Harried Howie

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A Movie for People Who Have Never Seen Other Movies
If you've never seen a movie before,"Oblivion" is a good place to start. For one thing, it stars Tom Cruise, who usually rises above his material, and it features Morgan Freeman, who always does. For another thing, the next movie you see will probably be better than this one. If, on the other hand, you are a regular movie goer -- be prepared to see things that you've seen before. I recognize the influence of "2001-A Space Odyssey," "Doctor Zhvago," "Independence Day," "Planet of the Apes," and "V" (the original 1983 TV movie). Some of these films were sources of inspiration for the writer/producer/director, others were sources of plagiarization. I'm sure that many of you will recognize other movies you have seen in "Oblivion." I did not see the movie in IMAX, but some viewers may find the enhanced visual effects to be a worthwhile distraction from a very thin plot line.

It's Complicated

At last, a romantic comedy for adults!
I could have summarized this picture as "a romantic comedy for mature adults," but I did not want to scare younger viewers away from this excellent picture. Streep is an incredibly talented actress whose beauty has actually increased with her age. She is sexier at 60 than she was at 30. Alec Baldwin is underrated as an actor. He delivers his lines as well as any actor, but his ability to act with facial expression alone is unmatched in Hollywood today. Steve Martin, no longer the "wild and crazy guy," is now the sympathetic everyman. I watched this movie with a female friend. Neither of us is prone to outbursts of laughter, but one scene involving Baldwin and Martin got belly laughs from both of us. The plot is plausible, if barely so, and while the picture doesn't scream for a sequel, it's easy to picture one. Two weak points were the "Harley" character who seemed to be living his life in the 1950s; and Zoe Kazan, playing a role written for an actress ten years younger than herself, who didn't appear to be acting in the same film as all the other actors.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

The Worst Love Scene EVER
I don't go to movies to watch romantic scenes, but I've seen my share of them over the last half century. And I have to say that the love scene between Anakin (Christensen) and Padme (Portman) was the absolute worst I have seen that was not intentionally campy or satirical. As I watched it I was thinking that Arnold Schwarzenegger could have played the scene more convincingly that Hayden Christensen. I've heard that there was some chemistry between the two of them off-screen, but it certainly wasn't apparent in the film. Natalie Portman's performance wasn't really any better than that of her co-star. At the time they were filming, Portman was a college student who was not certain that she wanted to make acting her life's work, so she didn't put her all into her performance. The only saving grace in this movie: Less Jar Jar Binks than Star Wars I.

I'm surprised that Christensen is still acting, usually in lead roles in low-budget films, most of which tank at the box office if they're ever released. If he wants to build his career he should try to get some minor parts in major productions. That's assuming that a first-line director or studio is willing to take a chance with him. He's 29, young for a male movie star, so he still has some chance.


Lightweight fare
This movie is hardly worth reviewing. It's very standard, very predictable swords and sorcery. Callow youth? Check. Wise old man? Check. Damsel in distress? Check (but she handled herself pretty well). Really, really bad guy? Two of them, but too little of them in the film.

And we can't forget the dragon (although we can easily forget the rest of the characters). She is the true protagonist of this film, the only character with a genuine personality. The most realistic way for Eragon to have ended would have been to have the dragon wake up to find that it was only her dream.

The Da Vinci Code

An expected disappointment
A few weeks before seeing the film I started reading the book. I had read about one third of it when I misplaced it between hotels but had no urge to replace it. The movie gave me the same feeling. I had no problem sitting through it (although it was rather long), but had some emergency forced me to leave it would not have bothered me. The plotting seemed mechanical, as if a computer told the screenwriter to "insert a plot element here, insert a plot element there," etc.

I felt that Tom Hanks was miscast in the lead role. The audience would have been better served if Langdon had been portrayed by an actor who can drive events, rather than be driven by them. And Audrey Tautou was the wrong actress to play Sophie. There was no chemistry between her and Hanks, and it would have been a better movie had the chemistry been there. Hanks is 20 years older than Tautou, but that happens all the time in movies. I think Tautou's problem is that she has had very little experience in English-language films.

Two supporting actors stand out. Sir Ian McKellen's scenery chewing was entertaining, but it could have been used in any movie, or as a one-man stage performance. The only actor who might be considered for an Academy Award nomination is Paul Bettany for his sympathetic portrayal of a deranged killer.

Overall, the film left little impression on me. As I left the theater I felt that I should check the box stating that I had seen the movie, and then file and forget.

