Category Archives: Movie Reviews

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

Planet of the Apes, Interspecies Imbroglio — Review by Ken Rosenberg

A blitz of high-priced talent was enlisted for this big-budget spectacle–director Tim Burton (“”Batman,”” “”Beetlejuice,”” “”Sleepy Hollow””), makeup-man extraordinaire Rick Baker, master scoresmith Danny Elfman–but little thought seems to have been devoted to creating an original story or distinctive characters.

The result is two hours of seamlessly produced, state of the art, nonstop eye candy–further evidence, if any was needed, that mainstream movie audiences want nothing more than to turn off their brains and be tickled senseless. “”Planet of the Apes”” pushes the same buttons that made popcorn-munching hordes go apeshit over “”The Mummy Returns.””

Fully up to the action-packed task here is Mark Wahlberg (“”The Perfect Storm,”” “”Boogie Nights””), a serviceable actor who has steadily risen through the ranks by dint of his broad, open features, muscular presence, and unassuming, schoolboy charm. As Leo Davidson, an astronaut on a space research station, circa 2029, he’s not called upon to do much more here, acting-wise, than furrow his brow and summon a expression of grave seriousness.

Hardball – By Sean O’Connell

“”Hardball”” might have been a decent movie, if it wasn’t so racially insensitive, monotonous, stale, insulting and completely predictable. In the spirit of the film’s cliched screenplay, I’ll try and describe this mess using as many baseball catchphrases as possible.

For starters, author Daniel Coyle lobs a sure-fire screenplay based on his nonfiction novel,

Black Knight

Martin Lawrence’s fans should love “”Black Knight,”” though that’s hardly a glowing recommendation. By now, the comedian’s crowd knows what to expect from his efforts, and the frantic funnyman finds a way to deliver the intended laughs. If you’ve neverconsidered yourself a Lawrence fan, then his latest coomedy certainly won’t do anything to win you over to his side, but the comedian’s fans (and you know who you are) shouldn’t be disappointed.

Lawrence plays Jamal Walker, an underachiever working at a run down medieval-themed amusement park who dreams of skipping across town to work for the competition, Castle World. Jamal’s plans are put on hold, though, when he reaches into the moat at his park to pick up a shiny amulet and is mysteriously transported back to 14th century England.Passing himself off as a messanger from France, Jamal lands himself smack dab in the middle of a political uprising by a small faction of peasants who wish to kill the king (Kevin Conway) and reinstate their deposed queen. But its all just a thin setup that allows Lawrence to shamelessly riff, dance and (endlessly) mug his way through a stupid fish-out-of-water routine. Jamal’s love interest, a fair-skinned beauty named Victoria (Marsha Thomason) who recruits our hero for her cause, hits the nail on the head when she flatly tells him, “”You speak with an unusual tongue.”” The problem is he never stops speaking with it. Lawrence established his fan base by lacing crude humor with a psychotic edge. He used to bring a volatility to bland material, and his back-up-off-me attitude always helped elevate him above the buffoons he was cutting down. Here, Martin doesn’t mind playing the fool. At one point, he pretends to be a court jester, which adequately describes his schtick through this flick, and it wears thin almost immediately. “”Black Knight”” originally was written for fellow motor-mouthed comedian Chris Tucker, but it wouldn’t have worked either way. About an hour into the already overlong “”Knight,”” I started paying closer attention to the people sitting in the theater with me. One woman who really enjoyed Lawrence’s antics howled with each toothy grin and cackled every time the actor arched an eyebrow. However, in between gasps of air, the lady kept repeating, “”He’s … so … stupid!”” Glad tosee I wasn’t alone in thinking so.Final Grade: D+Review bySean O’ConnellNovember 21, 2001

The Mummy Returns, He Should Have Stayed Dead

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.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch — Reviewed by Ken Rosenberg

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.

The Glass House – By Peter J. Hannah

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-

Spy Game

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