Category Archives: Movie Reviews

America’s Sweethearts, Don’t Analyze This–Reviewed by Ken Rosenberg

“”America’s Sweethearts”” is a movie about the movie business, in the tradition of “”The Player”” or “”State and Main””. But “”America’s Sweethearts”” is a cinematic tabloid, a National Enquirer of glass-house personal lives, eggshell egos and entourages. Hosting this madcap parody of the sybaritic lives of the rich and famous is Lee (Billy Crystal), an ace publicist responsible for the media feeding frenzy known as a press junket.

Ghosts of Mars – By Sean O’Connell

Fans of Roger Corman’s visionary low-budget camp, rejoice. John Carpenter (“”Escape from New York””), taking a page directly from the legendary schlock-meister’s book, has crafted a woeful sci-fi/horror stinker on a shoestring budget that foregoes rational thought and an acceptable plot simply because his story takes place on a neighboring planet in the distant future. Except Carpenter’s “”Ghosts of Mars”” would have felt dated even in the ’60s. And if he wasn’t going for homage, you have to wonder why he made this film at all.

It’s the year 2176, and the red planet of Mars is colonized and policed by Earth’s citizens. The planet exists as a denizen for criminals and gang members – kind of like Carpenter’s futuristic vision of Manhattan island, but a lot bigger.Helena (Pam Grier) leads her team of officers on a mission to the colony of Shining Canyon to pick up the vicious criminal known as “”Desolation”” Williams (Ice Cube) for transport. As expected, Helena’s group is packed to the gills with stereotypical personalities. Melanie (Natasha Henstridge) is the fiercely independent butch beauty, and Jericho (Jason Statham) the gravel-voiced pig who never stops trying to get in her jumpsuit. Two rookies tag along, though their only purpose is to point their guns and die horrible deaths when the script calls for it.The team isn’t in Shining Canyon two minutes before they realize something’s not right. They discover that the colony’s entire population has been massacred, decapitated and hung upside down by their ankles. Only the prisoners have been spared, and one of them, a doctor, can identify what’s behind the slaughter. She explains that, for reasons unknown, a harmful organism that seeps into the soil and stews has been released, and now jumps from human host to human host – carried by the wind, no less – destroying the person from the inside. The infected specimens, now zombies, dig at their own flesh and carve bizarre tribal symbols into their own bodies. The army of the diseased resemble rejects from the set of George Miller’s “”The Road Warrior”” who have joined a cult of Marilyn Manson worshipers. It’s horrific. And if that’s not enough, these beastly beings also harbor a strong desire to destroy anyone or anything they consider to be an outsider, and that includes Helena and her team. Lucky for Grier, she kicks it relatively early. Her agent must have fought hard for that stipulation in her contract. That leaves unlikely allies Henstridge and Ice Cube to blast their way out of the camp – really just an laughable set of model miniatures that look faker than Tori Spelling’s nose – and onto a train heading for safety.””Mars”” substitutes a body count for a brain, and sets it all to a numbingly cyclic techno soundtrack with music by Buckethead, Anthrax and Carpenter himself. If nothing else, it explains where those rogue party-crashers from John Hughes’ “”Weird Science”” came from. I’ve always wanted to know thatAs bad as it is, though, there’s no way “”Mars”” won’t turn a profit. Carpenter saved a spaceship full of dough by hiring third-rate talent like Henstridge, Grier and Cube. And he certainly didn’t spend a dime on special effects, sets, costumes or a screenplay. “”Mars”” feels like it was shot by teenagers on a three-day binge in Arizona. I kept looking for the silhouettes of Joel, Tom Servo and Crow from the dearly-departed “”MST3K”” to appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. Not that we need them. The film’s clunky dialogue gives us more than enough to laugh at. Grade: D-By Sean O’ConnellAug. 24, 2001

ATLANTIS – Disney’s Lost Continent Adventure Loses Its Way. By Sean O’Connell

In the process of shedding the usual song-and-dance routine, Disney discards their sense of adventure, too. For “”Atlantis,”” Disney’s big-budget entrance into the summer movie season of 2001, the studio took the safe road by hiring the masterminds behind the enormously successful “”Beauty and the Beast”” and “”The Hunchback of Notre Dame,”” Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. The film, reportedly set in the early 1914, follows the adventures of inept but earnest adventurer Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), who believes he’s one step away from decoding the location of the lost continent of Atlantis.