Thoroughly Modern Millie

A memorable film
This film was heavily promoted as being Mary Tyler Moore's big screen debut. In 1967 Moore was regarded as the top TV comic actress, remarkable considering the fact that she had been playing a supporting role in "The Dick Van Dyke Show." She played the supporting part here, too, and I left the theater thinking that the movie was good, but it would have been better had Moore and Andrews switched roles. Julie Andrews has an iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove persona that grows less sympathetic as a story progresses (yes, the producers of "My Fair Lady" were wise to pass her over in favor of Audrey Hepburn). Moore, on the other hand, is Everywoman; women can empathize with her, men are not intimidated by her. At the end of the picture, the audience would have cared more for "Thoroughly Modern Mary" than "Thoroughly Modern Julie." In an attempt to ensure box-office success, the producers added more star power in the form of Carol Channing. She gave a show-stopping performance, but her role had to be shoehorned into the movie; it had no relation to the main theme.

But the casting was to no avail. The era of the classic Broadway musical had ended a year or two earlier and "Millie" was a relative flop. After one appearance as Elvis's main squeeze (Change of Habit), Mary Tyler Moore returned to the small screen in her eponymous hit comedy of the 1970s.

My overall impression is that the movie is in the style of the British farces that are so popular with amateur and semi-professional theater companies throughout the United States.

And why do I call this film memorable? Because I saw this film only one time--during its initial 1967 release--and I remember enough about it to write a review in 2005!!

National Treasure

No awards--no nominations--no excuse. Best of the year.
It's great to find an adventure film with no dead spots and no gratuitous violence. I can always identify with Nic Cage's character, even when the rest of the film is a snorer (Gone in 60 Seconds). Diane Kruger is so smooth that it's hard to believe that National Treasure was only her third English-language film. Jon Voight has a tension in all of his performance that is similar to Cage's, which made him the ideal choice to play the role of his father. I'd love to see this pairing in future films. Harvey Keitel and Sean Bean were excellent as always in supporting roles (I can't picture either as carrying a film by himself). The film offers possibilities for sequels that could be very different from the original picture. My family and I saw "National Treasure" in the theater, then bought the DVD as soon as it came out. Is it possible to wear out a DVD from too much use? If so, "National Treasure" will be the one.

"National Treasure" received no Academy Award nominations. The Academy must have it in for executive producer Bruckheimer. I can think of no other reason--or lame excuse.

Fat Man and Little Boy

Fictitious sub-plot added for melodramatic or political effect
Six stars for Paul Newman's portrayal of General Groves, negative four for the inclusion of a highly fictionalized event where the truth is well documented. Michael Merriman did not really exist. His character--or at least his fate--is based loosely on that of Louis Slotin, a Canadian physicist who did not come to Los Alamos until after the war. He conducted his lethal "tail of the dragon" experiment in May 1946. This is a critical point. The effects of hard radiation on the human body were not known until they were observed in the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts. Had anyone died of radiation poisoning at Los Alamos before the Trinity test, it's very possible that the scientists would have abruptly stopped their work, and history would have been changed. Whether for the better or the worse we can only speculate. Someone should ask the producers and the director whether they added Merriman's character for dramatic effect or to deliver an anti-nuclear message. For a more even-handed and accurate treatment of events at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, see the TV movie, "Day One," or better yet, read the Peter Wyden book on which it is based.


I had no trouble sleeping
Perhaps it is not fair for me to be reviewing this movie because I am not near its target audience. I only went because my daughter wanted me to go with her. I'm sure that I was the only male in the audience, and the oldest person there. I suspect that my daughter (23) was the second oldest. The plot is utterly formulaic and predictable. While I was lightly dozing I was dreaming out the story line and upon awakening it was like I had missed nothing. The character of the security guard was extremely irritating and prevented me from falling into a deeper slumber.

It's too early to tell if Alexa Vega will blossom into the classic beauty. I suspect not, but it's too soon to tell. If she is a talented actress (this movie gives no clue), she may, like Anjelica Huston, Sigourney Weaver, and Kathy Bates, give her most successful performances after 40.

This may be a terrific movie for 8/F, but 58/M can offer no guidance in this matter.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The magic is missing
It's a good show; the 2-1/2 hours goes by fast, but the magical quality of the first two movies just isn't here. Some of this is due to the story, but the change in directors makes a big difference. Cuaron is a more professional director than Columbus. There's a reality to the background scenes that is missing from the first two movies. The other major factor in the change is Gambon's Dumbledore. He lacks the elfin (as in Santa's elves, not Tolkien's) spirit that Richard Harris gave to the role. Fortunately, as the story progresses, Harry gains confidence and power, and he needs Dumbledore less. From a technician's point of view, "Prisoner" must be considered the best of the series so far, but for entertainment value, the choice is much less clear.


