Watching Universal’s “”The Mummy Returns,”” the much-hyped sequel to the studio’s blockbuster hit, you will believe that a long-dead mummy actually could be resurrected from the dead. Unfortunately, that’s primarily because after having to swallow a number of illogical plot devices from jet-powered hot air balloons to pygmy mummy skeletons that prowl a lost oasis, the resurrection of the long-dead Imhotep becomes the most plausible event you’ll find in this ludicrous bomb.
Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and the majority of the original cast return for yet another adventure set ten years after the first film, though very little has changed in their lives. Rick (Fraser) and Evie (Weisz), now married, are the proud parents of young Alex O’Connell (Freddie Boath), a headstrong, inquisitive boy who inherited his sense of adventure from nowhere strange. On a family dig, the O’Connells discover a bracelet that’s rumored to contain the spirit of a legendary warrior, The Scorpion King (Dwayne “”The Rock”” Johnson), who sold his soul in exchange for a crucial victory. They bring the bracelet back with them to their mansion in London, and it’s here that the couple is reunited with Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and the ominous Ardeth Bay (Oded Behr), the desert warrior sworn to protect the world from the resurrected Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). Apparently the bracelet is the just beginning of the O’Connells’ trouble. Another group, led by the incarnated soul of Imhotep’s lover Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velazquez), plan to once again resurrect the all-powerful mummy. They hope Imhotep can defeat The Scorpion King, thereby controlling the army of Anubis, lethal dog-like soldiers that the King controlled in his prime. However, before the goons can get to the bracelet, young Alex tries it on and it locks to his wrist. A harrowing chase through the streets of London on a double-decker bus results in the forces of evil kidnapping the boy and his valuable accessory. Rick, Evie, Jonathan and Ardeth pursue, unsure whether they can defeat both Imhotep and a rejuvenated Scorpion King.While adequate at best, the original “”Mummy”” stands head and shoulders above this loose, unfocused mess that borrows liberally from various predecessors like “”The Lost World”” and even “”Titanic,”” but fails to tie them together in a cohesive manner. Decent action sequences like the aforementioned bus chase, while choppy and loud, still can’t distract from the nonsensical plot, which begs the audience to take some unexplained phenomenon for granted in order to shuffle the story along. In any other summer film, certain plot holes could be accepted, almost expected. We don’t attend the summer blockbusters for their depth or insight, but for their power and might. For the most part, the acting throughout “”Mummy Returns”” is fine. However, like the first “”Mummy,”” the sequel’s digital effects look rough, unfinished and fake. The incomplete Imhotep appears polished and ready for battle, but the Scorpion King, the film’s ace-in-the-hole villain, is hilariously horrific. Playstation games boast better graphics then the ones used to manifest this monster. Universal plans to release a Scorpion king movie next summer. One can only hope they learn how to create the character clearly before they build a feature around him.””Mummy Returns”” feels bloated and silly, and Stephen Sommers deserves most of the blame. A second-rate director, he buries his halfway decent material with an overabundance of shots that actually disrupt his timing. The best example happens in what could have been the film’s sharpest joke, seen properly in an early trailer. Evie, fleeing from mummy soldiers, drags a bench in front of a door. Rick reminds her that these guys don’t use doors, and on cue, the creatures bust through the wall. However, in the finished product, Sommers disrupts the timing on the joke, inserting shots of a stammering Jonathan and Alex between Rick’s line and subsequent shot of the mummies destroying the wall. The sequence, like the movie itself, needs a good edit to salvage the finer points from the clutter.
As far removed from mainstream movies as its protagonist is from society’s norms, “”Hedwig and the Angry Inch”” is the story of a flamboyant, visionary glam-rocker (the persona of writer, director and star John Cameron Mitchell) whose botched sex-change operation left him neither male nor female, with just an “”angry inch.”” Hedwig’s drag-queen appearance, in glittery, exaggerated makeup and platinum-blond Farrah Fawcett wig, is nothing short of bizarre–he’s a skinny Divine. Yet his talent as a performer and his unabashed, heart-on-the-sleeve humanity make this flick stick despite some slack passages.
Glass House starts with a fairly routine premise, sports the stylish, almost clinical look of the typical “”Danger Right Under Your Nose”” thriller, yet never crosses the threshold into the realm of predictability. While far from original, it does side-step plot holes that I thought would inevitably swallow up the entire production. Instead it arrives, somewhat jostled – but intact to its inevitable conclusion.
