Category Archives: Movie Reviews

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

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