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Hawaii Five-0

An insult to the original show, us, the law, and the police.
The names have been kept-- including the bad guys'-- but there is zero continuity with the old show other than the names, location, and theme music. Would it have been so hard to simply make the new main character the son of the old Jack Lord Steve McGarrett, or have some other meaningful continuity? What's the @)(#*$ing point of keeping the names, if you're gonna totally change the characters? Konno, for example, was a giant, muscular, serious native Hawaiian cop on the original show. Now she (yes, SHE) is a stick insect style woman with muscles like old kids' shoelaces.

This new turd also routinely offends anyone who has respect for the law. In this show, the governor wields power like a mafia don, handing out jobs, titles, and work details like McGarrett is her favorite nephew. The cast, without exception, is intent on breaking every law for proper police behavior: evidence, bribe taking, torturing suspects, stealing, hiding information from superiors, working far outside their job description, and generally using your rights and the constitution as their toilet paper. The old show gave you respect for police and government. You could cheer and support'em, and want to be like'em. This new show... makes me want to be ill, like I'm looking at photos of Americans torturing captives in Abu Ghraib.

The amount of product placement is grating, obvious, and waaaay too often. For example, everyone uses some kind of smart phone instead of a camera or beeper, and they say dumb stuff like "Bing it" (Microsoft's search engine) instead of the commonly heard phrase "Google it". We're expected to believe that the cast, on tiny normal salaries, can barely afford to buy a plate lunch at a roadside diner, but they drive around the latest *koffkoff* wannabe luxury sports cars. The grating overuse of a table-sized computer monitor is also just... sickening. Let the COMMERCIALS be the commercials, you jerk @($&# Hollywood morons! The tiny cast is overused. McGarrett, instead of being head of police and therefore predictably permitted to take an interest in whatever case he wants, is instead a vague semi-policeman, as is his whole staff. We're expected to believe that one week they're chasing a kidnapper, the next week investigating a suicide, another week playing escort for a diplomat, or bomb disposal unit. Konno, the thin long-haired supermodel pretending to be a policeman, plays multiple job roles as CSI, computer hacker, beat cop, and butt-kicking brawler. (Really? A sex kitten has muscles LIKE a kitten. I'm SO ***ing tired of Hollywood pretending an 80 pound starved model with long hair could kick anyone's butt.) I am SOOOO damned tired of suspending reality that I forget where I hung it.

Does it go without saying, that we're constantly force-fed that tired neoconservative propaganda: "Everybody's a terrorist-- there's a terrorist threat on every street corner and under your bed! Ooooh! Be afraid, give up your rights, and let cops break the law in the name of... uhhh... abuse of power." Look at the background crowd in every scene. Almost every extra is a thin attractive 30-something. There are no fat people except the token native Hawaiian. There are no kids or messy tourists except when called for by the plot. There are no fatties or flat-chested women or old men at the beach.

It's also EXTREMELY grating to watch them manipulate the camera as though we haven't got a clue of what goes where in Hawaii. Here are a few of the most painful breaks with geographic reality: Surfers sit on boards in absolutely flat water in Waikiki, and the jumps to a picture of super-high surf that's supposed to be off the same beach. Perfectly painted picnic tables sit on grass that's perfectly green and cut-- no sign of dirt or scuff in and around the tables. Everybody lives in a million-dollar home. The storyline tells us we're in Waiamea, but the rock shelf the characters are standing on is clearly Lanai Lookout at one point, and Port Lock at another point (on either side of the outside of Hanauma Bay crater).

If you watch this show, you'll lose respect for Hollywood, the law, the portrayal of officers of the law, and whoever puts product placements on TV. Give it a HUGE miss, even if you're homesick for Hawai'i.

Stake Land

Derivative, watered-down, boring. Good locations.
On the plus side, the site scout earned his money. Cold white-cloud breath, cliffs, tall grass, bare trees, peeling paint, rusty buses-- they all are well chosen and properly gritty, though one has to wonder why the characters didn't plunder by staying at a rich folks' empty mansion. My hat's off to whichever producer green-lighted the decision to film this in real out-of-the-way rural North America, not some back lot in Hollywood.

There was also a mildly clever plot device involving a helicopter. Y'gotta wonder, though, how they kept it fed with airplane-quality fuel when the entire nation couldn't seem to find a gallon of fresh paint.

Everything else, sadly, is uninspired dumbed-down copying from Zombieland: plot, titles, subplot, and characters. I'm listening to the film as I write this, and I have not heard one single line of dialog that was pithy. No one-liners. No surprises. No character development.

The film crew kept everything in focus, but never had an interesting angle...and that perfectly sums up the entirety of the film.

If you want a clever take on vampires, watch "Day Breakers". If you want interesting camera angles and a fun new direction in plot, watch "30 days of night". If you want darned fine acting, titles of incredible inventiveness, and a script so much fun that you'll break out a notebook and jot down half the dialog while your pencil shakes from your laughter, rent/buy "Zombieland" and invite your best friends if they promise to bring popcorn and pizza. Keep a notebook handy.

Stargate: Atlantis

two dimensional soldier stories, NOT sci-fi
Sci-fi should inspire us with the mystery of new alien races, the wonder of new places, and the geekiness of technical gadgetry.

This dreck is NOT sci-fi. It's non-stop soldiering, in which the bad guys are without personality, without empathy, without brains. Oh, and...the good guys, too, are without personality, without empathy, and without brains.