And it’s delivered safely by young Leelee Sobieski, a bona fide star on the rise. Earlier roles in “”Here On Earth,”” “”Never Been Kissed”” and Stanley Kubrick’s “”Eyes Wide Shut”” have had the angelic beauty braving cancer, geekdom and a libidinous Tom Cruise, in that order. “”House”” allows her to let her board-straight hair down and act like a teenager, quite possibly for the first time in her professional career. Ruby Baker (Sobieski) could be the model teenager. Her life revolves around her girlfriends, she sneaks cigarettes while cruising the Strip, she loathes her meddlesome younger brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan), and she has the type of parents (Rita Wilson, Michael O’Keefe) that are too casual and understanding to be true. Her world is put on hold, though, when Ruby returns home one evening to learn that her parents were killed in a car accident after celebrating their 10th anniversary.The Bakers’ will stipulates that Ruby and Rhett are to live with Terry and Erin Glass (Stellan Skarsgard, Diane Lane), the family’s longtime neighbors who have since moved to a plush Pacific hideaway in Malibu. Not parents themselves, the Glasses successfully attempt to buy Rhett’s love with Nintendo and flashy gizmos throughout the house. Ruby, however, is slow to warm to her new guardians, and with good reason. The suspicious couple barely disguise the fact the they’re withholding secrets. Erin sports a heroine chic glaze to her eyes that she credits to Diabetes, and Terry’s rarely without a short glass filled with vodka on ice. Ruby digs a little below the couple’s surface, and uncovers enough clues to assume the Glasses may have been responsible for her parents’ deaths and are now after the children’s $4 million inheritance.Like any decent thriller, “”House”” keeps its cards close to its vest as long as it can. Terry and Erin’s abnormal behavior is explained with flimsy, but feasible, reasoning, and Ruby’s various attempts to solicit help from outside parties are foiled, though not through any clever devices. However, a running subplot and countless references to Shakespeare’s “”Hamlet”” continuously remind us that something, indeed, is rotten in the state of the Glass house before the film drops its veil and gives way to being a straight-shooting revenge drama.TV director Daniel Sackheim relies heavily on old-fashioned tricks to conjure up a commotion and establish mood. It rains more in this film than it has in southern California this entire year. When not doctoring the picture’s pitch, Sackheim slings strangely perverse material at us. We’re treated to PG-13-testing shots of Leelee in her bra and bikini as she swims at 3 a.m., all so lecherous Terry can ogle her as only a foster father can. It’s strange, not because the film tries to get its attractive lead into skimpy outfits, but because Sobieski allows it. Having already established herself as a talented, classy actress, this just seems like a minor step backwards. Most of “”House”” feels silly. When the long-lost uncle (Chris Noth) introduces himself at the parents’ funeral, you know he’ll turn up later, but when Ruby finally calls him for help, he’s out of the country. And the gifted Lane, who’s itching for that breakout role, does very little with the chemically-dependent money whore Erin, a character that could have been a carnival ride of emotions for the right actress. Still, “”House”” holds your interest, thanks to Wesley Strick’s surprising screenplay, which earns points for avoiding what I originally thought to be obvious foreshadowings and unavoidable cliches. One thing I couldn’t get over, though, was the blatant corporate product placements. Perhaps doubting Sobieski’s ability to open her own film, “”House”” obviously took on some sponsors to guarantee a little up-front cash. So when Terry drives his silver Jaguar while under the influence of Kettle One vodka (his drink of choice), you can be sure Ruby is going to e-mail somebody about it from her IBM laptop. Shameless. Grade: C-
With “”Spy Game,”” you get two movies for the price of one, though only one works its way to a satisfactory conclusion. The first, and more substantial, of the two occurs through flashbacks, as CIA operative Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) lures U.S. military sharpshooter Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) from the frontlines of the war in Vietnam to serve the elusive government agency.
