Thursday, March 31, 2005

Constantine - Good vs. Evil

It's a simple story, right? Good vs. Evil. Unfortunately, Constantine makes it complicated.

Constantine is the story of an embittered man (played by Keanu Reeves, wise-cracking his way through the cigarette smoke) who can see into Hell itself. Since a small boy, he's been able to see those demons and monsters who walk among us, those "half-breeds," as he calls them, who have the ability to come into our world and "influence." He fights them whenever he can. And that's when Constantine is at his best, pulling a demon out of a little girl's soul.

Constantine, although our hero, is not a hero's hero. He's not the Good in GvE. He's plagued by his own inner demons, much more powerful than those outside. Overwhelmed by his special gifts, he committed suicide as a young man, and the church has condemned him to hell. What he does now are his attempts to sway the balance to the positive, if just a little.

The movie offers terrific effects, sparingly used, so that we get the full impact of falling into the abyss of Hell, or watching the female detective be pulled through seven walls of the office building. Horror is at its greatest during these moments, as a feeling of utter hopelessness and lack of control take over our consciousness as we watch.

But the movie can't sustain these pieces of ingenuity. As soon as we get revved up in a dandy scene of horror or action, we're pulled back to utter boredom. We stand still during exposition and introduction of dozens of odd characters which have little to do with the story. Then we rev up again for a few seconds during a brilliantly staged action scene. But then we plummet back to earth again, exhausted and confused. I discovered this after I awoke.

Falling asleep, unfortunately, is a natural in most of this movie. I recommend it.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Alien vs. Predator

The rating for Alien vs. Predator gives it a PG-13, mostly for "slime and gore." Oooh. I've never seen that before.

As a sci fi movie fan, I hope for something more. I hope for the promise to be fulfilled -- we get high production values, good acting, a good story. But mostly we get to see the real protagonists of a movie such as this: the alien and the predator.

Any maker of such a movie knows that there's an unwritten list of the fan base. You have to answer this list if you hope to have the fans come back to your movie time and time again, to make it a hit. Fans of this genre have seen four Alien movies and two Predator movies. They've read the comics, they've created their own fiction, they've played the games. They want to see the Alien fight the Predator. Each fan has his or her own idea about who would win. So....we want to see the actual battle. More than that: we want to see each use its gifts and powers. The Predator, with his dreadlocks and armor, has personality, individualism, a great cache of weapons. The Alien is like the wandering white shark, all instinct, primal, with acid for blood. Each is an art form.

Lance Henriksen, the only star you'll recognize in the movie -- and maybe you won't even recognize his name, but he appeared in Aliens as well as Frank Black in The X-Files and Millennium T.V. shows -- said at Wonder Con that Sanaa Lathan is a miracle find and is fabulous in the movie. She is. She hasn't done much recognizable movie fare, but she's commanding in her first lead role. But, as I explained, she's not really the lead here. We're all waiting for the aliens.

While the 1979 Alien movie wrapped the creature in darkness at each early encounter, this film illuminates both creatures in spectacular lighting, lest there be any doubt who we're really here to see. And we see them within the first 25 minutes, when the Alien appears. He takes his first victim. We're on our way.

But it's hard to build suspense into a film when we know what's going to happen. We know we'll see the Alien fight the Predator. We know several humans -- maybe even all of them? -- will die in the interaction. We expect that. Where's the suspense?

And eventually that's the problem with this movie. We get the battles the fans demand. But in a personality starpower competition, there's nowhere to go. The humans are on the lower evolutionary rung. Aliens 2, Humans 0. And there goes the suspense.

But thumbs up for Alien or Predator fans. Slime and gore. This is what we came to see.

Miss Congeniality 2: Unarmed & Not Terribly Fabulous

I should recuse myself right here from writing this review: I am a Sandra Bullock fan. I try to see all her movies. I tend to like her in everything. Oh, c'mon -- surely there are movies you see just because of some star that's in it? (How else could I explain seeing six Jude Law movies in 2004?)

But this one doesn't measure up. The big title of this Bullock-produced movie is Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. She isn't armed through most of the movie, and that's the story in itself: her character becomes the FBI's public relations model by becoming a super-coiffed spokesperson that smiles out of necessity rather than genuineness. This new character isn't Fabulous, either, but tries to drive the story so that she sees the error of her movie ways and becomes real and appealing once again. But the movie fails to meet its goals, either in entertainment or showing Sandra in her best light, that of the everyday-but-very-appealing woman trying to make the best with what she's been given.

I loved Miss Congeniality, the original movie, for two reasons. First, it showed Ms. Bullock as we like to see her. She had obstacles to overcome, and in spite of her own stubbornness was able to do this AND win the guy at the same time, all on her own terms. But the best part about the first movie was the triumvirate of character actors: Michael Caine, Candice Bergen, and William Shatner. These three were so terribly over-the-top, almost parodies of themselves, and that device worked wonderfully. Michael Caine, especially, was effective and funny as the gay groomer who tries to change Sandra Bullock's character so that she could effectively appear in a beauty pageant.

Unfortunately, only one is here this time, Bill Shatner. But he's only given one or two lines, relegated to a cameo role, one that doesn't make use of his self-parodying gifts as the beauty pageant MC.

