The summer movie season has been off to a solid start over the last month, thanks to the financial performances of films like "Shrek 2," "The Day After Tomorrow," and HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.
Speaking of the latter, I was somewhat disappointed by the latest Harry Potter adventure (**1/2 of four), which, despite a strong opening, has tailed off faster at the box-office than most prognosticators predicted. Some attribute the film's lackluster (though still profitable) receipts to non-Potter fans having grown tired of the series, but I actually think it has something to do with the film itself.
Director Alfonso Cuaron ("A Little Princess") took the directorial reigns from Chris Columbus for this installment, and many critics who apparently subscribe to the auteur theory instantly bestowed kudos on his work in "The Prisoner of Azkaban." This is, after all, the same filmmaker who made the art-house smash "Y Tu Mama Tambien" -- not the director of mainstream blockbusters like "Home Alone" -- and more than a few critics seemed to go out of their way to praise this movie for doing things right that Columbus's preceding two films didn't.
Unfortunately, as much as I admired "A Little Princess," Cuaron's directorial stamp in this film was all too obvious. Sure, the movie may be "darker" and "edgier," but it also lacks the magic of the previous two films. There's a certain warmth and humanity inherent in the earlier Potter adventures that's notably lacking here -- in its place, there's a lot of story, some delightful moments, but a certain dramatic flat-line to the drama. The performances of the now-growing youthful cast are all on the mark, David Thewlis and Gary Oldman are excellent (though I wish Oldman had more screen time), and I certainly was entertained for the most part. When it was all over, though, the film left me cold, as if something was missing from all the fuss about werewolves and the search for a killer wanted for the death of Harry's parents.
Surely some of the blame has to be placed on the director. Cuaron drains the color out of the film and often places the cast in modern day attire (jeans?), giving the movie a supposedly more "realistic" look which clashes with its fantastical story. He throws in the same fade-in and fade-out transitions he used in "A Little Princess," but they're used so often they're worn out before it's over. And speaking of the ending, the movie's last shot is a curious freeze-frame that ends the story on an unintentionally humorous note.
The disappointment carries over to John Williams' score as well. While not a catastrophe of any kind, Williams' music reprises so little of his original Potter thematic material that one must have assumed that characteristic came from Cuaron's marching orders for the score not to sound overly familiar. To be sure, Williams has done an outstanding job scoring sequels, often penning a wealth of brand-new material to complement his previously written themes. Here, though, the original Potter themes are used SO sparingly that it's hard to connect with the music, and in their place is a mostly subdued, dense score that -- while effective in the film -- isn't especially memorable (and also makes for one of the most difficult Williams albums to listen to).
I realize I'm focusing on the negatives of "The Prisoner of Azkaban," yet there are certainly some wonderful moments in the movie. I just felt, when all was said and done, that the movie didn't add up to much, and Cuaron's attempts to differentiate this film from its predecessors robbed the picture of its heart.
This intentionally silly though often inspired lark stars Vaughn as the affable owner of a small gym whose millionaire competitor (Stiller) wants to buy him out. To raise the needed capital to keep his gym going, Vaughn and his motley assortment of clients opt to enter the Las Vegas Dodge Ball Invitational, which carries a cash price of $50,000 and coverage on ESPN 8 ("The Ocho").
The gags are all outlandish but many hit in the mark in Rawson Marshall Thruber's film, which boasts perfect comic timing and some very funny supporting turns from the likes of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman (as the ESPN8 announcers), Rip Torn, and even Chuck Norris and William Shatner.
"Dodgeball" isn't high art and parents will likely object to some of the adult-oriented content (which just managed a PG-13 rating), but for dumb summer fun, it's the perfect ticket if you're looking to laugh.
SECRET WINDOW (**1/2, 2004). 97 mins., PG-13, Columbia TriStar, available June 29th. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by David Koepp; Deleted Scenes; trailer; 2.40 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Johnny Depp's engaging, entertaining performance is the main reason to stay tuned to David Koepp's "Secret Window," a relatively blah thriller with a requisite "twist" ending that's painfully apparent just minutes into the movie.
Depp plays a suspense novelist whose wife (Maria Bello) has left him for another man (Timothy Hutton). One day, Depp comes home to his secluded cabin in the country, only to find a stranger (John Turturro) waiting for him. The man claims that Depp stole a story he authored, and while Depp initially brushes off Turturro's claims, it becomes evident that Turturro has nefarious methods of intimidation at his disposal, threatening both Depp and his former wife.