The Wrong "Mame"
Casting Lucille Ball as Mame was strange casting, indeed. She was too old to be believable, especially in the first half of the movie when the character was in her late 30s. And her lack of singing ability was a running joke throughout her career. I have heard that she was given the role when she personally came up with the bucks to finance the film. That makes sense.

The film was by no means a total loss, as it had a good story, good songs, and Robert Preston and Bea Arthur. If the producers weren't stuck with Lucy in the title role and Angela Lansbury was not available to reprise the part, a good choice would have been Patricia Routledge, a British comedienne with a fine singing voice. Of course, nobody in the US had heard of her in 1974 (and she's still pretty much unknown here).

Van Helsing

Set brain to "idle," relax and enjoy
Once the plot elements are in place, the action is nonstop, which leads one to forget, or at least ignore, the gaping holes in said plot. The special effects are riveting in some places, cartoonish in others. The sexy yet sexless harpies may rate Oscar consideration for special effects. Jackman, Beckinsale and Roxburgh all have a strong "presence" in the film, something I always look for. The movie has elements of not only Dracula and Frankenstein, but also of James Bond and Lord of the Rings, and probably other stories and films that I have missed. A couple of plot and theme elements are unresolved at the end, leaving open the possibility of a SEQUEL--the dreaded "S" word.

--Spoiler-- Two characters who you would expect to die in movies of this genre are still alive at the closing credits, while one expected survivor dies at the end.

The Munsters

Munsters v. Addams Family--a Lose-Lose Situation
The simultaneous runs of Munsters and Addams Family doomed both to two-season lifespans. Much of the audience became polarized. Munsters fans would not watch Addams Family and vice versa, but if either show had been on without the other it would have attracted almost the full audience of the other.

Either could have become a major, long-running classic. Addams Family had the better chance, being a comedy/social commentary of the type that later became the major hits, All in the Family and The Simpsons. But Munsters also could also have had its seasons in the sun. After scrapping the ill-conceived and twice miscast role of Marilyn, the enormous talent and charisma of Fred Gwynne and his chemistry with Al Lewis (good friends off-camera, too) could have carried that show for many years.

The Haunted Palace

The book was better.
This is an ordinary horror movie; not the best, not the worst. I would love to see a movie that is truly based on Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The story line is strong enough for a mainstream film. The main part of the story takes place in the late 1920s, but it could be updated to contemporary times without affecting the plot. Other changes you would see:

The mansion would be replaced by a 17th or 18th century farm house, and many scenes would take place in a contemporary home. The role of Dr. Willet would get equal billing with that of Charles Ward/Joseph Curwen. The only Mrs. Ward would be Charles's mother. This would be a minor supporting role. The part of Ward's father would be a major supporting role.

The Haunted Mansion

Another Eddie Murphy Movie
I'm sorry, but to my mind, Murphy's persona dominates any movie in which he stars. In this film, there isn't much to dominate. The story line is suitable for teenagers and older, but Disney tones it down for a pre-teen audience. It makes me want to see a filmed version of one of R. L. Stine's "Fear Street" novels.

As for the acting, Murphy is, as usual, very entertaining, if not relevant to any plot. It's good to hear G-rated language coming out of his mouth. Jennifer Tilly as the Tracey Ullmanesqe Madame Leota gives the strongest supporting performance. Terence Stamp gives his usual yeoman performance. Marsha Thomason is a little bit too young to be convincing in her role. Mark John Jeffries seems to have a bit of a spark. The movie might have been better had they eliminated the role of the sister and given Jeffries more to do.

All in all, a pleasant, if innocuous, way to spend an afternoon or evening with the children.

Man in the Wilderness

Try arriving five minutes late
I went to see this movie with high hopes, but I was severely disappointed. Five minutes of a man walking and crawling around in the wilderness with no dialogue except moans and groans was enough for me. I walked out. After the first five minutes there may be a good movie there. A lot of people thought so. My recommendation: If you rent the VHS, start with the "fast forward" button; if you get the DVD, start with Scene 2.

The main feature of the late Richard Harris's acting, which could be an asset or a liability, was his knack of bringing larger-than-life characters down to a more approachable level. If a movie is supposed to be a character study this can be a good thing, but in a plot-driven or special effects-driven film, it can slow things down.


