Mini Reviews (August 2002)
Anatomy, Entangled, Zombie, The Courtyard, A Map of the World, Sunshine State, Death Wish 4, Live and Let Die, Not Another Teen Movie, Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th
Anatomy (August 3/02)
Anatomy's central concept - people are dissected while they're still alive - is probably a huge fear for anyone that's ever gone in for surgery. That premise is so strong and so creepy, that it keeps the film afloat even during its conventional slasher movie conclusion. Franka Potente stars as a bright pre-med student who, as the film opens, learns that she has been accepted at a highly prestigious medical school. Upon arriving, she soon discovers that the competition is going to be tougher than she might have expected. She delves into her work, but is unable to restrain her curiosity surrounding an unexplained death. Surprise, surprise - turns out folks are being operated on while still alive; the question is, by who? And why? Anatomy starts off great, with Potente's arrival at the school interspersed with sequences involving soon-to-be-operated-on victims awaking in a sinister-looking metallic room. There's also some good stuff with Potente's classmates, and their relationships with each other. But after a fairly intriguing explanation for the odd method of medical research, the film essentially turns into another Scream-type flick - with Potente running around trying to escape a psycho killer. Still, Potente is good and the atmosphere is effectively creepy, so Anatomy just might be worth a look.
Entangled (August 12/02)
Ah, Judd Nelson thrillers. There are so many of them, with many more on the way. This one casts him as an American living in Paris, struggling to complete his new novel. We soon discover how he met his current girlfriend (he crumpled up a bad review of his first book in a fit of rage, and threw it into her coffee) and learn of their peculiar predicament. See, ol' Judd thinks she's having an affair (which wouldn't be surprising, since she's a gorgeous model and he's Judd Nelson) and winds up accidentally killing the man he suspects of screwing her. Oh, but wait; it turns out she was just shooting a risque advertising campaign and was sworn to secrecy. Entangled takes about 90 minutes to tell a story that could've easily been told in about 15, but nevertheless remains sort of entertaining. This is in spite of director Max Fischer's over-the-top sense of style; he makes the similar named protagonist of Rushmore's adaptation of Heaven and Hell look restrained by comparison. And Pierce Brosnan is inexplicably here, too, as ... well, I'm still not sure what his deal was. He would pop up every now and then, do something sinister, and recede into the night.
Zombie (August 12/02)
I'm really beginning to wonder why Lucio Fulci is regarded as an above-average horror director. The New York Ripper was a horrible mess of terrible acting, disgusting gore, and laughable dialogue. Zombie suffers from the same three problems, but it's not quite as bad as The New York Ripper. The basic plot is this: A mad scientist has created a method of raising the dead, but his creation winds up out of control and out of his hands when undead zombies start showing up and eating people. The daughter of said mad scientist, along with a nosy journalist, travel to the island where he's been performing his experiments in the hope of finding out what happened to him. The biggest problem with Zombie is the complete lack of gore up until about an hour into the flick. While there are a few instances of violence before then - that infamous zombie-fighting-a-shark sequence is one of them - the entire midsection of the film is essentially disposable and incredibly boring. Finally, towards the end, we get an all-out zombie attack and the flick finally becomes interesting and (dare I say it) exciting. But really, it's just not worth the first hour that you have to sit through to get there. Having said that, there are some creatively disgusting methods of dispatching victims here, most notably the woman who winds up with an eyeful of broken wood. As good as that was, though, the horrible acting, uneven pacing, and truly awful dialogue negates anything positive about the movie.
The Courtyard (August 13/02)
Here's an odd one. This Andrew McCarthy thriller is well made (it doesn't look like the cheesy low budget thriller it is and actually contains some good performances), but contains so many obnoxiously quirky characters and truly idiotic plot twists, that the film winds up sucking in spite of the above average production values. McCarthy stars as a successful architect who's just moved into a Melrose Place-esque apartment building in Los Angeles. One night, he hears some strange noises coming from a nearby apartment, and walks to the front of the building and calls said apartment on the intercom (why he didn't just knock on their door is beyond me). Anyway, he tells the mysterious man who picks up that he's in the apartment across from his (a lie) and soon finds out that the actual inhabitant of that apartment has been murdered. Meanwhile, McCarthy's begun a romance with a beautiful but mysterious woman (Madchen Amick), who just happens to be the victim's sister. After the murder, McCarthy begins acting very suspicious (for no apparent reason) which causes the detective on the case (Cheech Marin) to suspect him. It's an interesting enough plot, but it's completely undone by completely out-of-left-field behaviour by McCarthy. Why doesn't he just tell the police exactly what he knows right from the get go? Sure, he's interested in Amick and doesn't want her to know that he's responsible for her brother's death, but doesn't the threat of prison time supercede the feelings of a girl he just met? And when all's said and done, the identity of the killer isn't quite as exciting as we might have hoped. And his/her rationale for killing all those people is just dumb. But like I said, The Courtyard is surprisingly well made, so if you don't mind the stupidity of the characters, you'll probably dig this.