Every episode, the problem is violence and the solution is violence. Guns, guns, guns... this is NOT sci-fi. A kid watching this will learn life-lessons that do not include socializing, invention, nonviolence, or science.

The only character that's even remotely memorable (and not nonstop violent) is a Scottish engineer. *polite coughing* Clearly, the writers couldn't be bothered to be original, and borrowed the bio of Star Trek's "Scotty" and the twitchy personality of Star Trek's "Bones".

"Stargate: Atlantis" is as boring as a 1980s video game.

Hauru no ugoku shiro

Too focused on physical beauty and age-ism
Like most of Miyazaki's work, this is a visually stunning world with lots of inventiveness displayed in character design, architecture, and back-story.

The physical layout is annoyingly trapped in clichés that don't work on a logical level: we're asked to accept the legitimacy of a KINGdom (have we all forgotten that our forefathers worked hard to drag us out from under kings into democracy???), war for war's sake, steam-punk aircraft that wouldn't work in a real world, and pseudo-victorianism.

The most painful pills to swallow, though, are the sexism, and the revolting tie-ins between youth, physical beauty, and beauty of the spirit. Anyone less than physically perfect and young will be outraged by Miyazaki's indefensible tying together of youth, beauty, and kindness. In Miyazaki's world, as in most Japanese anime, goodhearted characters are not permitted to be ugly, and vice versa. Old age is ridiculed nonstop throughout the film.

The film is sexist in the sense that women's chief preoccupation is romance, housekeeping, frilly hats, and child-rearing, while men are portrayed as warmongering metrosexual tin soldiers.

The dubbing into English goes fairly well, though the original Japanese is so curt that the voice actors clearly struggle to say their lines rapidly, thereby losing much of the emotional inflection that the lines deserve.

There's also an embarrassing oversight in the voice casting: one character magically becomes old and young versions of itself (without time travel), and when the age alters, the accent stupidly switches from British to American. The voice casting was sloppy-- it should have kept the accent uniform.

Mr. Bean

Excellent teaching tool for language schools
Because Mr. Bean almost never speaks, I heartily recommend using a DVD player with the teacher holding his finger over the pause/play button. At the end of any age group's lesson, simply devote 5 minutes to pausing and playing the DVD, encouraging students to shout out the answers to "What's this?", "What will happen?", "What's happening?", "What's wrong?", or any other question that elicits responses from that lesson's new vocabulary and grammar.

Because everyone's looking at the TV, normally shy students become vocal. Because the DVD can be started or stopped at any point, it's a perfect "filler" for the awkward "between" times while students are leaving and arriving.

I tried other DVDs, notably "Tom & Jerry" cartoons and Red Skelton DVDs, but no others were as good as "Mister Bean" at holding students' constant attention.

Taking Chance

Sickening commercial designed to rope in thoughtless kids
Those that describe this film as "apolitical" are neocons who don't realize when they're being drowned in a sea of pro-military propaganda that screams "kill and don't ask why-- it's somehow patriotic and commendable".

Throughout the film, I kept waiting for the other side to be told: someone saying "But the best way to defend freedom is to be a journalist or a member of the ACLU!" or someone asking "Defending Americans' freedom? How exactly does invading Iraq accomplish that?".

Yet nobody in the film presented the someone saying "Lieutenant Ehran Watada, the conscientious objector, is a hero. Chance Phelps was just a mindless follower, a killer with a shiny uniform." People, if you want to defend freedom, don't join a military dictatorship. Question authority. Don't support the government (the USA under Noecons) that imprisons more people per capita than any other nation, and has a larger military budget than the next ten countries combined.

Did you know that one of the first moves of the American invasion of Iraq was to shut DOWN freedom of the press? Or that the reaction of the military to the cellphone photos of torture in Abu Ghraib was to BAN CELLPHONE CAMERAS? No, this film was a political propaganda piece. It was so one-sided that it had no room for anything but shallow hero-worship by empty-headed characters for a fallen, misled soldier. It was all about vets and military, religion and "follow the leader without question; kill on command and ENJOY it." This was a film entirely without redeeming qualities, except to serve as a sample of misled, thoughtless period propaganda in the same way that "Reefer Madness" serves to remind us of the kneejerk stupidity in our past.

Life on Mars

Needlessly religious & vaguely right-wing
"Life on Mars" seems too often like a propaganda piece, intended to belittle some (not all) of the progressive issues of 1973. We're brought back to 1973 not to reexamine the issues of the day, but to reduce them to a neoconservative's strawman version.

You'll be offended by the overly positive portrayal of the Vietnam war (and continually describing its vets as patriots and role models) and how the thinking of liberals/progressives is reduced to watery broth where stone belongs. On a positive note, the main character does say that such misplaced patriotism leads to the invasion of Iraq & Afghanistan (though he doesn't refer to those invasions by name).

The character of the love child / hippie figure is diluted and belittled to the point where she's simply a 2D cardboard cutout with less brains and depth-of-character than a Barbie doll.

Likewise, the black rights movement is reduced to a cloud of clods, easily fooled and needlessly militant.

There is some positive press for gay rights and women's rights, but it's buried under a sea of nonstop right-wing abusive language. If this show becomes a hit, I shudder to think what moronic conservative language (and the attitudes to go with 'em) will become popular in 2009.

***very small spoiler*** The basic premise-- unintentional time travel-- is entertaining, but it's dumbed down and the audience is clubbed over the head with "The Answer to Why He's Back in 1973".