The second story, set in the present day, frames Muir and Bishop’s working relationship and gives us a reason to invest in said flashbacks. On Muir’s last day before retirement, he receives word that his prized protege, Bishop, has been arrested for espionage outside of Hong Kong. Muir knows the charges are false, but his efforts to uncover information are repeatedly blocked by internal red tape. To prevent his student’s execution, Muir must walk a tightrope of office politics and political hand-wrangling that revolves loosely around our government’s valuable trade relationships with China. As Muir manipulates his co-workers into revealing confidential information, we’re provided with insight into how he came to know and work with Bishop. We learn how Muir finessed the idealistic officer’s military assignments so he’d eventually be ripe for the picking. We even tag along on harrowing missions through scenic West Germany andBeirut. Finally, we meet Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), a deceptively beautiful missionary who captures Bishop’s heart and raises Muir’s omnipresent suspicions. By all accounts, the backstory told in the film’s flashbacks holds our interest longer than the talkative potboiler that outlines the plot. Pitt and Redford’s deliciously airtight interactions streamline these sequences, and director Tony Scott lends a distinctive visual texture that bleaches out the parched locales and properly roughs up the action. Redford and Pitt actually show us the torch being passed from veteran to protege, with so many “”teacher/student”” scenarios and age jokes made at the expense of the weathered leading man.But Scott also seems to realize his flashback sequences are far more interesting than his wordy frame story, so he spends a good deal of time flushing out the past, often abandoning the events that take place in CIA headquarters altogether. Given Redford and Pitt’s natural chemistry, we hardly mind spending more time with them, but it does steal away from the impact of Bishop’s imprisonment and Muir’s efforts to rescue him. The director, known for his stark visual approach and dizzying camera motions, attempts to jumpstart the stagnant outer story by freezing frames and injecting a digital clock that counts down the hours until Bishop’s execution, in case you weren’t paying attention or, worse, just forgot what Muir was racing to prevent. Gimmicks like this, though, just can’t juice endless sequences of Redford juggling phone calls or racing through corridors so he can pour over a folder of important classified documents. “”Spy Game”” has the makings of a good movie – had Scott continued to explore his characters’ twisty, volatile pasts – but right now its only 65 minutes long and encased in another 60 minutes of beurocratic debris.Final Grade: C-By Sean O’ConnellNov. 21, 2001
Early on in
Most World War II movies revolve around the heroics of battle, soldiers and military strategy, eschewing human foibles and moral ambiguity. Not so
Director Garry Marshall returns to his roots for “”The Princess Diaries.”” Call it “”Pretty Woman Redux,”” or “”Still Nothing in Common.”” He even goes so far as to cast Hector Elizondo, who at last count has starred in at least 10 of Marshall’s films since 1984’s “”The Flamingo Kid.”” Just don’t be so quick to dismiss “”Diaries”” based on the fact that the material is extremely worn, by this same director no less, because it certainly doesn’t make this heartwarming “”ugly duckling”” fable any less appealing.
After an indistinct turn in the Fox TV drama series “”Get Real,”” statuesque newcomer Anne Hathaway makes her big-screen debut as Emilia “”Mia”” Thermopolis, the frizzy-haired daughter of a San Francisco-based artist/single mom/divorcee. At school, Mia belongs to the “”invisible”” group, blending into the background whenever possible with her best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo). All that changes one day when Mia meets her absentee grandmother, Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), who’s making an unexpected trip through San Francisco. Grandmothers never just “”pop by”” for visits in movies like this, though, and Clarisse is no exception. She has news for Mia that’s a little tough to swallow. It appears Mia’s recently-deceased father, Clarisse’s son, was the prince of the country of Genovia, which makes Clarisse a queen. It also makes the shy, awkward Mia a princess, and she has the opportunity to claim her crown and rule from her father’s throne. “”Diaries”” delivers its premise in what I like to call the “”hurry-up offense.”” Everyone involved knows the situation to be improbable, but no one slows down long enough to question anything. We’ve all come to see the hilarious consequences, and stopping to think would only delay the inevitable. Instead, Marshall simply digs up his proven plot maps and topographies to chart the film’s course straight toward its foregone conclusion. Comedian Larry Miller shows up as a caricature of a gay stylist who transforms Mia from class geek to tre chic. Elizondo plays Mia’s rigid chauffeur/guardian who never lacks for a pearl of wisdom to bestow on the empty slate of a young lady. And an endless supply of physical jokes erupt from Mia’s “”stranger in a strange world”” scenario over the film’s two hours. What’s most surprising, though, is the amount of fun “”Diaries”” still manages to concoct on the laborious path to its predetermined conclusion. For every groan-inducing physical mishap Mia must endure on her journey to the throne, there’s a well-penned line or dialogue exchange lobbed over the plate for the eager cast to smack over the fence. Years of experience in front of the cameras allow the dry as dust Elizondo and the dignified, stately Andrews to reign supreme over this court. Andrews’ performance is the spoon full of sugar that helps this medicine go down. But the new generation, represented by Matarazzo, Hathaway and MTV staple Mandy Moore – also making her feature film debut as Mia’s snobby school rival – are never completely overshadowed, which speaks volumes about their ability. Just don’t be charmed into submission: “”Princess Diaries”” never amounts to more than predictable family fluff churned from the same Disney factory that last year brought you Bruce Willis’ “”The Kid.”” “”Diaries”” doesn’t allow us to forget that excruciating bomb, but it gives us reason to forgive. FINAL GRADE: B By Sean O’Connell August 1, 2001
At least eight of Stephen King’s works have been optioned for film and television productions by 2002. In fact, since Brian De Palma directed “”Carrie”” back in 1976, Hollywood has plundered King’s words, ideas and characters for approximately sixty-four different projects, sometimes with great success (“”The Shawshank Redemption,”” “”Stand By Me””, “”The Shining””), but oftentimes not (“”Cujo,”” “”Maximum Overdrive””).
