Archive | April, 2013

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

23 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Ferris Bueller is a bright high school senior who does everything he can possibly think of just to miss a day of school. He pretends to be sick, fools his parents, and then spends his day off cruising around Chicago with his girlfriend and his best friend. While in Chicago, he does whatever he wants.

No wonder Ferris Bueller, the main character in the fine teenage comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” is the most popular guy in school. He has a lot of self-confidence and uses it to do whatever he wants. He has this philosophy: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris, played by Matthew Broderick, states this philosophy right to the camera. Just like Woody Allen’s characters, Ferris Bueller has the freedom to break the fourth wall and speak his mind. At first, it seems like skipping school is all Ferris has on his mind, but there is something more. He’s trying to gain his best friend some self-confidence of his own. His best friend, a wound-up teenager named Cameron (Alan Ruck), is sick and excused from school. He is also in a miserable living environment because his father cares more about his prized possession—a restored red Ferrari—than he does for his own son.

Ferris talks Cameron into helping him steal the Ferrari so they can pick up Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) from school (the excuse: dead grandmother). Together, the three of them spend the day in downtown Chicago—they go to the top of the Sears Tower, see the Board of Trade, have lunch at the Gold Coast, attend a game at Wrigley Field, go to the Art Museum, and see a German-American Day parade in which Ferris leaps aboard a float and has the street dancing to “Twist and Shout” (not a German song, but never mind). The marching band even backs him up on that last one. And a word about that Wrigley Field game—they arrive in the middle of the game and get box seats in the back. I know most kids would rather sit in the bleachers, but do you really think they could find seats in the bleachers when the game is midway?

Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane see the sights of Chicago (all except the Navy Pier, which is a lot of fun—I’ve been there a couple times). But Ferris isn’t just doing this for him—he’s showing his best friend Cameron a good time and how to gain self-respect and self-confidence. In that way, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is not only fun, but it’s sweet. When writer/director John Hughes (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink”) focuses on the teenagers, the film really does work. But what doesn’t work so much are the stuff with the adults. The parents aren’t given much to do, except be oblivious to Ferris’ scheme to skip school. Actually, that’s fine. But the school dean Rooney (well-played by Jeffrey Jones) is given a fair amount of screen time and while he’s very funny in the first half while he’s in his office at school, he’s reduced to many slapstick comedy situations once he leaves the school to hunt down Ferris and use him as an example to other students. Those slapstick comedy scenes don’t work, compared to the scenes involving Ferris and his friends. Another adult character is the dean’s secretary (Edie McClurg)—she’s funny and given the right amount of screen time. And she doesn’t leave the school. She’s in her element here.

There’s another character I should mention—Ferris’ twin sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey). Jeanie is trying to bust Ferris, just as much as Rooney. In the end of the film, she develops a brief but interesting relationship with a drug addict played by Charlie Sheen.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a pleasant comedy with a brilliant protagonist and a nice theme of living life to the fullest. We should all be like Ferris Bueller.

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

23 Apr

Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Super Mario Bros.” is an exhilarating race against time to get from one level to the other before running out of time, then the player has to start all over again. I am of course talking about the “Super Mario Bros.” video game. Its film adaptation is completely different in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be a race against time. It simply shows us two plumber brothers as they get from one place to the other without that much of a struggle.

That is one of many flaws in “Super Mario Bros.” One might expect that the popular video game’s first film adaptation to be as exhilarating and thrilling. But “Super Mario Bros.” is too busy trying to make itself look good that it winds up not being very good at all.

The plot is incomprehensible. When a meteorite struck the earth, the dinosaurs were blasted into a parallel dimension and evolved into dominant creatures. In the present time, the ruler of Dinohattan—King Koopa—wants to merge both universes and take over the world. But he needs to obtain a special piece of the meteorite and Princess Daisy, who lives in our universe and carries the rock around her neck at all times. So he sends two goofball cronies to capture her. Once Daisy is captured, it’s up to her boyfriend Luigi and his brother Mario, both plumbers, to go into the dimension and save her.

Wow. And all this is done without a strong narrative or well-developed characters. And worst of all, there’s no excitement. Maybe that’s because a) there seems to be no sense of danger with the situations the characters go through. And b) video game movies always strike the wrong note. When you play the Mario game, you control the little figure’s actions. But watching the movie, you just stand by and the character onscreen is not doing what you would do. I wouldn’t mind so much if the movie was just an hour and a half of pointless scenes and sequences and seeing that the filmmakers were trying to keep the movie different from the game.