I was personally offended that the show's makers decided to take "Life on Mars" down a needlessly Christian/religious plot-path. The show could have been just as entertaining, and less offensive, had it not bullied the audience with Christian angel/church/priest story lines. The show's makers should have had the GOOD TASTE and POLITENESS to not use a mainstream TV show to offend the audience by pushing their religion at a multicultural audience.

***end of spoiler***

Give the show a miss. If you'd really like to revisit the 1960s and 70s, find recordings of deep talk shows ("The Dick Cavett Show", for example) and books from the era ("Steal this book", for example).

Torch Song Trilogy

NOT just a film for gays
There are so many touching scenes in this movie, both funny and tearful. It's wildly unfair to characterize it as a "gay" film as though gays are the only people who'll love this film and want to own a copy.

It never fails to make me cry in the first 5 minutes. How many films do that for you? ...And it has the good sense to balance that crying with laughter moments later.

The bunny slippers... oh, God, the bunny slippers in the school...! Trust me, you'll laugh till your breath doesn't know whether to come in or go out.

It was a little distracting to have Matthew Broderick in one of the lead roles, because he was a star when the film came out. I kept seeing Matthew Broderick the star, not his character (through no fault of his acting). Maybe if the hairstyle and makeup had been radically out of character for him....? Meh. Historically, though, I understand the necessity: his first big break was in another role in the Broadway play, and this was payback.

The script is almost as clever as a Douglas Adams book or Neil Simon play, yet deals with far stronger emotional topics: family love, romantic love, light friendship, loss, dignity, respect, and self-loathing. It's deeply, deeply involving without being heavy-handed, and comedic without being insulting to the audience.

Even the smaller roles are perfectly cast and well written: Alan's large black friend, Anne Bankroft as the mother, Ed the lukewarm conflicted lover, and Ed's wife were particularly memorable. Likewise, even the small elements of set dressing and stage direction are endearing.

People who like "Crossing Delancey" and "Sense and Sensibility" will love this film, and watch it at least once a year. It's got an industry slot on my "often watched films" shelf.

The Dark Knight

Mediocre summer popcorn movie with warped morals
In reality, I give this film a score of "4 out of 10", but the one-star rating you see above is intended to balance out the obvious shill vote (marketing hype, "astroturf", 10/10 votes and comments by paid-for marketing weenies posing as real, unbiased people).

At the time of this writing, the film has a 9.7-out-of-10 rating which it clearly does not in any sense deserve. It merits half that rating.

I saw "Batman" last night. 2.5 hours meant that one gets one's money's worth, but heck... it's not half as good as advertisers and would have us believe. The plot line drags, the characters are shallow, the morality is deeply confused and wildly warped.

The "dark knight" is more like a dim bulb.

It's hard to believe in Heath Ledger as the Joker. He's just too broad in the face, one-dimensional in this role, and weighed down by poor writing. His makeup was supposed to be degrading throughout the film, but there were obvious touch-ups and clean-ups that reminded the audience "this is make-believe." His garb was supposed to be purple-on-green, but was so dark as to look like a black suit. His actions were so reckless that we, as an audience, were constantly reminded that "this ain't even close to reality. Even a toddler wouldn't believe that this scheme would leave The Joker alive and thriving."

Worse, we're given zero back-story to help us believe that The Joker's feelings and craziness are based on something. In fact, the film goes far out of its way to emphasize that The Joker has no past, no legitimate reason for his hatred and aggression, and is simply not understandable. To that, I say "Go back to scriptwriting school, and take a few psychology classes while you're there. A character isn't menacing or intriguing unless we see the mechanism driving the emotions."

Worse, Christian Bale as Batman. Christian Bale, though good at dieting and working out, has all the humanity and emotiveness of rotting firewood. Without a sound track, sure, he'd do well as a male model. As a actor, though, he's just taking up space on the screen. Worse, his lisping (with obvious sound effects to lower and strengthen his voice) make him unbelievable as Batman and as perfectionist billionaire.

Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) gave an unemotive performance. Worse, he seemed to be struggling with his accent so much that he had no time for other aspects of acting. This is NOT the caliber of performance that he delivered for "Leon" ("The Professional") and "Bram Stoker's Dracula". This was an obvious potboiler, walk-on-and-take-the-money performance.

Likewise for all the other performers except hyperactive Heath Ledger and a small one-dimensional part played by the wife of one character. I felt no emotion from any of the other actors and actresses, despite the big ups and downs in the plot line. Dammit, if your daddy dies or you quit your lifelong job, y'oughta look a little broken up!

With two exceptions, the special effects did nothing for me: 1) I felt a bit of adrenalin when Batman was standing on a ledge atop a skyscraper while the camera looked over his shoulder into the street. 2) Harvey Two-face's mask was well done: that gets a thumbs up, though I wouldn't want kids seeing it or they'll have nightmares.

A few scenes just left me scratching my head, saying "that would never happen; that's beyond stupid, even for a cartoon movie." When Batman glides down from one building on his wings, darn it, the wings should look full of air like a parachute, not luffing like a sail pointed in the wrong direction!