“”Hearts in Atlantis,”” the scribe’s latest story to receive the big screen treatment, actually bears a strong resemblance to “”Stand By Me,”” another film adaptation of a King short story. Directed by proficient directors (Scott Hicks and Rob Reiner, respectively), both tackle the loss of innocence through distictive rights of passage. But whereas “”Stand By Me”” lucked upon four gifted actors who happened to by children – Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, Corey Feldman and the late River hoenix – “”Atlantis”” relies on real children who are not yet actors, and the weighty material slips in their tiny hands. Screenwriter William Goldwin adapts “”Atlantis”” from the King novel of the same name, though he works primarily from the book’s first story, “”Low Men in Yellow Coats.”” The low men in question are shadow-dwelling scoundrels who pilot gaudy automobiles and are currently pursuing Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), an old man who incidentally just moved into the apartment above young Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin) and his overprotective widowed mother, Elizabeth (Hope Davis). Ted’s bizarre mannerisms and too-polite demeanor immediately rouse Elizabeth’s suspicions, but Bobby likes him well enough, and soon the old man recruites him for a series of tasks. Most importantly, he wants Bobby to keep an eye open for Ted’s low men. Bobby eagerly agrees, but even he is starting to doubt Ted, who’s prone to repeatedmental lapses. In fact, Ted’s prone to much more than that. He possesses the power to “”see things”” others can’t see, and he can pass that ability on to another through human contact. Once, he inadvertently passes it on to Bobby, who uses to it clean up during a rigged game of “”Find The Queen.”” It’s this power that has the low men salivating, and has Ted on the lamb. Bobby desperately wants to help his new friend, but it is the summertime, and he’s easily distracted, shaging flies with his best friend Sully (Will Rothhaar) or locking lips with his pretty little girlfriend, Carol (Mika Boorem). When signs of the low men begin to appear, Bobby ignores them, half convinced Ted is mistaken but also confident his friend will leave if he knows danger is near. Ted eventually realizes that the low men have arrived, but by then it’s practically too late for him to do anything about it.The material is strong, but this production feels rushed, perhaps in an effort to include all the elements of King’s enchanting tale. A sleepy-eyed Hopkins trips and murmurs his way through, occassionally coming off as a pedophile who leers at Bobby and his friends with his mouth ajar. Instead of a peer, as he was in the book, Hopkins’ Ted is a wise old sage who has plenty of anecdotes, but no legitimate reason to hang out with children. And the kids themselves, who obviously know they’re very cute, recite thematerial with forced enthusiasm. Yelchin is particulary guilty of piling it on, and as a result, almost none of Bobby’s lines ring true. As he did with David Guterson’s “”Snow Falling on Cedars,”” Hicks filters a best-selling author’s beautful prose through his camera’s lens with lifeless results. He does a very good job maintaing the mystery surrounding the low men, though the screenplay goes too far, suggesting a motivation never addressed in the novel (and rightfully so).Hicks’ strongest contribution still lies in his ability to capture locations through his lens. “”Atlantis'”” dreary Connecticut suburbs are appropriately sullen and gray and they frame the story as well as the wintry landscapes did in “”Cedars.”” Hicks joins the ranks of directors unsuccessful in carrying King’s mystic prose to the screen, but he’s in the good company of Bryan Singer (“”Apt Pupil””), Taylor Hackford (“”Dolores Claiborne””), David Cronenberg (“”The Dead Zone””) and John Carpenter (“”Christine””), all of whom have gone on to better things.Grade: CBy Sean O’ConnellSept. 28, 2001
Imagine if the soldiers showcased in those flashy Navy commercials were able to talk, to act, to process thoughts. What would they say? How would they behave? Answer these questions and you might figure out the point behind first-time director John Moore’s “”Behind Enemy Lines,”” a ridiculously shallow hack job that fails to register an iota of the patriotism and pride that even the aforementioned commercials muster.