The guest stars who do appear are talented, to be sure, but they're not given dialogue that helps define them. I recognized several character actors from movies, Broadway and T.V. -- Enrique Murciano from Without a Trace, Elisabeth Rohm from Law and Order, Regina King from movies like Ray -- but the roles don't play to their talents. Regina King, especially, is wasted as a kind of sterile backdrop for Bullock's character. It's really too bad.

The only thing to recommend this movie is that there are a couple of laughs in the situations where Bullock can drop a sarcastic line, dialogue that the audience didn't seem to pick up easily, a problem that can be traced back to the movie's pacing. And the soundtrack is appealing, but only if you like r&b songs from the '80's. And there's always Bullock, who is as appealing as always but not enough to overcome the problems with script, pacing and character development.

Thumbs down for Miss Congeniality, the Dreaded Sequel, and we hope there will be no more. See the original.

I Heart Huckabees

I usually give you some clues first before I tell you whether I liked the movie, suggest you see it, or just flat hated it. However, in this case, I'm going to flat-out tell you not to see I Heart Huckabees.

This is a train wreck that totally missed the tracks. An indie that should've stayed an indie. It will appeal only to a small segment of the movie-going audience (more like a DVD-watching audience), those people who love being confused by plot threads that never come together and a tremendous waste of prodigious talent.

It's even hard to summarize this mess. Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman are a husband-and-wife team who focus on nebbish Albert, played by Jason Schwartzman, therapists with a unique approach who try to convince him that his existential life is screwed up.

The characters themselves are kind of appealing. Jason has a little lost-boy quality who's way above his head in the let's-save-every-tree environment. Lily Tomlin is intriguing as a detective trying to observe behavior while drawing attention to herself with revealing dresses. And yada yada yada. However, the sum of all of these parts is boooooring. It's a confused mosaic that never successfully brings the parts together.

Huckabees is a thumb's down all the way.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


What's It All About? It's all about Jude Law. He's at his finest here, a lower class bloke who's only got one thing on his mind in Manhattan: women. Women of all sizes, shapes, personalities, and star power.

It took a bit of a change of script to modernize the tale. The original Alfie, done perfectly by newly budding star Michael Caine, was a rakish young Cockney who treated the birds as if they were lower than animals, but freaked out when one of them sought an abortion. The look on Caine's face was moving, shuddering, and was the scene which became the life-changing event that brought about a halt to the arrogance and uselessness of his life.

There's no such scene in the modern Alfie. Frankly it wouldn't play well these days. But the screenwriters found other ways to bring about change in Alfie's perception of women and the world and his place in it.

The wonderful extras of the Alfie DVD show that the screenwriters tried to replace the events in the original movie with ones that would equal the impact, and they did the same thing with Alfie's women. However, it's my opinion that they erred in casting for most of these women. Marisa Tomei should be the grounding force as the girlfriend who gets sick of his wandering ways, but she looks more sad and helpless than determined and powerful. Nia Long seems tired and lost as the girlfriend of Alfie's best friend. Sienna Miller is interesting in the weird rocker chick "Nikki." Jane Krakowski is good in her very brief role as the woman who seeks the chauffeur to solve her marital problems.

The only woman who really has an impact on us, and a big one on Alfie, is Susan Sarandon. It's a small role, but watch out! She moves onto the scene like a lioness, with great authority, arrogant in her own way, and takes Alfie for what he is. Unfortunately, that's all he is, and he lands badly. This thud on top of the other issues in his life is the straw that starts realization and change.

I do recommend Alfie for a quiet night, a study into the mind of the young man who wants to "get it on." While I wish the casting directors had made better choices, the story still moves and Jude Law is still a great Alfie.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Zoolander - One-Note Stiller

I was having dinner with a friend of mine when we started discussing Ben Stiller movies. Ben Stiller movies are proliferating like crazy, sort of like Adam Sandler movies, and are usually marked by a certain quirkiness. Ben himself is very deeply involved in creating most of his movies, and if they're not wonderfully scripted they're at least terrifically cast.

My friend mentioned "Zoolander," one of Ben's that, unlike most of his movies, was not a hit. Then my friend said those words that cause that old vinyl record to go bumping against its needle: "You might want to check it out. It's not....half bad. In fact, it's sorta funny." Screeeeeeech!! Despite my mind's numbing alarm, I decided to check it out.

Zoolander is a male model. That's basically the whole premise. No brains, no social conscience, no sense of humor. Ben Stiller's "sweet simpleton who never hurt a fly" (as his own boss puts it, played by Ben's own father) is the same joke, over and over. That's the good part. As you can probably guess, that's also the bad part.

But although monotonous, the one-joke is pretty funny. He's got that pretty little pout, continually aware that he's terribly good looking, coiffed just right, striking a pose as he walks down the catwalk of The Big Apple. When Zoolander walks into the coal mine in an outlandish snake suit. just to say "hi" and "can I work here too now that I'm quitting the model business?" to his father and brothers, I had to stifle a growing belly laugh.

The jokes are monotonous, yes, but they often dip into toilet humor. So we have the same note of a star, coupled with really low, stupid jokes, sometimes really involving toilets. Color that worse.

I must admit that I had an emergency and couldn't watch this film all the way through. The emergency: My Tivo set ran out of recording time. I hit delete without remorse.