New on Video for the Weekend of
Toy Story 2
It was originally supposed to be a direct to video sequel, but when the Disney execs saw a chance to make a boat-load of dough, they decided to release it as a full length feature film. That decision turned out to be good for us. If you haven't seen Toy Story 2, rent it this weekend.
Woody (Tom Hanks), a cowboy doll, is looking forward to his annual retreat to cowboy camp with his child owner, Andy. However, he gets damaged and left behind to stay on the shelf with other broken toys. Woody finds his way off the shelf, but is promptly stolen by Al (Wayne Knight), and evil collector who recognizes Woody as a rare and valuable toy.
Will Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the gang be able to save Woody, or will he never return home to Andy again?
This one is great for the adults as well as the kids. At the heart of the film is a great plot about friends who will go to any length to help each other and a nice satire about those who want to collect toys for profit rather than for play. Also, writers Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlain and Chris Webb are able to add a great deal of depth to the characters as they struggle with their toy mortality and the awful truth that, someday, their owners will grow up to be adults and no longer need them.
This one has got it all - great music, great acting, a great script. Also, check out the "bloopers" at the end of the film and try to catch all the movie references. Grade: A
Rules of Engagement
Remember how much you liked A Few Good Men? Too bad this is no A Few Good Men no matter how hard Samuel L. Jackson tries to be Jack Nicholson, which lessens his otherwise strong performance.
Jackson stars as a Marine Commander, Terry Childress, sent to Yemen in response to a civil protest that is getting out of hand outside the doors of the American Embassy. American intelligence and even the Ambassador (Ben Kingsley) don't feel the situation is dangerous, just in need of a show of force. However, Childress arrives as the violence is escalating and the embassy is under fire from snipers and, maybe, the civil protest. Jackson orders his troops to fight back, and the crowd is massacred.
Did Childress order the killing of innocent women and children? Was the civil protest full of snipers who were shooting, and therefore, was Jackson's action justified? Will Childress be court-martialed and jailed?
Tommy Lee Jones is pretty good as Hayes Hodges, Childress' defense lawyer and the friend Childress saved in Vietnam, but the film suffers from being too long and forcing a questionable ending upon the audience. Rules of Engagement starts with a long flashback to Vietnam in 1968 to show how Childress saved Hodges' life, but it is not necessary. Throughout the movie, Director William Friedkin uses the flashback device to help move the plot along, so why not use the device to show key scenes of this moment, instead of a long opening that gives us a little too much information.
Finally, it is the ending that discourages me from recommending the film. Without giving it away, the evidence in the court martial case clearly points to one outcome, but the movie gives us a different one that is implausible. Grade: C-
New on Video for the Weekend of
I heard mixed reviews about this film when it hit theaters last spring, but I can't understand why it would receive a negative review.
Matthew McConaughy keeps his clothes on and avoids playing the bongos as he stars as Andy Tyler, the second in command on a submarine during the spring of 1942. The Nazis are decimating the allied fleet and the War is at an important crossroads. If the Allies can't figure out how to beat the German U-boats (submarines), they could lose the war.
A German U-boat is adrift at sea after sustaining heavy damage. The Allies feel they can capture it before a rescue ship can re-supply the sub. It's a dangerous gamble, but commanding officer Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) is prepared to take his men into Nazi waters disguised as a German U-boat to complete the mission. If they can seize it, the Allies can crack the Nazi message encryption code and turn the tide of the war.
Will they succeed?
U-571 is the ultimate guy's movie! War, submarines, secret missions and stuff blowing up makes the male blood flow. Even though there are some scenes that look better in the big screen, the movie plays great on video. Director Jonathan Mostow benefits from a talented ensemble cast including Harvey Keitel as the elder, experience chief of operations and Jon "he gives love a bad name" Bon Jovi as Tyler's pal. McConaughy is great as the passed over second in command who must face the challenge of doing the job his commanding officer didn't feel he had the experience to do. No one tries to steal the movie and each understands his role for the greater good. The taught plot keeps you interested right up until the end and will keep you rooting for the Americans, but this mostly true story changes some of the facts in a way that angers our Ally, Great Britain.
The story closely resembles the May 9, 1941 battle between the Royal Navy's HMS Aubretia attacked and crippled the German U-boat U-110. The Captain ordered his second in command to board her to and seek any intelligence information that could be found. Because I don't want to ruin the end of the movie for you, I won't tell you the rest of the story.
Go rent this tonight! Grade: A-
New on Video for the Weekend of
Black and White
I think every person who rents this movie should bring it over to my apartment. We'll put them in a pile and burn every copy so no one is subjected to this wretched piece of garbage ever again.
Bijou Phillips stars as Charley, a privileged white teenager who is fascinated with African-Americans. She and her friends hang out with a group of African-American gangsters, led by Richie (Oli "Power" Grant), to imitate them and the lifestyle they lead. Along the way, a pair of documentary filmmakers, Sam (Brooke Shields) and Terry (Robert Downey, Jr.), decide to follow the group in an effort to study white kids who immerse themselves in the hip hop culture and discover a dark side.