With his disheveled appearance and quirky mannerisms, Depp takes a predictable story with few surprises and turns it into a mildly entertaining thriller that's ideal for a rental on a warm summer night. Depp's performance as Mort Rainey gives Koepp's script some juice, but the central problem with "Secret Window" is that Koepp -- who scripted the movie from a Stephen King novella -- seems to think that the material is shocking and surprising at every turn, when in fact his film is predictable right from the outset. The ending can be seen coming from miles away, and most of the supporting cast, including Timothy Hutton and Charles S. Dutton, are wasted in minor turns that don't add up to much.
Anyone who has sat through "The Sixth Sense," "The Others," and other King fare like "Misery" will find "Secret Window" to be awfully familiar, but Depp's performance is eccentric enough make it nearly worthwhile.
Though Philip Glass is credited with writing the music for "Secret Window," it turns out much of the final score was penned by Geoff Zanetti, including the terrific cue that concludes the score. This is confirmed in Koepp's DVD audio commentary, which is informative and a lot more fun to listen to than most disc director chats. Other special features include deleted scenes (including an alternately-shot ending), three featurettes with some candid comments, and bonus previews. The 5.1 sound and the 2.40 Widescreen transfer are both superb.
The recent glut of low-budget, made-for-video sequels has resulted in everything from "Bring It On Again!" to "The Skulls III," "Cruel Intentions 3" and "Wild Things 2." The best you can say about any of these films is that they're watchable -- the worst that they're shameless imitations cashing in on the names of their predecessors.
With special effects guru Phil Tippett making his directorial debut and original writer Ed Neumeier back authoring the script, you might have thought that "Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation" would be one of the better made-for-video follow- ups. Instead, this claustrophobic and shoddy sequel looks like the work of rank amateurs, with poor acting, terrible camera work, and a story line that you might have anticipated coming from a Troma or Full Moon release.
This "sequel" follows a unit of the Mobile Infantry once again fighting those damn bugs on a desolate planet. Since the film doesn't have the budget to provide lots of CGI effects, we get a recycled "Body Snatchers" plot where the bugs have found a way to take over our bodies and control our minds (how original!). With the squad holed up in tight confines, the good guys (including big-name topliners Richard Burgi and Colleen Porch) try and sort out the human comrades from human-wannabes.
"Starship Troopers 2" does boast a superb, deliberately old-fashioned score by John Morgan and William Stromberg, but it ultimately clashes with the threadbare production, which makes a typical Cinemax "After Dark" effort look like the work of Orson Welles by comparison. The cast tries hard, but the camera coverage and angles are so awkward that the movie is painful to watch. For anyone wanting to continue the "Starship Troopers" franchise, do yourself a favor and track down any one of the "Roughnecks: Starship Troopers" animated series discs, and bypass this follow-up by any means necessary.
Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a 1.78 widescreen transfer that looks decent, though the cinematography often appears soft and grainy. The 5.1 sound is better, with Morgan and Stromberg's score working overtime to give the project any kind of cinematic feel. Supplements include two Making Of featurettes, a photo gallery, and group commentary with the filmmakers, who seem to think their movie is a lot more incisive and entertaining than it actually is.
Adam Sandler's most successful starring vehicle was "The Wedding Singer," where the comedian starred alongside Drew Barrymore. The movie was funny and charming, and so it was no surprise that Sandler opted to reunite with Drew for his latest comedy, "50 First Dates," which is less satisfying than their earlier collaboration though superior to Sandler's recent output just the same.
Peter Segal's film, written by George Wing, stars Sandler as a happy-go-lucky Hawaii marine biologist who falls for a girl (Barrymore) he spies at a local restaurant. She's everything he's looking for and vice versa, yet something's definitely amiss when she doesn't recognize him the next morning. It turns out that Barrymore has been suffering from a form of short-term memory loss, caused when she and her father were involved in a car accident. Over a year later, she wakes up the next morning with no memory of what happened following the accident, and relives the same day over and over -- sort of like "Groundhog Day."
