Category Archives: Movie Reviews

The Man Who Cried — Crocodile Tears by Ken Rosenberg

Apparently it’s easier to make a movie that looks real than one that feels real. The Man Who Cried is a costume drama that bathes in its authentic European settings and painstaking period detail–it’s of a piece with arthouse fare like Divided We Fall, The Luzhin Defence or The Golden Bowl. Yet writer-director Sally Potter has penned such self-consciously awkward dialogue and wrangled such limp-dishrag performances out of the cast that all the historical verisimilitude is for nought.

The story, commencing in 1927 and spanning nearly twenty years, is that of Fegele, a Jewish peasant girl. At the age of five, she lives in a ramshackle, beleaguered Russian shtetl. Her father, a yarmulke-and-tzitzes-clad cantor, leaves to make a better life in America, and Fegele is separated from the rest of her family soon thereafter, landing in England, where she is dubbed “”Susie.”” In short order, she morphs into saucer-eyed, cherubic pixie Christina Ricci.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – By Sean O’Connell

“”Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,”” the fifth installment in Kevin Smith’s proposed “”New Jersey Trilogy,”” is a cinematic garage sale that allows the director to sweep up any and all debris collected in his psyche since the release of “”Clerks”” way back in 1994. As is the case with any good clearance, there are priceless gems for the taking, and they illicit fits of excitement when they surface, but you have to sift through too much broken junk to find them. It’s also a fine way for Smith to cleanse his palate after the overachieving Sunday-school sermon that was “”Dogma”” and get back to his bread and butter: dick and fart jokes.

And who better to shepherd Smith back to his point of origin – Red Bank, NJ, for those who paid attention – than the connoisseurs of everything View Askew: Jay and his hetero lifemate, Silent Bob. Smith swears “”Strike Back”” signifies the end of Jay and Silent Bob’s memorable film careers, but you have to wonder if he has the strength to put these characters to rest. Relegated to scene-stealing cameos in “”Mallrats,”” “”Clerks”” and “”Chasing Amy,”” foulmouthed, pot smoking horn dog Jay (Jason Mewes) and his periodically-mute partner Silent Bob (Smith) graduated to the next level in “”Dogma”” with more screen time and lines that actually furthered the plot. “”Strike Back”” is the next obvious step, though it’s not necessarily one taken forward. A vulgar throwback to the Hope/Crosby road movies, “”Strike Back”” finds Jay and Silent Bob traveling from their home state of Jersey to the backlots of Hollywood. As it turns out, “”Amy”” entrepreneur Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) has sold the film rights for his “”Bluntman & Chronic”” comic book – which is loosely based on Jay and Silent Bob – to Miramax, and the studio greenlit a big-budget production.Before it even begins, though, the pending “”Bluntman & Chronic”” film provides more than enough fodder for a new wave of hate-mongers who prowl the Internet, namely pimple-faced geeks who slam anything they can type about on a series of movie gossip websites. Jay and Bob wrongfully assume that if they shut down the movie, it will stop these cretins from writing mean things about them on the Web. So they set off for the left coast, managing to steal an orangutan, assist a team of gorgeous jewel thieves, dance with Morris Day and the Time (yes, the band from Prince’s “”Purple Rain””) and fall in love along the way. It’s creative, sure, but it’s also a little convoluted, imbecilic and nonsensical.Of course it is, fool. It’s a movie starring a one-track-minded hard-on and a mime from the Garden State, an obvious joke that even this movie manages to point out in one of its many “”wink-wink, nudge-nudge,”” asides. Smith knows it’s goofy, but acknowledging it makes it acceptable for him. And he’s right, but barely. In Smith’s script, curse words and pop culture references trip over one another on their way to flat, uninspired punchlines. Most of the director’s surprises are provided by an Altman-esque parade of cameos made by Smith’s role players – George Carlin, Ben Affleck, Lee, Matt Damon, Shannen Doherty, Chris Rock and many more. And Mewes finally gets the chance to carry a film, though by the end we begin to see how effective his lewd character is when taken in short bursts. Yet the more I think about the film’s twisted scenarios, the funnier I think they are. Bob’s wordless interactions with the diaper-wearing ape. A bizarre encounter with the Scooby Doo gang that’s bound to be more entertaining in five minutes than the entire Freddie Prinze Jr. production awaiting us next summer. Affleck and Damon’s hilarious send up of everything “”Matt and Ben.”” All the scenes on the Hollywood lot, in fact, where Smith gets to behave like a kid in a candy store. Even the jokes reserved for die-hard Smith fans, those aware of his affinity for Daredevil and his dislike for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “”Magnolia,”” are there. It’s all there. There’s just so much of it.That’s why Smith’s movies tend to work so much better on home video, the true mark of a cult director shunned by the mainstream. You have more time to sift through the aforementioned “”broken junk”” and find the value in it. I have little doubt I’ll enjoy “”Jay and Silent Bob”” more upon further viewing, and especially in the comfort of my own home with a cold beer or six in hand. In the end, “”Jay and Silent Bob”” is exactly the type of film Smith needed to make to send off the characters that truly embody the two sides of his internal coin. Smith has professed his limitless dedication to the tasteless duo in his many comic books, animated prime time television shows and the five films that introduced them to us. His love of these characters is pure, and his heart is pinned to this film’s sleeve. We understand completely, Kevin, and we allow it. Now, let’s see what else you have in that trenchcoat.Final Grade: B-By Sean O’ConnellAug. 24, 2001