Writer/Director James Toback pulls a trifecta in this one. First, he has written one of the worst screenplays in recent memory. Every plot line is predictable and every character is one-dimensional. Second, the film is full of the worst editing I have seen. Scenes look like they have been formed by combining different takes in a fruitless effort to get the best possible performances. While this is used with some positive effect, there are other times when it is obviously a case of shoddy work. Third, Toback has chosen the worst troupe of actors and actresses ever assembled.
Bijou Phillips' squeaky, high-pitched voice is so annoying it feels like a nail being driven straight through my skull. She can't act. Phillips has no ability to show any dimension of her character. Oli "Power" Grant seems to be stuck in monotone mode as he sleepwalks through every scene and annunciates his dialogue like he has a mouth full of applesauce. And someone should tell basketball-player-turned-actor Allen Houston to keep practicing his foul shots. The rest of the cast is full of recognizable faces (Shields, Downey, Marla Maples, Claudia Schiffer, and Ben Stiller) desperately trying to get their acting and street cred, but they chose the wrong flick. Grade: Z (because an 'F' doesn't begin to tell you how bad this film is!).
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Is this supposed to be a comedy or a drama? While other movies are able to deftly walk the line between the two, 28 Days fails.
Sandra Bullock stars as Gwen, a Manhattanite with a drinking and drug problem. She finally hits bottom when she gets drunk at her sister's wedding, steals a limo and crashes into a house. That episode gets her charged with DUI and the choice between 28 days in rehab or jail.
Gwen gets the rehab time, but can she conquer her addiction?
This movie is full of too many people. We learn about Gwen's roommate Andrea (Azura Skye), her boyfriend (Dominic West), the annoying guy hitting on her (Mike O'Malley), the guy who she wants to hit on her (Viggo Mortenson), her counselor (Gary Buscemi) and many more. Unfortunately, the excessive number of characters means the audience doesn't learn enough about anyone to care about them.
While we get several quick, uninformative flashbacks, the audience doesn't get to know enough about Gwen. What does she do for a living? How does she feel about her mother's faults? What has her sister done to help her? The movie needs that focus of one person's battle and history to make it more interesting. Without it, we are left with several promising, but underdeveloped stories and characters. In particular, I want to know more about Buscemi's character. He had the best performance in the film and the history that led him to the job was very interesting. Unfortunately, we never learn enough about where he is today and don't enough interaction between him and Gwen.
Also, I think the movie needs to settle on a tone. The funny parts are very entertaining and could be balanced by some doses of drama, but those interludes are too heavy. Most of the time, they feel as if they have been placed in the film to give that actor a chance to take the spotlight, but it should be focused on Bullock. Grade: C-
Did you ever wonder what happened to the ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends in your life?
Based on a book by Nick Hornby (originally set in London), Rob (John Cusack) is a list obsessed, music loving, owner of a second rate record store in a run down section of Chicago. He spends his days with his music snob employees (Tood Louiso and Jack Black), and just lost his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle). This trauma is forcing him to investigate the meaning of it all. You know, why have all of relationships failed? What happened to all those women? Will he ever find THE ONE? Seeking the answers, Rob takes a stroll down memory lane to examine his past relationships.
Will he get Laura back?
I like this movie. Cusack is wonderful in his little side confessions to the audience. On the big screen, this might be intimidating, but on video, it makes the film feel more intimate like you are really having a conversation with a close friend. Cusack, who also served as a screenwriter for the film, creates a funny, sad, complicated character that resembles most of the guys I know. He's a good guy, who does stupid stuff, so you want him to succeed.
Unfortunately, the movie is about 20 minutes too long. It comes to its natural conclusion at about 1 hour and thirty minutes, but adds 20 minutes worth of scenes, which don't add much to our enjoyment and don't change the end of the film. Great cameos by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and Tim Robbins. Grade: A-
New on Video for the Weekend of
Mission to Mars
Someone wake me up. I just rented Mission to Mars.
The first indication that a movie stinks is when the jacket is covered with quotes from movie reviewers that you never heard of. I don't know who Paul Wonder of WBAI Radio is, but if he thinks this movie is "Thrilling!", he saw the wrong movie.
The second indication that a movie stinks is when the promotional materials for the film try to remind you who an actor is by listing a stupid credit next to his name. Tim Robbins (Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is better known for Bull Durham or The Shawshank Redemption, not his small cameo in that movie. Even though the signs were there, I plowed full steam ahead.
Of course, I lost steam and caught up on my sleep about 30 minutes into the movie.
Set 20 years in the future, Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Jerry O'Connell and crew are astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars. Each has a tear-jerking backstory. Cheadle has left his family behind to take on the 2-year mission. Sinise lost the love of his life and his spot on the mission. Robbins has studied his entire life on how to colonize Mars, but is the second choice.
Once on Mars, Cheadle's team runs into trouble, forcing NASA to send Robbins, Sinise, O'Connell and Robbins' character's wife to Mars on a rescue mission.
What will they find on the planet's surface?
