on drugs is right below his nose. In his 16 year old daughter's room, lays a girl who is all too familiar with drug addiction.

Another character the film follows is Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro), a Mexican state Police officer. Javier battles the constant criticism of not following orders, and has just found himself mingling with the wrong people.

A third story develops from Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose husband is facing conviction on selling narcotics. Observe Helena's transition from a middle-aged yuppie, to a panicky mother, living in fear of her family.

Other key elements in the making of this film, are it's unique editing, lighting, and cinematography. These may seem like little touches that have no immediate effect on the story, but Traffic would not be the same if Soderbergh had simply filmed this like any other motion picture. Each location in the film has a specific lens color, that helps reflect the characters personality. Soderbergh cuts through scenes in a time lapse, but only to create a more intense atmosphere.

The message that Traffic sends is clear. To clean the drugs in our country, we must reverse our war on drugs. We must attack the demand, instead of the supply, because their will always be suppliers. Steven Soderbergh's Oscar for best director goes untouched, for Traffic is the most powerful film of 2000.

Pay It Forward
(2000)

An amazing experience!
The theory behind "Pay It Forward" is that of brilliance. An eleven year old boy takes a challenge set by his social studies teacher and fulfil the assignment to some amazing results. The challenge that Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey) has made goes as followed; "Think of an idea that can change the world -- and take it into action!"

The brave eleven year old, Trevor McKinney, is played by Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense). The acting skills of the youth has already created a reputation for little Osment as an astounding thespian. But the heroic character he plays in "Pay It Forward" is so believable it will put you to tears. You will discover a piece of inner unity as Osment leads you to it.

"Pay It Forward" also stars Helen Hunt as the mother of Trevor, an alcoholic struggling two jobs, an abandoned husband, and a son who avoids her offerings of love. On Arlene McKinney's journey of life she meets Trevor's Teacher Mr. Eugene Simonet. She is baffled with Eugene's mysteriously shy character. Together the two seek out to help Trevor in his theory of paying it forward.

"Pay It Forward" was inspired Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel, and is almost an exact reflection of the story. "Pay It Forward" tackles on various issues. This film discusses everything from domestic violence and child abuse to faith and education. It can fit anyone's choice of category.

Life is full of irony and "Pay it Forward" proves it. Although it may not be one of the best movies of all time, and maybe not even the best movie of the new millennium -- "Pay it Forward" comes close. If any movie has ever left me so intrigued, it was this one. It is splendidly acted, enchanting, and puts a positive idea on changing the world for the benefit of society.

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