Even the love interest was a bit bland. They found a frumpy, not-too-pretty woman to play Batman's love-of-his-life, and apparently asked her to play her role as though nothing-- romance, impending death, and explosions-- matters. I've seen people react more strongly when they get the wrong kind of coffee from a Starbucks! >:o

The morality is twisted. From a comic book, one should expect flat, one-dimensional thinking. From Frank Miller, the talented artist but stupid Ayn Rand follower who wrote the comic book on which this film is based, one should expect wildly offensive "morality" that would make even an idiot say "wtf, man, rethink this!" The plot and characters will inevitably be compared to America's McCarthyist-style "war on terrorism", and that just sickens me, because I see the film try to justify a patronizing, lying, violent attitude from government and a billionaire.

Everywhere in the film, actors are saying "This is wrong-headed, illegal, untruthful, patronizing to the citizenry, and an abuse of power... but we're in a dark, scary time so it's OK for now." Art imitates life, eh! I felt deeply ill.

So far this summer, Hancock is the only superhero movie I'd endorse, and that would only get a weak thumbs-up. It's at least funny, and does not try to paint a comic-book morality as "heroic".

So what SHOULD you see as an action/popcorn movie this summer? I'm wondering if the "Voyage to the Center of the Earth" film or the new Mummy film, both starring Brendan Frasier, will be a bit better... or at least have a few funny lines. The trailers, though, hint that they'll be campy and unbelievable.

The Lone Gunmen

Urinating on The X-Files
The show extracts three very likable but slightly shallow characters from The X Files, and sets them up with a show of their own.

That's all that was preserved in this transplant, and that was a poor decision. "The X Files" works because it takes itself seriously, and doesn't insult the intelligence of its viewers; "The Lone Gunmen" fails because this spin off breaks away from that tradition.

"The Lone Gunmen" is written for a crowd of morons: the sort of juvenile viewers who like "Get Smart", "Laugh In", and "H. R. Puffinstuff".

The makers decided that TV didn't have room for another serious "Twilight Zone / Outer Limits / Night Stalker / X-Files" TV show, so they turned these fine characters into The Three Stooges. It was a mistake that was painful to watch.

I'm saddened that the show was cancelled in mid-season, rather than gutted and reconfigured with a more "X-Files" formula. I'm glad that the show's producers realized that its stoopid dumbed-down scooby doo humor was a mistake, but the characters and the show could have recovered from this poor start. The Lone Gunmen could have gone through a makeover to produce a sort of 'Sneakers' / 'Hackers' / 'Night Stalker' show to rival The X Files.

I Am Legend

Shame on the neocon evangelical marketing weenies who made this.
The name "Will Smith" on a movie marquee now means to me, "give me my money back, if you're gonna make me watch your commercials, dammit!" This film starts with a fairly good premise-- that a cancer cure causes massive deaths, leaving some uninfected people alive but torturously alone. After that, it rapidly sinks into insulting the audience and waving its dumb neo-conservative, pro-military, two-dimensional, evangelical Christian message at us until we want to beat the producers to death with broken glass and wooden furniture.

Will Smith starts out by trying to sell the audience a sports car, with needless closeups of its logo. Man, didn't I already PAY for this film at the DAMNED DOOR??? Gimme my money back! Then there's the needless ego-stroking: Will Smith is a "hero" on Time Magazine's cover... for what? He's a military medical man, not the (Emma Thompson) character who invented this cure for cancer. In fact, it turns out that he's widely known as the person who released the malignant version of this retro-virus... yet no characters blame him or wish him ill.

The sheer coincidence that he's a) famous, b) the guy who released the retro-virus into New York City's general population, c) immune, and d) working on a cure...just kills the believability of the film at the start.

The CGI effects of the abandoned city are effective, but the monsters are... pathetic. The overstretched mouth during a scream is a tired re-do of the Mummy's scream in the Brendan Frasier film "Hamunaptra". The fact that the monsters don't starve and don't freeze to death in winter is pure silliness. The sheer energy and superhuman strength of the monsters is a believability-killer for anyone over the age of 5.

Worst, the film becomes offensive and moronic in its pushiness about Christianity, pro-military stance, and flag-waving. By the time we're shown a town of survivors in Small Town America, with high walls, a big church, and an American flag in front of EVERY home, the audience was either actively booing or looking like they were sitting through unanaesthetized dental work.

Shame. On. These. Movie makers.

Bridge to Terabithia

Simplistic, insulting to non-Christians. Good SFX.
I saw this film as an in-flight film, and was glad to have a book with me. When it came on television a few months later, it held so little interest that I could only watch a few minutes before becoming bored.

Although the premise, magical world, and special effects are reminiscent of a Harry Potter film, the storyline is far too formulaic and preachy.

Of far more importance to me was the extremely preachy and arrogant stance the film's Christian characters take. Non-Christians will be deeply offended by the film, and should avoid it.

One should also caution children that although imagination is a good thing, creating an alternate reality and trying to live in it is as unhealthy as, and similar to, playing video games all day.

A final criticism would be how the film describes its bully-- I was offended at how it portrayed a lummox-like bully character as a two-dimensional figure. One is left with the feeling that all the characters--even the main characters-- are described with the same lack of depth, objectivity, and detail as line-art doodles in a coloring book page.

In short, I expect you'll enjoy the SFX, but would be far better advised to see "James and the Giant Peach", "Finding Nemo", or even a Harry Potter film.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Horrific excuse for product placement. Neither "fast" nor "Tokyo"
I'm an American who has lived in Japan for most of a decade. I can honestly say that this film, supposedly set in Japan, is entirely untrue to the real Japan. Fashions, culture, economy, language... all are wildly misrepresented or simply ignored. You will feel that this is a "version" of Japan cooked up by a Californian 9-year-old.