You might be wondering who plays these characters. Well, some interesting casting choices were made. Bob Hoskins is solid, if unspectacular, as Mario, playing it straight throughout. John Leguizamo is Luigi, completely sincere. First he’s appealing but after a while, the sincerity becomes a bit annoying. Dennis Hopper is the film’s main villain Koopa, evolved from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s obvious that Hopper just doesn’t care about his acting in this film. He’s so over-the-top that it’s almost embarrassing to watch. Samantha Mathis brings some appeal to the role of college-aged princess Daisy, but I felt sorry for the actress when she was forced to explain how her father was turned into fungus (I’m not even kidding).

The film looks bleak. The setting of Dinohattan is so unspectacular. It looks like actual Manhattan populated with weirder people. The visual effects are admittedly impressive, but even they can’t redeem this stupid script and bleak look. “Super Mario Bros.” was obviously not made for me, but it brings no imagination to kids, who may love this movie. Real little kids.

Congo (1995)

23 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If you’ve seen “Congo” and read the above verdict, you might think I’m going ape. How can I recommend a movie with silly scenes, cheap gorilla suits, and a ridiculous Romanian character played by Tim Curry? Because I was entertained, darn it. “Congo,” despite its flaws, is an entertaining and funny jungle adventure story, loosely based on a novel by Michael Crichton.

Its villains hardly show up at all and when they do, it’s only briefly. Then, they barely have enough screen time during the climax of the film to become scary villains. But knowing they’re there is enough. The villains, who live in the Congo jungle, are killer gorillas, said to be a new, dangerous species that hunt and kill. As the movie opens, they make a victim out of Charlie (Bruce Campbell), whose father (John Doe Baker, chewing up the scenery) is a megalomaniac tycoon who sent Charlie to the Congo to find a rare diamond that will bring power to the industry’s newest weapon, which will “dominate the communications industry!”

Sent by Baker to find Charlie (but mostly bring back the diamonds) is Karen (Laura Linney), Charlie’s fiancée. When Karen confronts Baker when the diamonds seem more important to him than his son, he doesn’t care. She travels to the Congo with a primatologist named Peter (Dylan Walsh), who has taught an ape named Amy how to communicate by sign language to power a voice synthesizer…and also to drink martinis. He is going to the Congo to set the ape free, since she keeps painting pictures of the jungle.

Another character is thrown into the mix: a Romanian sinister figure named Homolka (Tim Curry). He’s along for the ride to find the city of Zinge (I’m unsure about how to spell it), which is said to hold many diamonds.  Now, Curry’s performance is the kind of performance you wish had a laugh track to go along with it. Every time he talks with that ridiculous phony accent—listen to the way he keeps saying the word “gorilla” and you’ll know what I mean. In fact, even before he says anything, the way he looks—the way he glowers—gets a laugh.

The best performance in the movie is given to Ernie Hudson. He plays their guide, Monroe Kelly, the “great white hunter who happens to be black.” He delivers his lines in such a calm and droll manner, that he comes across as a potential Clark Gable type. He’s terrific in this movie. And so is Linney, for that matter. She plays a female character that is strong and lends a helping hand for her male cohorts.

Anyway, once the group is in the jungle, the movie is good, dumb fun. They will go through many adventures—nearly get eaten by hippos, encounter a ghost tribe, run through a volcano, and be attacked by the killer gorillas. And they will say lines like, “Let’s get out of here while we still can” and “If you run—“ “He’ll chase me, I know.” Not to mention, “Why are they bringing out parachutes?” We also get some funny moments by Amy the gorilla, whose voice (through he synthesizer) sounds like a schoolgirl’s. I laughed when she drank the martini and moved the killer gorillas away, just by calling them “ugly.” It’s a good thing these moments are provided because I knew, right from her first shot, that it was a person in a gorilla suit playing the part.

Another dumb moment in the film: the group is informed that a ghost tribe is trying to bring a dead man back to life by performing a ritual. They go and watch and the tribe wave and point, while chanting, at the same spot. When they stop, Karen asks, “Where’s the man?” Where do you think, lady?