And speaking of commercials, Moore may have a future in them soon, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The plot, per se, involves Navy Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson), ordered by his commanding officer, Admiral Riegart (Gene Hackman), to run a routine reconnaissance flight over Bosnian territories on Christmas Day. Burnett earns this choice assignment by voicing his displeasure with the Navy
Jessie Nelson’s custody-battle drama “”I Am Sam”” solicits a range of emotions, some genuine and some genuinely fake. Nelson’s intentions are evident, though the methods by which she achieves them can often be considered pious and manipulative. The result is a flawed gem that will have you wiping your eyes one minute and rolling them the next.
At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to Sam (Sean Penn), a mentally challenged Starbucks employee (I know, they all seem mentally challenged at times) whose imprudent relationship with a homeless woman results an unwanted pregnancy. The woman gives birth to a girl, who Sam names Lucy after the Beatles’ trippy ode, “”Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,”” but the mother runs, choosing freedom over responsibility to either the father or the child.Luckily for Sam, as well as for Lucy, the man comes with a built-in support system. His friends – a close knit group who share Sam’s mental limitations – lend helping hands, as does Sam’s agoraphobic neighbor, Annie (Dianne Wiest). Lucy (Dakota Fanning) matures, though we see that when she begins to pass her father mentally, she holds herself back for fear of disrupting the simplified life they’ve established. Instead of reading her class assignments, Lucy prefers to have her father read “”Green Eggs and Ham”” for the umpteenth time. It’s not the story that’s comforting, but rather the practice of her father reading it that works like a security blanket Lucy’s not ready to shed.However, officials from Lucy’s school realize what’s happening, so they intervene. Sam’s ability to raise a child is questioned, with no legitimate answers given. And when a social worker (Loretta Devine) conveniently crashes Lucy’s surprise party just in time to see Sam scuffle with a belligerent father, the courts step in and take Lucy away. Sam’s search for proper legal council leads him to the offices of attorney Rita Harrison (the ageless Michelle Pfeiffer), or “”Lovely Rita, Meter Maid,”” as Sam repeatedly sings when in her presence. An emotionally vacuous lawyer, Rita wouldn’t help Sam if he were Christ incarnate on his way to Pilate’s courtroom. However, peer pressure inexplicably prompts Rita to accept Sam’s case pro bono, and the two set out to win, not because it will reunite the father with his daughter, but simply because Rita hates to lose. “”Sam””‘s problems begin and end with Pfeiffer’s character, an unfortunate mesh of stereotypical dilemmas established simply so they can be ironed out by her coincidental interactions with a mentally retarded character. What, Sam’s uphill battle to reclaim his daughter wasn’t dramatic enough that the filmmakers needed to mix in the salvation of a shrill, soulless defense lawyer as well? Through no fault of Pfeiffer, who tries hard with what she’s given, Rita’s conversion lacks empathy. What’s worse, Sam’s healing power seems to stretch over Rita’s son, as well, who hates his mother throughout the film, but shuttles their disagreements and welcomes her back by the end of the film. Too tidy, shameless, and completely unnecessary given the emotional weight of the film’s prime storyline. Which returns us to Sam and Lucy, the true focal point of the film and a showcase of immense talent and emotional chemistry. Penn’s towering performance as Sam bolsters the film’s highs. Some actors who play retarded capture the illness, while some merely capture Dustin Hoffman’s performance in “”Rain Man.”” Penn manages both, latching on to a catch phrase (“”That’s a wonderful choice,”” he tells his Starbucks customers), while honing in on the innocence Sam displays when faced with adult problems. On top of that, Penn’s connection with Fanning is palpable. Their shared scenes are gut-wrenching, their forged bond sincere. “”Sam”” raises intriguing moral questions that bear discussion. Should mentally retarded people be prevented from raising children? While “”Sam”” wraps up a little to easily for my tastes, it does carry a commendable message of familial love. If only it utilized something a little more consequential than Beatles lyrics and song titles to express it. Final Grade: B-Sean O’Connell