The film also plays on patently insulting false stereotypes: 1) A black high school junior hoodlum who (impossibly) sells stolen goods openly at school, has a driving license, and drives his own heavily decorated new car; 2) Everyday high school women who are impressed by racing, and will literally offer themselves to the most impressive driver around; 3) A mafia boss who agrees to settle a major dispute with a foreign "nobody" by racing rather than ignoring the moron or shooting him; 4) a dirt-poor ignorant American "kid" who manages to get an expensive car free from a new friend, master racing in a day, ruin and rebuild cars in hours with a budget of nothing, and capture the hearts of every babe he sees; 5) ...and a whole high school of thin model-like kids who have no jobs, don't study, own $100,000 cars, and wreck the cars nightly.

The film is an insult to you, the audience. Do you really want to pay a dozen dollars to watch a nonstop car-and-iPod-and-sneaker commercial that ignores the real Japan, insults women and black people, and has not one believable plot element? Vote with your $, and say "no" to this horrific swill.

Rocky Balboa

Dull and dumb, half-hearted in every sense
On the plus side, it was good to see Stallone go back to making a movie with gritty realism and a flawed main character. (The city streets, Rocky's restaurant, and Rocky's IQ are all nicely non-heroic.) It is good to see Stallone abandon the increasingly silly comic-book-hero storyline and characterizations his Rocky and Rambo films are infamous for.

On the down side, there was utterly no character growth, merely boring and empty echoes of the past. Paulie is still a loser; Rocky is still an inevitable winner; the romantic and boxing story lines are as straight and short as a "2+2=4" math problem.

The placement of a black token character in Rocky's otherwise lily-white personal life only served to emphasize how utterly lily-white Rocky's personal life is, in this film.

Dialogue was as uninspiring as the list of ingredients on a cereal box. I can't remember a single line from the film! Worse, by the end of the movie, the audience will feel that this is merely a sad end-piece to a too-long movie series. Rocky's training scenes are not inspiring; they're merely short and pathetic. (He lifts a barbell once, and lifts a thin chain once or twice. Ho, hum, get thee to a time machine.) Stallone's physical condition is simply revolting. We're spared the pain of looking at old-man's-legs for most of the movie, but are forced during the boxing match to see the nauseating varicose veins all across Stallone's right pectoral, shoulder, and arm.

This is like seeing Walter Matthau at his "grumpy old men" age... in a Speedo swimsuit and bare skin, forced to read his lines like a 5-year-old, and required to go only half the distance toward a plot resolution.

The halfheartedness in the love interest was obvious. Rocky sorta-kinda flirts with a woman, shoves himself into her life, and then... halts.

Paulie's character is once again just a dumb dramatic foil for Rocky. He's as 2D as he was in the first movie.

The boxing opponent is just... there. Barely. He's utterly unconvincing as a boxer, unless baby fat and thin arms have become more important than muscle and speed. His dialog is empty and unengaging.

...As is the entire film.


Dazzling blue-screen work, but utterly worthless and unwatchable
Prepare to run from the theater. It's that mind-bogglingly bad.

The racism, homophobia, nationalism, warmongering, fear-mongering, and fascism are both artificial and ballooned into levels that are childishly inappropriate even by Hollywood standards.

The constant references by Spartans to their love of "freedom" (and how it would be replaced with servitude if they bowed down to the Persian king) are laughable, since the plot revolves around a Spartan KING protecting his KINGdom. He is, in fact, the only "free" person in Sparta; the other 299 warriors must be too hopped up on adrenalin and bravado to have a single political thought while they volunteer to die.

(When will sword-and-sandal movie makers give up on trying to tie violent kingdoms together with anachronistic ideas of freedom and fair society? It's like making a pro wrestler put on a dress and serve tea.) The movie portrays all (good) Spartans as physically perfect white folks, all the way down to immaculate hair, perfect teeth, and immaculate clothing. All "bad" characters have physical defects (for which they are scorned) or are made androgynous/homosexual or Asian or African.

Even the math involved is ludicrous and utterly unconsidered by the scriptwriters: the number "300" is used again and again, though the size of the "300" falls and expands repeatedly. The sun is blotted out by arrows shot at the Spartans, yet nobody (apparently) considered or cared how impossible it would have been to fire that many arrows. (And the number of arrows that land is barely a handful.) The number of soldiers from Sparta is supposedly "300", yet we never see more than 20 to 40.

The logistics are as empty-headed as every other part of the film: soldiers travel endlessly without food or foot sores or bedding. Swords never break or dull. Flies never buzz around corpses.

In short, this is a nightmarishly childish, moronic piece of filth with no excuse and no redeeming qualities. Nobody could like this film, except perhaps a violent, heavily medicated, muddle-headed, neo-Nazi 5-year-old boy who doesn't know what "freedom" means yet.

If this film has any positive value, it might be as a cautionary tale: an example of conservative, militaristic madness (like "reefer madness") that hyperbolizes the worst parts of the culture that produces it. While trying to stir up patriotism and pro-military sentiment, this film merely turns those concepts into (rightfully) laughable yet nauseating material.

Quo Vadis

Christian hypocritical propaganda, love story between cardboard characters
This is the 1950s "Christians can do no wrong" version of history, mixed with the 1950s Hollywood idea of romance. You will be agog that a film could suggest that Christians *koffkoffAmericancottonpickingslaverykoffkoff* were anti-slavery at the time, or that *koffkoffCrusadeskoffkoff* Christians of the time were less bloodthirsty than their Roman counterparts.