Shallow Hal

The Farrelly brothers’ latest comedy, “”Shallow Hal,”” doesn’t feel like a Farrelly brothers comedy at all. Gone is the vile toilet humor and immature bodily fluid jokes that powered the siblings’ “”There’s Something About Mary”” to blockbuster status. In its place is a more subdued, dare I say poignant romantic comedy that could just as easily have been directed by the generic likes of a Nora Ephron, if not for the film’s remarkably crass premise, which has Farrelly fingerprints all over it.

The movie stars “”High Fidelity”” scene-stealer Jack Black as Hal, who at the ripe old age of 12 received death-bed advice from his morphine-induced father to only date gorgeous young women. Hal agrees, though that particular outlook has seriously warped his social conscious by the time he’s reached his mid-30s. When trapped on an elevator with Tony Robbins, the self-help guru hypnotizes the misguided swinger so he’s only able to see a person’s inner beauty, not what’s on the surface. Robbins’ trance works too well, though, and Hal falls hard for the 300-plus pound Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman he sees as a twig-thin beautiful blonde. “”Hal”” treads bravely through delicate waters, milking potentially offensive material for humor. Hal and his follically challenged friend, Mauricio (Jason Alexander), waste their evenings tearing down women in nightclubs, but the joke is they’re hardly catches themselves. And since it’s a Farrelly brothers comedy, the duo have a friend suffering from Spina Bifida, which means his lower torso is crumpled and he walks on his hands. But in reality, “”Hal”” exemplifies the Farrellys uncharacteristically pulling on the reins, showing restraint when history tells us it could have been so much worse. And for that we have Paltrow to thank. Instead of shamelessly plunging to the expected depths, the actress actually raises the whole film up to her level, achieving (gasp!) true emotions of loneliness, dejection and remorse. Paltrow is so good at playing Rosemary, she actually reverses the film’s premise, perfectly personifying a fat girl trapped in a waifer-thin body. When getting out of a car, the petite star sways and teeters as if she were carting around an extra 200 pounds. And her delivery is so delicate, so sensitive, we believe she’s had to live her life with the stigma of being overweight, protective of her fragile ego and hesitant to trust anyone who isn’t insulting her. Too bad Paltrow didn’t realize that she was making a comedy, because the result is far more touching than humorous. It doesn’t help that the rest of the cast acts like they’re reading off of cue cards that aren’t being turned fast enough. Jokes fall flat like bricks in a fishbowl, and there are far too many patches of awkward silence and sputtered conversation that appears to have been improvised. The whole thing plods along as if it, and not Gwyneth, were wrapped in a fat suit. Paltrow’s performance alone is worth seeing, but the rest of the film can’t shed its dead weight and find the jokes buried beneath its goofy premise.Grade: CBy Sean O’ConnellNov. 9, 2001

The Royal Tenenbaums

Quirky – adj: informal terms; strikingly unconventional [syn: far-out, kinky, offbeat, way-out] Knowing the textbook definition of the term “”quirky”” before viewing The Royal Tenenbaums may help you better appreciate the film, because it is a state director Wes Anderson tries desperately to achieve. Whether he reaches it or not will depend on your tastes, and how you feel about such elements as pacing, plot and character development.