A Map of the World (August 24/02)
A Map of the World is an odd movie in that its central character isn't particularly likable. She openly professes to hating her oldest daughter, makes fun of handicapped people, and generally tends to say the absolute worst thing at any given moment. But as played by Sigourney Weaver, she becomes an absolutely compelling character - if only because we want to see how she'll stick her foot in her mouth next. The fairly simple storyline - Weaver plays a wife and mother of two who's sent to prison for a reason that may or may not be valid - is certainly stretched quite thin over the two hour running time. But the movie remains watchable, mostly due to Weaver's amazing central performance. After being imprisoned, she doesn't freak out or react like we would expect her to; rather, she treats the whole thing like a vacation from her hectic everyday life (sort of like that Simpsons where Marge goes to Rancho Relaxo). The great David Strathairn is basically wasted as Weaver's semi-loyal and perpetually confused husband. And Julianne Moore delivers yet another fantastic performance as a bereaved mother who pops up every now and then, but really, this is Weaver's show. So unless you're a huge fan of hers, the sub-par material probably won't entice you into seeing the film.
Sunshine State (August 24/02)
Sunshine State, the new film by writer/director John Sayles, contains a lot of elements that'll be familiar to his fans - a loose plot with over a dozen characters that inhabit a small community. But unlike something along the lines of Limbo, Sunshine State never really becomes anything more than a showcase for some extraordinary acting and the occasional glimpse into an interesting life. It's entertaining enough, but it's awfully slow-paced and contains large chunks that just aren't that interesting. The whole thing revolves around land development in Florida - a subject which is, putting it kindly, not exactly enthralling. Still, there's no denying that Sayles' has a great ear for dialogue and as always, he's matched his script with some great actors. Timothy Hutton gives one of his best performances as an architect who falls in love with a local motel manager (Edie Falco). He's got a great scene with Falco where the two canoe around the swamps of the town; stuff like that, that dealt with relationships and not the land problems, are what make Sunshine State worth watching. And Angela Bassett, as a former resident of the town who's come back to visit, is equally effective. But as good as all the performances are, they just can't make up for the fact that it's just too darn long. Sunshine State clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, which I suppose would have been wonderful if I had been wrapped up in the story. Alas, I wasn't and several sequences seemed to drag on and on. Having said that, in this era of increasingly mind-numbingly stupid movies, a director like Sayles - who absolutely refuses to create a mainstream film - should be applauded.
Death Wish 4 (August 25/02)
What can I really say about Death Wish 4? It's the sort of film that, if you rent it, you'll get exactly what the box promises: Senseless violence and lots of it. Charles Bronson reprises the role of Paul Kersey, even though his entire family was wiped out long ago. But he's dating a new woman now and she's got family, so that's good enough. More specifically, her daughter overdoses on a bad batch of drugs, so ol' Chuck decides to go after the drug dealers and kingpins. Death Wish 4 isn't a particularly good movie, but for mindless action, it works. The sequences in which Bronson investigates the drug scene are fairly dull; luckily, a violent interlude is never too far away. My favorite: After showing a picture of the dead girl to a prominent drug dealer and asking him if he knows who she is, Bronson says "I do" and casually shoots him the chest with a machine gun. It's stuff like that that makes Death Wish 4 checking out.
Live and Let Die (August 27/02)
Live and Let Die is not only a terrible James Bond flick, it's just a terrible movie period. And the fact that this was Roger Moore's first attempt at the character is astounding. Even George Lazenby's On Her Majesty's Secret Service was way better than this. The movie has something to do with an evil drug kingpin (played by Yaphet Kotto) who doesn't even want world domination (always a bad thing in a Bond film). No, all he wants is to be the biggest drug dealer in North America. Live and Let Die is missing so many elements that make these films enjoyable - an over-the-top bad guy, gigantic and gaudy sets, etc. - that it completely fails on every level. And as a villian, Kotto sucks. He's not sinister at all (to quote Dr. Evil, the man is quasi-evil), and spends a good portion of the film pretending to be another character named Mr. Big. Sporting the cheesiest little mask, I had to wonder if we were supposed to be clueless as to Kotto's secondary identity. The various actors playing his henchman are just awful, which seriously undermines any sequence in which they're supposed to be menacing. Finally, the character of Sheriff Pepper is introduced here - he's the ultra-irritating redneck cop that would pop up in a few other Bond flicks - and he's just the final nail in the coffin that is Live and Let Die.
Not Another Teen Movie (August 31/02)
Well, well, well. After Scary Movie and it's completely dreadful sequel, I would've thought the teen parody genre was dead. But Not Another Teen Movie, though it's nowhere near something like Airplane! or The Naked Gun, proves to be surprisingly entertaining and good for a few laughs. The film's storyline echoes the recent teen movie disaster She's All That, with a thoughtless jock betting that he can take the ugliest girl in school to the prom. Of course, she's not actually ugly and the jock has a heart of gold. But that's just a springboard for a virtually non-stop barrage of jokes and gags - mostly inspired by other teen flicks. Obviously, the best part in the entire film is that Breakfast Club parody that was in the trailer, but there are a surprising amount of other jokes that work just as well. Though a lot of gags are of the gross-out, American Pie variety, the movie remains watchable due mostly to the energetic cast and rapid-fire pace. And hey, any flick that features Molly Ringwald as a character that hates teenagers is okay in my books.
Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th
But on the other hand, there's this mess. Whereas Not Another Teen Movie was an intelligent and generally funny parody movie, Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th is completely and utterly devoid of anything resembling an effective joke (or anything of any worthwhile value, really). There's not much to say about this one; every single gag falls completely flat - even though it's parodying a lot of the same flicks that Not Another Teen Movie went after. The actors seem to be trying, but with a script this horrible, Marlon Brando himself (and I'm talking old school Brando, not The Island of Dr. Moreau Brando here) would've come off amateurish. Imagine the lamest joke you've ever heard and then stretch it out to around an hour and fifteen minutes, and you'll have a vague conception of how excruciating it was to sit through this miserable flick.