The film glibly overlooks the fact that Christianity became the national religion of Rome following alterations in its theology which supported the roman emperor better than a polytheistic religion could have.

You'll also cringe as the Roman general falls in lust and relentlessly pursues a pretty face ("Lygia"), while the film hopes we will believe this is True Love.

This is a Davey-and-Goliath collection of two-dimensional characters, soppy sentimentality, and wild extremism in painting an historical era.

Walk quickly past it in the video rental store. Don't bother watching it, even on a dare, unless you're prepared to MST3K heckle it.

The Search

Interesting as an historical artifact, but not involving nor compelling as a story
The 8/10 and 10/10 scores and rave reviews for this film are an entire mystery to me. They seem to have been reviewing a far better film, or had their eyes and ears sealed with beeswax during the film, while the film's distributors and salesmen whispered "it's great... trust us." Beeswax over your eyes and filling your ears may, in fact, be the only way to survive watching this fumbled, amateurish film.

True, it's fascinating to see the real devastation of Germany in the background of this story. There're also interesting historical points in the background, such as the separation of Catholic and Jewish children, and the exportation of the homeless Jewish children to Palestine.

It's also an interesting segue (segway) between the stiff, harsh acting & photography style of the earliest films and today's naturalistic, realistic approach.

We should also note that this Montgomery Clift's first film appearance, and he does well, though he is clearly the only pro worth his pay in this amateurish production.

It's easy to see why his career took off: His acting is naturalistic and very believable-- a compliment which cannot be extended to any other member of the cast. The remainder of the cast, including narrator, come across as the worst sort of self-conscious, wooden amateurs frozen in horror at how the filmmakers have wrapped this golden gem of a concept inside an odiously predictable, sappy script.

The poor acting extends, of course, to the child actors in general and the main star in particular. Suffice it to say that child actors are generally horrifically bad-- Haley Joel Osmet is the exception that proves the rule. If you recall the wooden, artificial acting of the kids in "The Sound of Music", then you will understand the depths of the poor acting in this film. When the child cries, he's clearly fakin' it, badly. When he's learning English, his phenomenal progress is schlock movie-magic. When he reacts to the other actors, his reactions seem all too choreographed.

Likewise, the plot points are predictable yet (with the exception of the broad strokes of the historical context) unbelievable in the extreme, as are the characters' reactions to the events in their lives except in the broadest sense. Imagine a flat, lifeless war-effort documentary newsreel, a "Li'l Rascals" episode, and a "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" episode, and you'll understand the poverty of intelligence exhibited by the scriptwriters. Without exception, you will be able to guess the function and result of every event, the moment it occurs.

Like bubblegum left on the bedpost overnight and chewed for several months, this predigested, predictable script is utterly bland. Every aspect of the film-making, with the exception of Clift's acting, does severe injustice to the subject material. If ever a film cried out to be remade , THIS IS IT. I curse the name of filmmakers who remake classics like "Psycho" or "It's a Wonderful Life", or simply reissue their old films, like Star Wars, E.T., and Cinderella, while ignoring such fumbling efforts as this one, which beg bitterly to be remade in better hands.

The storyline is sickeningly saccharine. It is of course moving subject material-- pure gold for a storyteller or historian, but handled in such a way that the pure gold becomes fools' gold-- a silk purse becomes a sow's ear. The subject matter is recovery in the aftermath of WWII and the holocaust, the costs of war on civilian life and children in particular, and so on. It's a little sad that, given this golden opportunity, the movie makers flubbed, stumbled, and stiffly moved from concept to amateurish finished film. If these filmmakers were alchemists, they'd be turning pure gold into dull, grey, heavy, worthless lead.

Most telling of all, this film seems destined to plug away at "we are good, they were bad, OUR military and churches would NEVER be bad... support American churches and armies. Our army builds bridges and gives homes to the homeless, we never shoot or bomb anybody! We're HEROES." In short, watch this film for Montgomery Clift and a look at a completely devastated, bombed-out city, but do NOT expect to feel emotionally moved nor embroiled in the film's universe-- it's too saccharine, predictable, and amateurishly acted to pull you into the story.

Get Smart

An honest, non-shill, no-Prozac(tm) review
This show was far, far from being the "best TV show of all time. Some of the reviews are obvious shills (claques)-- one can't compare this show to true classics like "The Carol Burnett Show", "Star Trek (the original series)", "Sesame Street", "Gunsmoke", "Seinfeld", "Looney Tunes", The Daily Show, MST3k, "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood", "FireFly", "The X Files", "Twilight Zone", "Outer Limits"... one would have to go quite far down the list, well past 100 shows, to find this show on a list of "great TV shows of the past".

Neither is it a cultural icon, or a picture of the era's zeitgeist. For that, shows like "Star Trek", "All in the Family", "Sesame Street", or "The Outer Limits" are far better at capturing a slice of what people thought and felt at the time.

As another reviewer put it, the main character was rather funny over a short period, but the voice was grating if one watched more than one episode at a time. Likewise the Cone of Silence was a great gag...if used only once, but it got overused. The show was defined by a) being a James Bond parody, and b) shallow, overly repetitious humor.