The film centers around a jerk of a fellow named Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), the type of character who describes himself as an “”asshole,”” but is corrected and told he’s “”just a real son of a bitch.”” Royal and his wife, Etheline (Anjelica Houston), have been separated for years, and the negligent husband had little to no part in raising the couple’s three children: Chas, Margot and Richie. Now, evicted from the hotel suite he’s occupied for the past 22 years, Royal attempts to patch things up with his family and, in the process, put a roof over the head of himself and his loyal servant, Pagoda (Kumar Pallana). Since Royal possesses very few endearing traits, however, the only way he can think to get close to his family is to fake a life-threatening disease.This creative premise, brimming with possibilities, would have provided most directors with an adequate springboard to dive in a number of different directions. Unfortunately, director Wes Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson, the team responsible for the equally quirky Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, never know when enough is enough. They’re combined sense humor goes to great lengths to avoid the pedestrian, which means Royal’s children can’t be average, they must be geniuses. Chas (Ben Stiller) was a financial wiz who bred Dalmatian mice. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a playwright who staged productions by the age of 12. And Richie (Luke Wilson) was a tennis pro who eventually had a breakdown on the court and left the tour. Nothing, however, grows from these clever scenarios. As quickly as they’re introduced, they’re forgotten, replaced by new sets of foibles. Chas could have been a male stripper at age nine, and Richie the world’s youngest fireman, because in turn we forget their initial traits in favor of their deeper, more emotional pulls. Margot, who hides her chain smoking, escapes the doldrums of her loveless marriage by indulging in trysts with a family friend, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Chas, who recently lost his wife in a plane crash, has become a safety fanatic, and it

Rock Star – By Sean O’Connell

Have you ever worshipped a band? Members of the KISS Army might know what I’m talking about, but few others will. I’m not talking about buying all of the band’s albums, or requesting their songs on the radio, or even hanging a poster or two on your wall, because that’s not enough.I’m talking about pledging your undying love for a band. Emulating each member, not by copying their wardrobe but by mastering their on-stage body movements or distinguishable dance steps. I’m talking about drinking in each recorded note of every imported B-side, even if it’s part of the soundtrack for that crappy Freddie Prinze Jr. movie.