The climax of the film is  well-done. It has stunning visuals, great sets, awesome cinematography, and a real sense of adventure that you’d feel in an Indiana Jones movie (in fact, the director of “Congo” was a producer of the “Indiana Jones” movies).

Michael Crichton, whom I’ve said wrote the source material for “Congo,” was reportedly unhappy with they did with his book. I wouldn’t blame him—this is not in the same league as many other film adaptations of his books, like “Jurassic Park,” for example. Sure, “Congo” is trash. But it’s good trash. There’s such a thing as good trash, then it’s “Congo.”

Adventureland (2009)

23 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Jesse Eisenberg is a talented, subtly humorous young actor whose wit may be dryer than Michael Cera’s, if you can believe that. The odd thing was that he was constantly confused for Michael Cera. That may have something to do with his awkwardness he brings to his young characters in movies such as “The Squid and the Whale,” but also because he happens to be in a movie directed by the director of “Superbad,” which happened to star Michael Cera. (And it was reported that a few high-school girls in fact did mistake the lead for Michael Cera. How about that.) Eisenberg is an appealing actor, and with his quick delivery, you know that he has this way of delivering one-liners almost like he’s at risk. That makes him funny and likeable. He delivers the lead performance in “Adventureland,” a coming-of-age comedy-drama about summer jobs, romance, relationships, and ups and downs with all of the above.

The lead roles in this movie are college-aged, but they are more intelligent and likeable then you would find in lowbrow college comedies. They are real people that we meet every day, and such characters star in this movie, which is funny and realistic. It’s funny for the most obvious reason—its script is funny. It mixes comedy with reality—the best kind of comedy writing you could ask for. OK, so there’s a dorky character that spends every scene flicking the main character in the groin, but even he seems realistic.

The movie is set in the year 1987 for no particular reason other than to have the song “Rock Me Amadeus” play in the background constantly. (Don’t worry—the characters find it annoying too.) Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a recent college graduate who wants to go to Europe with his friends. But his parents are short of funds, which means James must get a summer job. He picks working at Adventureland, a second-rate amusement park where the games are rigged, the employees are bored all the time, and the only good prize is a Giant Ass Panda, which no one should win because there aren’t many of them left. The park is run by a couple, played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who deserve a movie of their own. They’re funny, but they don’t seem like they’re in the same movie as the other characters.

James becomes surprisingly popular, though that could have something to do with the joints that he passes around to others at work. James’ fellow employees are bored Joel (Martin Starr) and the attractive Em (Kristen Stewart). James and Em hang out together and have fun with each other. But there’s a problem—Em is having a secret affair with Adventureland’s maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who is married and is said to have jammed with Lou Reed. (“Don’t believe everything you hear,” he tells James.) As “Adventureland” continues to play out, the relationship between James and Em develops further, causing Em to question her affair with Connell. This relationship between James and Em is the highlight of the movie—it’s richly written and complicated, without the usual clichés with romantic comedies. They are well-acted by Eisenberg and especially by Stewart, whose scenes of confrontation bring out the best performance of her career so far.

In year-end 2009, “Adventureland” hit a lot of critics’ best-of-the-year lists, but for me, the subplot involving the park owners and a few unnecessary scenes (yes, there are some) seemed like a different movie than what is supposed to be. I should give “Adventureland” three-and-a-half stars, but I am giving it three stars because of its faults and because of how I felt about it. I thought it was good, but not as great as it could have been.

Bull Durham (1988)

23 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

1988’s “Bull Durham” could be taken as both a romantic comedy and a baseball movie, but the truth of the matter is that it knows more about baseball than it does about love. And that’s fine with me. It’s probably one of the very best baseball movies I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t merely have a clear intelligence of the game, but also the players’ mindset. And it would make sense—the movie was written and directed by former minor-league player Ron Shelton. His experience shows.

Consider, for example, the scene in which “Crash” Davis, playing for a minor-league team called the Durham Bulls (fictional team, I believe), first goes up to bat in this movie. A masterstroke in this scene—we hear his inner thoughts. He’s thinking of which pitch to take a swing at, but he’s also thinking about a woman he met the other night, and that’s breaking his concentration and practically driving him crazy.

And later in the movie, we also eavesdrop on the pitcher’s inner thoughts, struggling to find the right way to control his pitches. I should also mention that he’s been coached to breathe through his eyelids like lava lizards.