The crucial last step is provided by the eccentric Preston B. Whitmore, a philanthropist and old friend of Milo’s grandfather who funds an expedition to the spot where the continent should have vanished. Accompanying Milo are the usual cast of politically correct characters, including the African American doctor, the Mexican teenage girl, the French (Italian? Bad accent.) explosives expert, the mercenary (voiced by James Garner) and a mole-like person who provides absolutely no comic relief.Perhaps to keep with the Jules Vern-style story, Trousdale and Kirk present animation that’s rough around the edges, boxy and unpolished. Character’s faces are square, and the visuals lack detail. Intentional or not, it works to a certain extent, though the backgrounds look hazy and vague. Despite the lack of songs, Disney religiously sticks to their proven formula, but when you reach a point in the film when a lively song penned by Sir Elton or Celine Dion might have elevated the material, the film falls flat. By the time you reach the climax, a flurry of chase scenes and brutal battle sequences that are much more advanced than 1914 would allow, you’ll wonder why you’re so very bored. Final Grade D

Bubble Boy – By Sean O’Connell

Born without immunities, Jimmy Livingston (Jake Gyllenhall) grew up in a sanitized plastic bubble, sheltered from what his overprotective mother (Swoosie Kurtz) tells him is a germ-infested world. But disregard any comparisons to John Travolta’s sappy 1976 television tearjerker, “”The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”” Instead, Touchstone Pictures, the bastard child of the Disney family responsible for classic trash like “”Coyote Ugly”” and “”Play It to the Bone,”” has produced a loud, offensive, stereotypical road trip comedy that, despite all of its imperfections, manages to be extremely loveable and foolishly entertaining.

Jimmy’s thin sheet of plastic can’t contain his emotions, and he falls head over high tops for his gorgeous next-door neighbor, Chloe (Marley Shelton). One afternoon, following a discussion about the legendary “”Bubble Boy”” with her immature friends, Chloe pays Jimmy a visit out of curiosity and the two become friends. Jimmy and Chloe share everything over the years, though their mutual admirations rarely extend beyond a love for the television classic “”Land of the Lost.”” It’s painfully obvious, though, that Jimmy’s condition will prevent him giving Chloe the ultimate gift of physical contact. She eventually seeks solace in someone else, a less attractive jerk who uses her for her good looks. Jimmy knows he can

Monsters, Inc.

While it’s not yet something you can set your watch by, November has become Disney’s month of choice to release their Pixar fantasies, visionary blends of cutting-edge digital animation and classic family values. “”Toy Story”” started this successful run in 1995, followed by its blockbuster sequel in 1999. We don’t exactly expect these films, but they do tend to arrive at the ideal time, providing a pleasant respite from the frantic holiday schedule.

By now, audiences know what they’re getting out of a Pixar production. The studio’s original “”Toy Story”” deftly explored the insecurities of toy cowboy Woody when challenged by the bigger, better Buzz Lightyear, while the film’s sequel went on to tailor an exciting adventure around Buzz and Woody’s unique friendship. But in their latest, “”Monsters, Inc.,”” the Pixar team allows their imaginations to soar to infinity and beyond, creating new worlds populated with amazing and imaginative beings. That world is called Monstropolis, and it’s only accessible through the closets of little children around the globe. That monsters lurk in kids’ closets is common knowledge. What we weren’t aware of was Monstropolis’ reliance on the screams of these children as a power source, and that the hideous employees of Monsters, Incorporated, were responsible for soliciting these screams on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, desensitized kids don’t scare as easily as they used to, leading to Monstropolis’ current power drought. Two monsters in particular, though, are doing their part. The sarcastic and spherical green glob Mike Waznowski (voice of Billy Crystal), and his fuzzy bear of a friend, James “”Sulley”” Sullivan (voice of John Goodman), have earned a reputation as the factory’s top scarers. The duo is well on their way to breaking the company’s all-time “”scare”” record, in fact, until one fateful evening, when Sulley stumbles upon a devious scheme hatched by a rival monster, the chameleonesque Randall Boggs (voice of Steve Buscemi). Before he knows it, Sulley lets a little girl into the monsters’ world, a fatal mistake that could dismantle Monsters, Inc. and plunge Monstropolis further into its crippling energy crisis.With each new feature, the Pixar animators vastly improve the look of their characters and the worlds they inhabit. “”Monsters, Inc.”” boasts more exotic creatures than the cantina in “”Star Wars,”” and the animators’ attention to detail, on Sulley in particular, truly amazes me. Close ups of Sulley’s purple mane reveal a shag carpet-type rug of body hair that begs to be hugged. For some reason, though, these animators can devise a contact lens that Mike wears on his giant eye, but they can’t make the film’s little girl look more human. Perhaps these guys need to spend a little more time in the real world.””Monsters Inc.”” proves the Pixar team can think outside of the box. For all of its creative concepts, though, the plot still relies too heavily on generic characterizations and Disney’s time-tested formulas. Randall bears all the qualities of a sub-standard Disney villain, cut from the cloth of an Ursula, Jafar or the bounty hunter from “”Tarzan.”” And while Mike was 75% eyeball, he never stopped being Billy Crystal, a fact both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were able to disguise in the “”Toy Story”” films. Only Goodman’s Sulley is given the chance to grow as a character, parlaying his paternal yearnings for the stowaway girl into an endearing storyline.With a trustworthy formula and pandering comic relief, “”Monsters, Inc.”” is more a Disney flick than a Pixar production. Rank it alongside commendable family favorites like “”Tarzan,”” “”The Hunchback of Notre Dame”” or “”Aladdin.”” But the Pixar moniker led me to believe we were in for something a little more special. Hoping for “”Toy Story,”” I was disappointed, but certainly not disappointed enough to overlook the film’s obvious strengths and widespread audience appeal.Final Grade: B+By Sean O’ConnellNov. 2, 2001