Like any Sandler film, there are some amusing gags sprinkled
though in "50 First Dates" the jokes tend to clash with a sweet if
serious romantic story line. Rob Schneider's antics as one of Sandler's
buddies and Sean Astin's lisp-laden performance as Barrymore's brother
end up missing the mark more than striking it, at least from a comedic
angle, and end up contrasting with the rest of the movie more than
Still, at its center, "50 First Dates" is an entertaining, colorful comedy-drama with an effectively dialed-down Sandler performance. Barrymore seems to bring out the best in the star, and the result was a box-office hit that reaches too high and hard at times, but manages to satisfy as long as you don't take it too seriously.
Columbia TriStar's DVD sports a glorious 2.40 Widescreen transfer, preserving the lovely Hawaiian locales. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is just fine, and special features include a commentary with director Peter Segal and Barrymore that's standard-issue DVD chat-track, several deleted scenes with optional commentary, music videos, gag reel, a Comedy Central special, and a featurette entitled "Talkin' Pidgin."
Terry Zwigoff directed this raunchy holiday comedy which cashed in a few bucks at the box-office last December. Now out on DVD in matching R-rated and Unrated versions, "Bad Santa" provides enough laughs to overcome its sometimes crass and disgusting script.
Billy Bob Thornton plays a thief who travels with diminutive partner Tony Cox from city to city, breaking into banks and stealing holiday funds from one mall after another. While the dynamic duo pursue their aspirations, Thornton meets a chubby youngster (Brett Kelly) beaten up by his peers, a bartender (Lauren Graham) turned on by his Santa Claus outfit, and a wacky mall security detective (Bernie Mac, in a role that never pays off). How Thornton tutors Kelly in the ways of self-defense and over- indulging himself in brooze and broads makes for some funny, albeit somewhat uncomfortable, comic situations in Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's script, which was executive-produced by Joel and Ethan Coen.
Make no mistake, "Bad Santa" is a movie intentionally mired in bad taste and not recommended for anyone turned off by the recent glut of gross-out comedies. Still, Thornton's performance is on-target and the movie amusing enough to work as a recommended view for those with a tolerance for the material.
Dimension's Unrated DVD offers some five minutes of additional footage and other instances of re-edited material throughout the film. The 1.85 transfer is perfect and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound excellent, with special features including deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes, a gag reel, and a fluffy Making Of featurette.
Special kudos go out to David Kitay's effective soundtrack, which contrasts perfectly with the outlandish gags. Movie buffs may note the use of Bizet's "Carmen" in the score, interpolated in much the same way that Jerry Fielding utilized it for "The Bad News Bears." I also couldn't help but note the irony that Thornton has recently signed to star in the remake of -- you guessed it -- "The Bad News Bears"!
From: David J. Moraza
HI ANDY. JUST READ YOUR REVIEW OF THE RELEASE OF 'THE DAY OF THE LOCUST' (ONE OF MY FAVORITE FILMS.) GREAT REVIEW. THE FILM WAS A FINANCIAL FLOP WHEN IT CAME OUT, PEOPLE STAYED AWAY IN DROVES. I THOUGHT THE FILM DESERVED MUCH MORE RECOGNITION FROM THE ACADEMY IN THE TECHNICAL CATEGORIES, COMPARED WITH THE FINAL SET OF NOMINATIONS THAT YEAR.
I WATCHED THE GREAT CONRAD HALL ACTUALLY FILM A PART OF IT FOR ONE NIGHT OF FILMING. ON HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD THERE WAS IN 1974, AN OLD RUN-DOWN MINIATURE GOLF/ PING-PONG OUTDOOR MINI- PLAYLAND. IT WAS 'SPRUCED UP' FOR THE FILMING AND IT WAS THE BRIEF SCENE WHERE KAREN BLACK ASKS THE COWBOY IF HE HAS ANY MONEY AND HE TELLS HER HE'S FLAT BROKE. SHE SAYS TO HIM SHE'S TIRED OF HIM 'SPONGING ALL THE TIME' AND SHE AND WILLIAM ATHERTON LEAVE IN ATHERTON'S CAR. IT WAS AMAZING TO WATCH THE FILMING, THOUGH AT THAT TIME, I WASN'T AWARE OF THE FILMMAKERS INVOLVED. THE PLACE WAS TORN DOWN JUST AFTER THE FILMING. JUST THOUGHT I'D SHARE.
GREAT REVIEW OF 'GOODBYE, COLUMBUS' AS WELL. ONE OF THE 5 MOST MEMORABLE FILMS FOR ME FROM MY SCHOOL DAYS. THANKS FOR MENTIONING THE FILMS TO OTHERS!