My favorite moment is the hilarious private conversation the players have on the mound during a game—one of the players needs a “live chicken” to lift the curse put on his glove and nobody else knows what to get as a wedding present for one of the players and a groupie (“Candlesticks always make a nice gift”).

This is some, fresh funny writing and there are a lot of scenes like those. It’s very funny, but also insightful.

But the movie isn’t just about baseball—it’s mainly about a romantic triangle. It begins as the Durham Bulls take in a rookie pitcher named LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) for the new season. LaLoosh has a fastball that can hit the strike zone…but only occasionally. There’s a very funny line said by one of the groupies, describing how LaLoosh pitches, right after a sexual encounter in the locker room—but I’m too much of a gentleman to type it for a family magazine.

Anyway, the Bulls hire veteran catcher “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner), who has been in a lot of minor league teams for years, though never making it to the “Show” (the major leagues), to act as an on-field guide for LaLoosh. It’s not exactly a trusting relationship at first—when they first meet, they’re fighting over a woman they meet at the local bar.

The woman is named Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon) and she’s a lover of baseball and baseball players. She explains in an opening monologue that she’s tried “all the major religions, and most of the minor ones” but only believes in the “Church of Baseball.” She also states that there hasn’t been a ballplayer slept with her who didn’t have the best year of his career. She picks out the two more-promising players of the Durham Bulls this year—Crash and LaLoosh (whom she nicknames “Nuke”). Crash doesn’t give in, leaving the affair to Annie and “Nuke.”

But the problem is Annie is constantly on Crash’s mind.

As the movie progresses, Crash and Annie realize they have similar things in common—they want to help Nuke improve his game, and they can state in great detail the things they believe in and appreciate each other’s principles…more or less. Will this relationship develop into a heavy love affair? One knows there’s one waiting for them.

“Bull Durham” is a sports movie not about winning or losing, but about finding more off the field. It never really seems to matter whether the Durham Bulls are winning or losing. They play the games, they win, they lose, they hang out, and meanwhile there’s an affair between Nuke and Annie, and surprising sparks that fly between Annie and Crash. Things get more complicated when Nuke lets a winning streak go to his head and decides not to sleep with Annie again until the team loses.

All three actors—Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins—are excellent here. Costner, who at the time was proving his stardom with movies like “The Untouchables” and “No Way Out,” is playing a role that isn’t especially flashy and just plays it straight, making it more effective. Susan Sarandon is attractive and sexy, and her character Annie Savoy is more three-dimensional than you might think. She’s bright, complex, and just needs somebody to love. Tim Robbins is perfect as the goofy rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh.

Let’s face it, though. With a romantic triangle like the one featured in “Bull Durham,” you’d see much more problems for them to face and eventually, everything would just fall apart. This is not the movie where that happens. Actually, maybe it would happen like that in reality, maybe it wouldn’t. But either way, when all is said and done, “Bull Durham” is a movie. In the movies, we like to believe that love can be found in the most non-fateful ways.

“Bull Durham” is as nonconventional as a sports movie can get. It doesn’t resort to overblown clichés in the baseball scenes. It knows what it’s talking about and it comes from a great screenplay from Ron Shelton, a man who learned from experience. “Bull Durham” is a grand slam.

The Lion King (1994)

22 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember those old Disney animated movies which featured moments that scare little kids (and maybe some older ones too), or at least emotionally scarred them? “The Lion King,” a Disney animated feature released decades after those films, recalls such moments and creates a whole movie with them. One of those Disney animated features was “Bambi,” and everybody mourned Bambi’s mother. Here in “The Lion King,” another young animal character loses a parent. It’s a sad moment. Disney animators can create such appealing animated characters and then have the courage to a) put them in danger or b) kill them off.

“The Lion King” is one of the best Disney animated features I’ve ever seen. It takes elements of “Bambi,” crosses them with “Hamlet,” and turns the characters into lions, a bird, a warthog, and a meerkat (whatever that is). And of course, the makers of “The Lion King” add some ideas of their own.