A movie that sticks with you
An unusual film in that it features five performers in equal leading roles: The owner, the trainer, the jockey, the horse, and the times. I would give first billing to the 1930s, as it took me three days to get my mind out of the scenario. Among the human actors I thought Jeff Bridges gave the strongest performance. The best actor in the movie was Gary Stevens, the professional jockey who had never acted before. Elizabeth Banks reminds me of Brooke Adams. This is not a good omen for Banks, since Adams's career has gone essentially nowhere in the past 30 years.

The only problem I had with the movie was with Pollard's accident before the big race. The scene gave me the impression that the incident could have been a deliberate act of sabotage by the rival owner, and it left me hanging. This may not have been the fault of the writers. The accident actually happened in real life, and it was too important to the plot to gloss over.

I had never planned to see "Seabiscuit." I would not have gone had my daughter not invited me. But I may go back to see it again.


Worst of the year. Laps its competition.
If "Supernova" had not been released just before the higher-profile "Battlefield Earth" it would have gained universal recognition as the worst movie of 2000. Screenplay, direction, acting (with one exception) all rock-bottom. Robert Forster gave a good, sympathetic performance, but his character was killed off in the first ten minutes. They should have kept Forster and killed off the rest of the cast. Worst of all was Angela Bassett, parodying Whoopi Goldberg's "Guinan" character from Star Trek TNG as if she held a personal grudge against that actress. Bassett has done some creditable work, but she needs direction (more than most actors). She did not get it here. Robin Tunney is wasted here and her nude scenes (the only reasons one might have for watching this movie) were excised from the US theatrical version to give it a PG rating.)

As for the direction, the IMDB listing suggests that there is a question as to who should get the credit. The answer should be: None of the Above. I'll bet that the directors' guild wouldn't allow the producers to use the traditional "Alan Smithee" because this turkey would besmirch his name. If Coppola was involved in any capacity, it must have been after a battery of wine tastings at his vineyard.

The script? Wherever a hackneyed melodromatic device could be employed, it was. Where it couldn't, it was bludgeoned in anyway.

The script ominously hints that a sequel will be needed in 51 years. Actuarial tables tell me that I will probably not be around that long. I am grateful.

Starship Troopers

Not as Heinlein would have done it
Robert Heinlein turned over in his grave after this movie was released. He would have no truck with co-ed showers. His Mobile Infantry (like my puritanical high school ca. 1960 that did not admit to the existence of a second gender) was MEN ONLY. And the film suggested that maybe--just maybe--the humans were not the good guys in the war. Heinlein would not have approved the script in this form, and I'm genuinely surprised that his executors and trustees did.

The screenwriters destroyed the possibility of a sequel by killing off Johnny's father at the beginning of the film. In the novel he survived the bombing of Buenos Aires (he was out of town on business) and had a part to play at the end.

Invaders from Mars

Too intense for young children
I saw this movie at the age of seven. I couldn't sleep for a week afterwards. I have not seen it since, but some of the scenes still stick in my mind after 50 years. I plan to rent a copy when I can find one and post a comprehensive review on this site. Until then, all I can say is that it is too frightening for small children to watch.

Seven Days in May

Very good adaptation of a nearly perfect novel
I've worn out my VHS recording of this film, as well as two copies of the book. When I first saw it in its initial release (it is a bit dated now) I was glued to my seat--except for the two scenes featuring Ava Gardner, where it comes to a screeching halt. My immediate thought was: "What's she doing in this movie? The studio must be under contractual obligation to cast her in an "A" movie somewhere, and for some unfathomable reason they stuck her here."

Gardner's Eleanor Holbrook character is actually a composite of two characters from the novel, Eleanor, a bouncy, thirtyish, archetypical yuppie (before the term yuppie had been coined) who had had an affair with Casey (Kirk Douglas), and Millicent, an older woman who had been involved with the General (Burt Lancaster). Gardner played Eleanor as a middle-age, boozy has-been, and I wasn't able to understand how he could ever have been attracted to her. On some level, the screenwriters sensed this, and created the Casey character as a bachelor. The idea of a married Casey (he was married in the book) cheating on his wife with the movie Holbrook was about as plausible as an invasion by space aliens.

And there was a strange absence of an event that was featured in the book: A scene where one of the characters tails another in a car for several dozen miles. If the movie were to be remade today, when a car chase is almost obligatory, the scene would be embellished, not omitted.

Still in all, Seven Days in May is a great film, and I am counting the days until the DVD copy I ordered online arrives at my door.

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