Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Final Fantasy Review – By Sean O’Connell

Who would have thought, after last year’s “”Battlefield Earth”” wrestled the designation of “”Worst Film Ever”” from 1987’s “”Ishtar”” that it would only hold the distinguished title for just over 14 months?

A tough act to top (or bottom), “”Earth”” massacred the traditional sci fi genre and practically buried John Travolta’s career under a pile of detestable dialogue. But that cinematic mess resembles George Lucas’ original “”Star Wars”” when compared to Hironobu Sakaguchi’s futuristic flop, “”Final Fantasy.”” Based on a popular video game series, the computer-animated “”Fantasy”” has already turned several heads with its eye-popping visual style that deftly creates palpable digital characters and lets them loose in dazzling alien worlds. Set in the year 2065, “”Fantasy”” follows Dr. Aki Ross (the voice of Ming-Na), a buff female scientist who’s plagued by recurring nightmares of a phantom invasion that decimated the Earth in 2031. Now Ross and her partner, Dr. Sid (the voice of Donald Sutherland), search the planet’s ruins for eight spirits, each of them contributing to a greater life force called “”Gaya”” that powers extraterrestrial entities. It’s on one of these recovery missions that Ross encounters Grey Edwards (the voice of Alec Baldwin), a muscle-bound acquaintance and potential love interest who tags along for the adventure. Only there is no adventure. Save for the film’s stunning visuals – and at times the film does indeed look fantastic – there is absolutely nothing else to extract from “”Final Fantasy.”” The life-like characters are artistic contradictions. Their designers go to great lengths to achieve authenticity. Characters have wrinkles, scars and facial blemishes, and Dr. Ross’ bouncy hair appears to have been recently shampooed and conditioned. But then the character’s mouths don’t match the dialogue, and the fantasy is ruined. My theory is that even digitally animated characters would hesitate to recite such pitiful dialogue, hence the glaring discrepancy. Packed with macho dialogue stolen directly from a 1980’s Stallone or Schwarzenegger vehicle, “”Fantasy”” hasn’t met a bit of bravado it didn’t cherish. It almost helps that most of the horrendous lines are uttered by the likes of James Woods and Baldwin, who’s gravely voice is tailored for such cheesy verses. All of this can be overlooked if “”Fantasy”” only made sense. It doesn’t. Approximately one hour into it, the film reaches the first of its three climaxes. This one involved our heroes escaping from what I think was a space station as the evil phantoms (who aren’t evil) plucked off the gun-totting team one by one. But Ross, Dr. Sid and Grey barely escaped, and I thought we were almost finished. We weren’t. A second, less-involving and jumbled mission began. Characters that were thought dead returned from nowhere without explanation, and the film plodded along for another excruciating 45 minutes. By this point my fantasy involved having the projector break or seeing the theater lights come back on. Neither happened. Watching “”Final Fantasy,”” you can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers spent so much time on the visuals and absoultely no time cleaning up the convoluted plot or ridiculous dialogue. Sure it’s cool that the entire film is animated, and the digital techniques look great, but was it necessary? The film does nothing extraordinary that would require it to be animated. In fact, it moves a good deal slower than any feature that uses human actors. I salivate to think what Ridley Scott or James Cameron could have done with “”Fantasy.”” The movie borrows crucial elements from Cameron classics like “”The Abyss,”” “”T2″” and “”Aliens”” anyway. Since “”Fantasy”” started as a game, it should come as no surprise that the feature length film feels like you’re watching a game. However, you’re not playing, so it’s not nearly as fun. But at least when you’re playing the game, you always have the option of turning the Playstation system off and walking away. Final Grade: D- Review by Sean O’Connell

The Last Castle

A debate currently “”rages”” within the film critic community about whether or not the attacks of Sept. 11 should color our critiques of certain films. Critics may recommend the ridiculous humor of Ben Stiller’s “”Zoolander”” as a temporary distraction from CNN’s talking heads, but will that review stand when the film comes out on video? It

The Score Bores, By Ken Rosenberg

At the center of this smoothly-produced crime thriller is a world-weary safecracker and jewel thief (Robert DeNiro), who’s on the verge of marrying his tough-but-sweet ladyfriend (Angela Bassett) and retiring to a peaceful life running his Montreal jazz club, where the likes of Cassandra Wilson and Mose Allison hold forth. But he’s enticed by professional pride and the prospect of a multi-million-dollar haul into participating in one final mega-caper.