And also, it adds some very memorable songs. The film features a cute little lion cub named Simba who dreams of being king of the pride one day, as he expresses to his little cub girlfriend Nala in one of the film’s best musical numbers, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” Other great, memorable songs include “Circle of Life,” which establishes the power of the lions’ home and order of the other animals in a great-looking-and-sounding opening sequence. Also, there’s “Hakuna Matata,” sung by Simba’s newfound friends late in the movie, which tells him not to worry about his past. (“Hakuna Matata” means “no worries” in Swahili.) But by far the best song is the film’s love song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” by Elton John and Tim Rice. These songs add to the charm of this wonderful movie.

The story is about guilt and redemption. Simba (voiced by “Home Improvement’s” Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is the heir to his father’s throne. Something goes horribly wrong and he is led to believe that he is the cause of his father’s death. So he runs away and lives with a meerkat named Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and a warthog named Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella) to find peace. But letting go of the past isn’t easy.

The cub’s uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons, with his dry British accent) is the one who made Simba feel guilty. He comes from a long line of Disney villains and he’s definitely one of the best. Scar is the farthest from a buffoon. He’s a slimy, conniving, mysterious, evil lion who travels with a pack of laughing hyenas (two of which are voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin). He kills his own brother Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and leads his nephew to believe he caused it. This is not a lion to be trifled with. In fact, I don’t know if the scene in which Mufasa meets his demise should even be shown to children under 8. For a film rated G, this film has a rather large amount of violence, including a sequence in which two lions fight to the death. Parents, take that into consideration.

Aside from the drama and the grimness of the story, we get some great comic relief. The hyenas are like angry villagers who don’t get paid enough at their odd jobs. And Timon and Pumbaa are very funny supporting characters, helping Simba get over his problems. How do they help him feel better? By feeding him a grub and singing him a song about no worries.

The animation, as if predictably, is amazing. The best handdrawn animated sequence in the film features a stampede of wildebeests chasing young Simba through a gorge. Amazing, and it looks almost life-like. Disney animators always seem to master handdrawn animation. Remember the ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast?” In “The Lion King,” they use lighting and colors to make everything bright and great-looking and doesn’t forget that these characters are not human.

This is truly a great animated film by the Disney studios, telling a tale of redemption and guilt and facing the past. It also adds comic relief and a good deal of fun. The animation is bright, the songs are memorable, the story is great, the characters have depth, and I’d even put “The Lion King” in a class with “Bambi” and that’s a very high class indeed.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

22 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I had a feeling this was too good to be true. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first two Terminator movies, I really wished I could’ve loved this third movie as well. But it’s heavy-handed and filled with subplots involving the government that are boring when they should be thrilling. Skynet is about to call on Judgment Day in a matter of hours and machines are going to destroy us, just like everyone in the first two movies said they would. Why am I bored? That’s what’s mainly wrong with this movie, entitled “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” It does have heavy-handed, thrilling action sequences and chase scenes but it has too much going on with the story and I was not as thrilled as I was with the previous Terminator films.

Stars Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, and even director James Cameron are missing in action for this third movie. But Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the Terminator, playing a good guy again. His mission is to protect John Connor, now in his early 20s. As you remember from the second movie, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the conflict was to stop Judgment Day from ever occurring, thus stopping the machines from rising. But the Terminator has returned many years later and said, “You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.” Sure, don’t give us a happy ending to the series. We just wanna see Ah-nold in the saddle again. You remember, the previous films were about something. This third one is more concerned with action. And there is plenty of it here.

We also get plenty of Arnold’s deadpan one-liners, mostly all of which work as comedic timing. But the emotion that was in the second film that I loved so much is missing here. Here, we have John Connor and the Terminator racing against time to survive or stop what’s coming and not much else. Also in the mix is a young veterinarian named Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), who recognizes John from her childhood. You see, John “lives off the grid” now, running away from everything in the world after his mother died of leukemia. Nick Stahl is John this time. But he just plays him as a guy with an action-hero physique and not as a guy who lives off the grid. Edward Furlong, who played John in the second film, really gave John Connor the credibility of the character that is supposed to save the human race if the machines rise. You see, this is why John always has to be protected.

