Category Archives: Movie Reviews

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

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.