If that premise sounds like a new variation on an old theme, it should; and what ensues, relying heavily on the mechanics of sophisticated, high-tech thievery, doesn’t do much to freshen the formula. Marlon Brando plays DeNiro’s fence and longtime partner, a mountainous, half-soused mastermind who desperately needs the big score to clear up festering debts, and Edward Norton is the young Turk, a nervy, razor’s-edge, quick-thinking con artist who poses as slightly retarded to snag a job as a janitor in the Montreal Customs House, deep within the bowels of which is secreted the object of the conspirators’ desire, a priceless, jewel-encrusted 17th-century French MacGuffin–uh, royal scepter.

The Others – By Sean O’Connell

M. Night Shyamalan’s spooky “”The Sixth Sense”” may have ruined the modern ghost story as we know it. Because of the atmospheric fright fest, it’s nearly impossible to sit through another dimly lit shadow dance with the supernatural without expecting (or at least hopingfor) a mind-blowing twist. But, as proven in “”The Others,”” a methodical but ultimately disappointing chiller written and directed by Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, we realize that the existence of said surprise doesn’t guarantee success.

On the English island of Jersey, shortly after the culmination of World War II, Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), keep the lamp of hope burning for their father, who left to fight and never returned. From out of the fog that perpetually surrounds the family’s mansion come three servants looking for work. We learn that they’ve worked at the house before and were hoping Grace would need help with the grounds and the children.But caring for these kids isn’t a picnic, as Anne and Nicholas both suffer extreme allergic reactions to sunlight, a condition that forces Grace to monitor their every move with militant precision. No door can be opened in a room until all other doors are closed. Curtains cover every window in the rooms occupied by the children. The servants are ordered to maintain these boundaries, and the game devised by “”The Others”” is underfoot. After the setup, “”Others”” unfurls the elements of its inherent ghost story as things begin to bump in the night. Footsteps pound across the attic floor, though no one appears to be up there. Grace hears whispers, laughter and crying, but can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from. And Anne swears she sees a family of “”intruders,”” even going so far as to converse with a little boy named Victor. Mann and Bentley hit the right notes as Anne and Nicholas, children being children who generate innocent chills just by being open receptacles for the paranormal. But it’s Kidman’s Grace who must anchor the insanity for this ghost story to work. It’s a wonderful role for the detached actress, whose naturally icy disposition permits her to portray Grace as a quiet control freak whose sanity unravels when challenged by the supernatural goings-on in her house. The image of her storming down the hall with shotgun in hand is memorably delicious and forbidding, a la Nicholson wielding an axe in “”The Shining.”” But all the suspicious mist and ominous shadows that lurk in almost every scene of “”The Others”” – expertly captured on film by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe – can hardly hide the questions raised by Amenabar’s surprising conclusions. Rarely has one absorbing premise unraveled so quickly under the weight of the ludicrous twist proposed in “”The Others.”” Meant to shock and amuse, the twist really only manages to deconstruct important truths we were asked to accept for the first 90 minutes. Crucial character traits are forgotten and new ones are introduced haphazardly, with no explanation found in the preceding scenes. If you’ve accepted anything that has happened in the first two acts, and it’s easy to do, Amenabar’s resolution is impossible to accept, and it quickly deflates the mood the director took so long to establish. Amenabar’s following is building. Cameron Crowe’s next project, the Tom Cruise/Penelope Cruz drama “”Vanilla Sky,”” is a remake of Amenabar’s 1997 drama “”Open Your Eyes.”” After a brief run, the director’s subtle “”Butterfly”” recently hit video shelves. And “”The Others”” displays more than enough proof that Amenabar can excel as a writer, director or composer – a true triple-threat. Once he can make all three of his talents work in harmony, the vision he touches on here should finally be achieved. FINAL GRADE: C-

Moulin Rouge – Dance Hall Days, by Ken Rosenberg

Moulin Rouge – Dance Hall DaysSet in bohemian 1900 Paris, the Moulin Rouge is a decadent, garish nightclub-cum-dancehall-cum-bordello, a fin-de-siecle Studio 54 where can-can dancers shake a ruffled tail feather and sultry, breathy chanteuse Satine (Nicole Kidman) descends from the rafters on a swing. Director Baz Luhrmann (William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet) uses wild camera angles, frenetic pacing, and restless, jumpy editing to create a whirling, kaleidoscopic visual spectacle, but the preoccupation with eye candy supersedes character development and quashes empathy.