When you go to a party, regardless of whose house it’s in, you walk over to the stereo and slap in the tape of your favorite band for all to hear. In time, as delusional as it sounds, you might even consider yourself a distant member of said musical act. Have you ever worshipped a band that much? Because Chris Coles has, and “”Rock Star”” tells his extraordinary story.Pittsburgh-based Steel Dragons tribute band Blood Pollution has an ace up their sleeve. Front man Chris Coles (Mark Wahlberg), a mild-mannered copy machine technician, possess extraordinary pipes and an uncanny ability to replicate the vocal stylings of Dragons singer Bobby Beers (Jason Flemyng). But Coles’ slavish devotion to Dragons contributes to his perfectionism, and his strict stage demands push his bandmates too far. Fed up, they unanimously vote to replace him with a rival band’s lead singer, sending Chris back to his dead-end day job. Thankfully, Chris isn’t out of the music business long. Professional groupies Nina and Samantha play a video tape of Blood Pollution’s last show for the members of Steel Dragon themselves, and they invite Chris to L.A. to audition to replace Beers, who has fallen out of favor with the band. Setting up one of the film’s finest scenes, Chris and his girlfriend/manager Emily (Jennifer Aniston) arrive at the mansion-based headquarters of Steel Dragons where Chris gets to meet his heroes and roll the dice on fulfilling his rock and roll dreams.Chris passes the initial test, but his trial by fire has just begun. Before long, the rigors of the job he thought he wanted take its toll on the admittedly-superficial life he led, and Chris realizes that the hours he wasted fantasizing about being someone else never gave him any time to establish his own personality. Can “”Rock Star”” actually be asking us to feel bad for the heavy metal hero who fills his days with enough pills, booze and groupies to gag Ozzy in his tracks? Initially, yes, but midway through, under the guiding hand of knowledgeable director Stephen Herek (who helmed similar fare in “”Mr. Holland’s Opus””), “”Rock Star”” begins to peel away the cliched elements of the touring saga and reach for genuine emotions. Of course, the film never strays too far. Touching mentoring speeches are shared backstage and on tour buses, but they’re delivered by bloated road managers (Timothy Spall) and haggard drummers (Jason Bonham) hooked up to dialysis machines.Herek knows exactly how this story ends, but he takes his time getting there. Instead of chopping up his scenes into unrecognizable pulp, Herek allows them build to refreshingly satisfactory climaxes. There’s also a clever sense of cyclical irony established as the film progresses that is unexpected but appreciated. When necessary, the director even reduces the film’s ballsy pop metal soundtrack to a whisper, allowing crucial bits of dialogue between the leads to be heard and savored. It’s a credit to John Stockwell’s able script, because the soundtrack does indeed grind, perfectly capturing everything beautiful and cheesy about hair metal and lending a sense of credibility and sarcasm. AC/DC, a band that also replaced their original singer with a sound-alike, is cranked on more than one occasion.The secret, though, is Wahlberg, who continues to draw on his versatility and range, shedding the albatross of his hip-hop background and establishing himself as a genuine leading man. In one scene, when he and Aniston’s Emily arrive at Steel Dragons’ mansion and gawk at the band’s assorted memorabilia, Wahlberg’s eyes are engulfed with glee, but he buckles it under a belt of composure, like a kid fidgeting at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning who can see the back tire of a shiny new bicycle from his vantage point. His raw enthusiasm and fanatical devotion make him the ultimate tour guide to this enthusiastic romp through a world that is becoming all too familiar to us after films like “”Almost Famous”” and “”This Is Spinal Tap”” but still has enough material to pack a concert hall to the rafters.Grade: B+By Sean O’ConnellSept. 7, 2001

Harry Potter – It’s All That And A Bag of Toads!

Warner Bros. took a gamble, sinking an enormous amount of time, talent and energy into one little boy who legend promises will become world famous, known by every child the world over. The studio wants – no, needs – the public to embrace this boy, as talks of franchises, merchandising rights and long-term production deals run rampant. That boy is Daniel Radcliffe, a British child actor plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight when he was chosen to play J.K. Rowling’s magical hero, Harry Potter. And the studio’s gamble paid off.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first in what’s rumored to be a 7-part series of Potter pictures, adapts Rowling’s feverish bestseller into 152 minutes of pure magic and delight. Only a muggle wouldn’t know the story by now, but for their sake, let’s explain. Orphaned as a baby, Harry Potter has endured years of abuse at the hands of his domineering muggle (meaning “”non-magic””) relatives, unaware that his parents, who were murdered, were powerful wizards, and that he was one, too. On his eleventh birthday, Harry receives an invitation in the form of a giant messenger, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), to attend Hogwarts, a grand school for witchcraft and wizardry, where he will uncover his past and accept his destiny.Hagrid informs Harry that, as a baby, the young wizard became the only person to face an evil sorcerer, Lord Voldemort, and live to tell. This feat, and the lightning bolt-shaped scar he received as a result, has earned Harry a degree of notoriety, which works to his advantage once he arrives at his new school. The personable young Potter makes fast friends with two other first-year wizards: know-it-all Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), the fifth child in a long-line of wizard children.Together they make a gleeful Scooby gang, repeatedly poking their noses where they don’t belong with curious results.Potter and his pals do stumble upon a plot involving Voldemort and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a gem with the power of immortality that could revive the evil wizard, who