The movie is just fine up, even if it is very sappy, until that point, but director Brian DePalma puts too much focus on a strange plot twist that endangers the Robbins/Sinise crew before they reach the planet. This throws off the entire movie and makes it very clear that the script should have been better developed to contain more action on the surface as Sinise tries to solve the "mystery" behind the Cheadle crew's disappearance. If that doesn't prove it, the silly ending that feels like it was written by a thirteen year old will.
In a rush to beat Red Planet (a similar movie that is coming out this fall) to theaters, Touchstone Pictures (a Disney company) wrapped this one ASAP. Maybe a little more time in development would have led to a better script, characters who were more than cliches and some better special effects. For an action film, this one lacks action and is plagued by emotional flatness. Grade: D
The Little Mermaid II
Ariel's young daughter wants to be a mermaid, so she heads back to the sea and meets up with so no-gooders.
I wish I could tell you what I thought about the video, but I didn't see it and I'm a little upset by it. You think the company that I work for would send me the freakin' video. Yes, I am indirectly employed by Disney since I serve as the Promotions and Marketing Director for WMAL-AM, which is owned by ABC, which is owned by Disney. If you think that biases me, check out my review of Mission to Mars, a Touchstone movie. Touchstone is owned by Disney, and I still think the movie stinks. The day they tell me what to say is the day I quit and run to the newspaper with the story.
I'm not tooting my own horn, but I am the #1 video reviewer on Washington, DC radio, and they dissed me just like every other major video company. I guess being the #1 video reviewer is like being the best wallpaper hanger. No one cares.
New on Video for the Weekend of
Any Given Sunday
This one came out last Friday, but I never got a chance to see it. Not that I missed anything by waiting.
If this film was made 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been considered groundbreaking and controversial. However, in a world of ESPN, Fox Sports, tell all books and sports talk radio, the stories this film tries to use to horrify us are all too familiar.
Al Pacino stars as Tony D'Amato, the legendary coach of the Miami Sharks. The Sharks have won the championship many times behind the leadership of Quarterback Jack "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid) and linebacker Luther 'Shark' Lavay (Lawrence Taylor). However, time and the game have taken their toll. Both men are past their prime and the team is on a four game losing streak that threatens their playoff chances.
During one critical game, Cap goes down with a painful, possibly career ending injury. With nowhere to turn, D'Amato must call upon third string journeyman Willie Beaman (Jaimee Fox) to lead the team. He turns out to be a superstar with lots of talent and lost of attitude.
Can Beaman hold the team together and lead them to playoffs? Will Coach D'Amato be able to keep his job?
This could have been a good film, but writer/director Oliver Stone tries too hard. He introduces so many sub-plots and supporting characters that a full 2 ½ hours isn't enough to cover all the bases. Some interesting characters, like James Woods as the team trainer, could have provided an interesting story, but there is not enough time to fully explore this opportunity. Instead, we are left with some cliched tales about the aging star who just wants to play one more game and the young colt who has trouble dealing with new found success.
Also, the film is over-edited. Stone provides so much visual stimulation that I got dizzy. Every scene is filled with multiple camera angles, symbolic footage and tape from great football players of years past. After awhile, you just want to scream at Stone and plead with him to just let you see one scene from start to finish without the distractions.
Pacino (who studied Joe Paterno for the role) puts in a great performance as the proud, lonely, once great coach, and Jamie Fox (filling in for Puff Daddy when he jumped ship) is excellent as the young, arrogant, talented, budding superstar. Unfortunately, we get too much of Lawrence Taylor, who's fine, but not an actor, and too little of LL Cool J, who is great as the third superstar who sees the spotlight, and lots of bucks, slip away. Grade: C
The gory film that Leonardo DiCaprio turned down comes out this week. Christian Bale stars as a young, ambitious Mahattanite who likes to kill.
New On Video For The Weekend of
The Big Kahuna
After an Oscar winning turn in American Beauty, could Kevin Spacey amaze us with his next film? I think he did.
Danny DeVito is a veteran lubricant salesman who is entering the twilight of his career. Years on the job have taken their toll on his marriage and spirit. He has been joined by two of his collegues - Bob (Peter Facinelli), a naïve, wide-eyed, deeply religious green horn and Larry (Kevin Spacey), a smooth talking, charismatic, live or die by the business deal superstar vet - at a major business conference in Wichita. The three are there to close the deal of a lifetime, but they face great difficulty in finding The Big Kahuna - the president of a major company that buys their product.
Will they find The Big Kahuna? Will they kill each other first?
Spacey and DeVito are amazing in this film. Spacey leaps off the screen as a lively, but desperate man who loves doing business. He needs it like a drug. Spacey grasps the complexity of the character and shows his good side and ugly side.
Where Spacey is loud and vibrant as Larry, DeVito captures his character's understated dignity. Phil used to be like Larry, but he has come to a crossroad in his life that makes him realize that life is more than money and deals. DeVito seizes the audience's attention with his quiet demeanor that is backed up with years of regret and self-loathing. It's great to watch the two thespians play off each other. You should check it out this weekend. Grade: A-
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