It's true that many of the show's catch-phrases have become commonly-known and often-used language in daily life, as has Maxwell Smart's voice, but they only made it to that exalted status by being repeated often on the show...which means that the show relied heavily on rehashed dialog and series-long running gags rather than inventiveness.

So...view it once in a while on a TV retro station, as you would "Gilligan's Island" or "I Dream of Jeannie" or "The Partridge Family". Do not expect to find the show witty and sophisticated, or thought-provoking. At best, it's a cultural icon but a shallow one...a blast from the past, worth an occasional quiet reminiscing chuckle for the over-40 folks. At worst, it's the sort of repetitious won't-entertain-anyone-over-6yo stuff typified by "Gilligan's Island".

The Iron Giant

decent animation, but thoroughly outdated Republican fantasy
This is a kids' movie that you shouldn't take kids to see.

I. It glorifies violence.

Ia.The main character is considered "good", yet he too easily starts shooting at everyone in sight.

Ib. Deaths of people are trivialized

Ic.The young boy, Hogarth, is armed with a (BB) is the (sympathetically portrayed) eponymous character.

Id. The death-by-hunters'-gunfire for a deer is trivialized with some illogical nonsensical philosophy Ie. Like Brad Bird's other obscenity, "The Incredibles", the theme is "might makes right...and good guys are allowed to respond to problems, even little problems, with extreme violence and subjectivity".

II. It pushes religion down your throat

IIa. there's a "saying grace" scene at the dinner table, complete with mentions of a god and Satan. No thanks !

IIb. The robot is told that "good living things have souls, and souls never die". *koff-koff*. It should be noted that this weak reasoning is meant to console the robot after he witnesses a deer being shot dead. Must've been one of those eeeeevil, Satan-worshipping soulless deer, huh?

In short, this is a hopelessly twisted Republican/Religious-Right morality play, and puts the "senseless" in "senseless violence".

I plan to steer clear of this director's future films.


*yawn* predictable, stereotyped, and limited
The film's characters go through almost no character development, except for two very obvious, predictable changes. Every part of the plot can be guessed from the outset. The ethnic stereotyping, too, is both predictable ...and slightly offensive as well.

And let's face it... a car presents very little opportunity for animation and anthropomorphism. It doesn't have arms and legs to gesture with, nor much flex in its body. Aside from eyes and mouth, there's very little in the way of animation going on here....and the movie suffers for it.

I'm hoping that this, the last movie Pixer is contracted to do for Disney, was just a half-hearted gesture to complete the contractual obligations. Pixar has done some wonderful stuff in the past, but this is a definite four or five levels below previous work in storyline, characterization, and animation. In scenery, however, it is impressive and above Pixar's previous work-- the ground, particularly when Mater's hood falls off a cliff, is very real-looking.

It Could Happen to You

Boring, vaguely racist, and flatter than an empty wallet
This is one of the few films I've seen, and would not sit through again. It's that boring, that empty-headed, and that flat.

The dialog is lifeless and uninspired, as are the performances. I defy anyone to recall a line from the movie, a week after watching.

The casting is sadly inadequate. For example, all the "bad guy" characters are non-white (e.g., Rosie Perez as the demanding hausfrau) and the main characters, Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda, are blond-haired white folks.

Worse, Bridget Fonda's elegant good looks are an extremely poor match for her role as a waitress. Compare her waitress to Helen Hunt's from "As Good as it Gets" to see the pits juxtaposed against Hunt's heights.

Nicholas Cage has done well in some romantic roles (e.g., Moonstruck) and in comedies (e.g., "Raising Arizona"), but in this film, he's phoning in the performance while thinking about his stock portfolio.

The few times I've seen this film, I've been utterly unable to "enter" the story and the world portrayed in the film. I would compare its flatness and unbelievability with "Good Burger" (from Nick at Nite).

Instead of this film, I'd highly recommend "Crossing Delancey" (1988) or, to a much lesser degree, "Moonstruck" (1987) for New York flavor, good performances, and believable, touching romance.

If it's a refreshing "good man" story you want to see, then I'd strongly recommend the Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life" (Jimmy Stewart) or Emma Thompson / Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" instead.

The Last Chase

Juvenile car flick about burning oil = old men reliving their hormonally challenged teenage years
This juvenile, bland flick is strictly for teenagers in old mens' bodies, desperate to relive their hormonally challenged teenage years. How ? By burning up gas and equating a fast, reckless car (or plane) with freedom.

The plot borrows heavily from Mister Rogers' neighborhood (if it were run my an oil conglomerate) and Logan's Run (if it were heavily sedated and lacked a clear sense of style).

Starring Lee Majors and Burgess Meredith this film is set in a post-gas-crisis world in which an all-powerful government doesn't want you to (*ahem*) drive your car and burn gas. Sort of the opposite of today's Enron-and-Bush, oil-grabbing, SUV-pushing government.

This juxtaposition alone makes the film laughable. But wait...there's more. Although the film is set in the future, we're not shown any signs of future technology, beyond a return to bicycles, golf carts and horses. You will believe that the future looks... exactly like today. Same clothing, same suburban houses, same green lawns as today and when the film was made. There are no solar panels, no windmills, no concessions to alternate energy.

The acting is flat and flavorless. Even scenes which could have been gritty or moving, buddy-flick, honor, romance, horror... all fall flatter than a paper doll under a briefcase.

Continuity is lacking-- the jet flown by Burgess Meredith's character changes colors and configuration from moment to moment as the filmmakers insult our intelligence with unmatched stock footage again and again.

The plot is as moronic and only half as exciting as a Dukes of Hazzard episode.

Even die-hard car-film and SF fans should avoid this film like month-old roadkill, unless you enjoy heckling Exxon executives trying to make a movie as empty as the hero's gas tank.

The Deadly Mantis

Ludicrous 1950s schlock SciFi B-movie
Other commenters have described this movie as "classic 1950s SciFi" with clever use of stock footage and documentary footage, and clever character interaction.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, this is classic 1950s SciFi...but 1950s SciFi at its most blindingly stupid worst.

Consider that the Mantis's first prey is a radar station shown first from the air, then on the ground... but the station is (from the air) pictured as on a mountaintop, with snow on one side and semi-cleared dark ground on the other side, but when (on the ground) investigators visit the site, it's suddenly on a flat, evenly white plain, miles from the nearest mountain.

Consider also, the ludicrous pseudo-scientific babble of the highly-recommended expert who is brought in to examine a huge claw. He says "Well, we know one thing... it can't have come from an animal, because every known species of animal has a bony skeleton. Even reptiles and birds have bones." He then goes on to say that some creatures ...snails, shellfish, insects... do not have bony skeletons. Excuuuuuse me ? Let's define "animal", here. Not even in the 1950s could anyone over the age of six take this man as an expert in biology, since he clearly doesn't know what an "animal" is, nor have the ability to name several broad categories of animals who lack bony skeletons (sharks, rays, jellyfish, insects, mollusks, arthropods, gastropods, sponges, arachnids, get the idea.) The characters are cardboard, 2D stock types... scientist, sidekick girlfriend, big bad monster. Nothing here shows any sense of creativity. No pulse, no life signs.

There're no witty dialogs, the special effects are silly even for their time, and the stock footage is employed with a reckless disregard for continuity. This is B-movie making at its dead worst, with a production crew that clearly couldn't be bothered to try even halfheartedly.

Use sparingly, as sleeping medicine or punishment for small children who're easily offended by bad science.

War of the Worlds

Not deep, but extremely well made
Ordinarily, location choices and set management are barely considered when a big-budget CGI action flick is made.

Happily, this film revels in the opposite extreme: the outer boroughs of New YOrk City, the frumpy clothes, the rain and cold misty breath, the textures and dirt... are all so vivid, so REAL, that we can readily accept something as ..well.. PREPOSTEROUS as an alien invasion.

Heck, I even found myself thinking "Tom Cruise... is acting ? I didn't know he could do that !" The lack of plotting is quite nice, adding to the whole panicked atmosphere of the film rather than detracting.

Small touches, like photographing little Rachel (Dakota) through a screen door or showing an alien ship through the maze of bare tree branches, made me really enjoy the textures and realism far more than I have in any other recent movie that comes to mind.

If you see this film, you'll enjoy comparing Tom Cruise's frumpy, lumpy, messy house and fractured home life to Will Smith's overly-clean, overly sensational similar home scene in Independence Day. Where Will Smith is asked to play a smarmy, too-clean, all-mighty guy sleeping with a sexy stripper in a fairly well set-decorated house and neighborhood, Tom Cruise is a delight to watch as a divorced, grungy dock-worker whose setting is so believably portrayed as to make me, a New Yorker, nod almost continuously while thinking "Yeah... that's the way it really is." More about the acting: Tom Cruise, like WIll Smith, is almost always asked to play a good-looking, all-mighty, smiling near-superhero. It was refreshing in the extreme to see him here with tears, an almost droopy face, and filthy fingernails....a less than average man, surviving only by coincidence, and completely convincing as "just another guy from the hood".

Dakota's performance as his daughter is even more engrossing. While she isn't yet being offered roles with the impact of Haley Joel Osmet's childhood films, I'm mentally crossing my fingers and hoping that this budding actress will continue to bloom as she has in this film.

Tim Robbins' brief role is riveting, and his realism is engrossing. He's truly got star acting power.

Little incidental touches, like a woman and her daughter whom TOm Cruise's character sees just before boarding a ferry -- or another character who picks up TOm Cruise's fallen gun, who is nameless and wordless and only on screen for seconds-- are nonetheless producing powerful reactions in the audience.

Happily, the script is filled with good lines that are alternately powerfully wise or comical and accidental-seeming bits of real life. Watch for Tom Cruise saying "Cound you come up with a plan that doesn't involve your 10-year-old sister joining the army ?" or Tim Robbins saying "It's no more a fight between them and us as there is between men and maggots".

The alien machinery is particularly noteworthy. You'll particularly enjoy its unexpected steam-engine blasts, foghorn sounds, gritty dirty industrial look, and unexpected weakness (it vaporizes people, but leaves clothing intact). The designers succeed brilliantly in delivering an imagined alien technology that is believable, yet entirely unlike anything we've seen before.

Walk out before the final scene, though. The Hollywood happy ending is just... too damned silly, and doesn't belong in this film. It's completely unnecessary, ignores the spirit of H.G. Wells' novel, and tears the veil of realism away from this film like someone stripping wallpaper off of bare brick.

You'll also be annoyed at the darned silly inclusion of a virtual commercial for the army, toward the end of the film, when a band of army men get to use their bazooka with good results. This is an anti-war movie, but some damned fool on the film's crew decided to turn this and several other scenes into recruiting commercials for the army... completely out of place, like a damned Spice Girls song during a Mozart revival concert.

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