This time, he has to be protected by the T-X (Kristanna Loken), an evil Terminator that can control other machines so they can run by themselves and destroy everything. She has the outward appearance of a female blonde model but she’s an evil machine. One of the problems with this movie is that she’s a particularly compelling villain, even though she looks icy beautiful. I realize that the whole point is that these Terminators are machines and therefore can’t show emotions. But when the machines begin to rise and attack John and Kate, they make for some pretty effective villains. The special effects are outstanding here. The machines look realistic and director Jonathan Mostow gives a good look to the film. He loves to blow things up real good. The best chase sequence in the film involves every vehicle you can think of. One little problem is that he doesn’t have a flair for darkness, much like James Cameron had. And he may be a bit too fond of chase scenes. This movie is less interested in what made the previous films intriguing and more interested in action.

The ending is a letdown. It raises all sorts of questions that need to be answered and in many ways, it’s anticlimactic. Why, after all of these action sequences and chase scenes, did they just decide to end that way?

Despite the clever action, amazing special effects, and good performances, especially by Schwarzenegger, Stahl, and Danes, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” just seems like a fanboy’s script and is not as intriguing and thrilling as the previous films, which I thought were great. It just seems like an unnecessary sequel with a few good things but not the potential of the predecessors.

Speed (1994)

22 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Speed” has exactly what every action movie should have—a strong, likable hero, a threatening villain, and of course, gripping action sequences that deliver some fantastic special effects. This is the Ideal Summer Blockbuster that doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It’s a compelling rollercoaster of a movie that doesn’t slow down once it speeds up, if you’ll forgive the pun. Now, of course, there are more than a dozen other action films that feature a lot of action, but not a lot of them are interesting in their characters or even their stunts or effects in their action sequences. “Speed” manages to fix the problem(s).

First, I should say that “Speed” has an extremely clever premise. Imagine if you will: a bomb set under a city bus is armed when the bus speeds up to fifty miles per hour. If the bus drives under fifty, the whole darn thing explodes. What can you do about this situation in Los Angeles traffic? At rush hour? And with a fifty-foot gap in the unfinished freeway?

The bomber is a mysterious psychotic who has everything planned out in his every plot. He’s played by Dennis Hopper, and while it seems like a cliché to cast him as a villain, Hopper is naturally threatening and delivers a great performance.

The bomber wants revenge on reckless LAPD police officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) after he and his partner (Jeff Daniels) foiled one of his plots in an opening scene. They mistook him for dead—they’re wrong. So now there’s a bomb on a bus and Jack is the one who has to get on board and save the hostages…without slowing down or stopping the bus. Of course, Jack makes it onboard the bus and after a passenger shoots the driver of the bus, a female passenger named Annie (Sandra Bullock) is forced to drive.

I love this exchange:

JACK: Ma’am, can you handle this bus?

ANNIE: Oh sure, it’s like driving a really big Pinto.

And so the bus goes through wrong lanes, construction sites, airport runways, and of course, that unfinished freeway. Through all of this madness, Jack thinks fast and comes up with ways of getting out of every sticky situation that comes around. Of course a lot of it is preposterous (I mean, a bus that size can’t really jump a fifty-foot gap in the street). But what’s important is that a lot of it is a ton of fun. There isn’t a dull moment to be found here. “Speed” is kept alive by the charisma of the actors and the intensity of those extraordinary action sequences.

I suppose I should also mention that “Speed” is sort of like a three-act play. In between the bus story are bookends (an opening scene involves an elevator and a closing scene involves a subway train). Why is this necessary? Because we know that we want more in a film like this.

Keanu Reeves shows a great deal of charisma and plays a credible action hero while also displaying recklessness and bravery. He’s a likable guy for us to root for. And who wouldn’t root for him when, after all that’s happened, he puts himself under the bus, trying to dismantle the bomb? Sandra Bullock shows a lot of spunk as the woman who has to save all the other passengers, as well as become Jack’s possible love interest—she and Reeves have good chemistry together. And then you have Dennis Hopper, whose character issues ultimatums and is very sinister. He’s one of the creepiest and most charismatic villains you’ll find in an action film.

“Speed” is a blockbuster through and through and it looks like Reeves, Hopper, and Bullock had a good time making it and I bet director Jan de Bont had a blast making it. He and the rest of the crew spent a lot of money on this film—they’ll get it back. “Speed” is a wonderful action film—one of the best action films I’ve ever seen.

The Crucible (1996)

22 Apr


NOTE (from 2019): I wrote this review 10 years ago, when I was 16…obviously, I didn’t get it. I did revisit the film recently–it’s better than I remember it…though I’m still not quite sure I’d recommend it.

Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve read the original play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller for English class in the eleventh grade. Maybe it was just my sixteen-year-old mind, but I didn’t find it riveting or powerful at all. I just found it dull with unbelievable characters and a dreadfully confusing storyline. (OK, I didn’t say that, but you get the idea.) So why should the film adaptation of “The Crucible” be any different? It’s an obnoxious, dull experience that didn’t move me in any way.

It starts to go wrong at the first scene. The setting is Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, the year of the Salem Witch Trials. So with the guidance of women in Salem, how in the world did they get out of their homes unnoticed to share a ceremony in the woods in the middle of the night? This is a Puritan society and these women dance naked together around a fire. The scene is mentioned in the play, but put offstage. That was a wise decision. It made us ask if what they were talking about was true. And since we see this scene early on, I was bored already.

And then the story develops, like the play, into a series of false accusations of witchcraft, religious hysteria, and sexual lust. The town minister’s niece Abigail (Winona Ryder) is accused by an ill little girl of practicing witchcraft, and soon, the whole town is in an uproar. At the center of the story is a good man named John Proctor (Daniel Day Lewis). When Abigail was his servant girl, he committed adultery with the wench. Soon after, Abigail was thrown out by John’s wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) and she never lets John forget their moment. She is out to cause misery for this man and John regrets their affair. He would love saucy, little Abigail to go away.

And so would I. Winona Ryder is a good actress, but she doesn’t create a credible presence here at all. She is painfully miscast here. And sadly, so is Daniel Day Lewis, who looks like he would rather be somewhere else, and is not particularly compelling as the lead role.

Soon, a witchhunter—Judge Danforth (Paul Scofield)—is brought to town to judge the trials of witchcraft that just about everybody, including Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison, not believable here at all), believes to have been practiced by the midnight frolickers. But as these trials continue and evidence is disappearing, Danforth’s patience is tested. He wants someone to be punished, whether someone is guilty of witchcraft or not.

All of this leads to a climax that I didn’t buy at all because I knew which of the characters are guilty and innocent, and frankly, I didn’t really care. There are only two characters in this movie that I find credible, three of which are well-acted—Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor; Paul Scofield as Judge Danforth; and Karron Graves as Mary, one of the women suspected of using witchcraft. They do very well at remaining plausible in this improbable situation. The other characters are stiff, unbelievable, and annoying. How annoying? About 85% of dialogue in this movie is panicked shouting. I wanted to yell at the screen to the characters, “Shut up!” That’s how “The Crucible” worked for me. I never wanted to yell that to any other movie, even though there are much worse movies than this one.

Bio-Dome (1996)

22 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: Zero stars

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Obnoxious” is the word to describe “Bio-Dome.” Actually, I think the word “obnoxious” was invented specifically for “Bio-Dome.” Other words that come to mind are ugly, stupid, unfunny, lack of charm, unappealing, and dumb. It is possible to make a movie about two likable lunkheads (examples are the Wayne’s World movies and the Bill and Ted movies), but with “Bio-Dome,” I wanted its star lunkhead duo to get shot.

These two dorks are Bud and Doyle, played by Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin. Here are two of the most annoying movie characters ever to hit the screen. They’re dumb and obnoxious and SOMEHOW live in a nice house together and have attractive girlfriends. Their girlfriends are tree-huggers who want the boys to join them in cleaning up waste near a lake. The boys would rather hit each other in the heads with books.

Meanwhile a team of environmentalists is planning on being hermetically sealed within the Bio-Dome, an environmental facility that will close them in for one year. Bud and Doyle wind up locked in with them and shenanigans ensue, not one single one of them funny.

The joke, I think, is that these two are so disrespectful towards nature and make life in the Bio-Dome miserable for the scientists. But worse yet, they make us miserable, trying to be funny but just falling flat on their faces (sometimes literally). I have to ask—did any of the filmmakers or the actors find any of them funny? Apparently they thought one joke of theirs was funny and expanded it to make this piece of trash. And the joke is…I’m repeating myself here, NOT FUNNY!

Pauly Shore was just starting to gain critics’ attention in the movie “In the Army Now.” Before then, he was just as obnoxious as fingernails scratching along a long blackboard. Now he’s at top obnoxious mode as Bud in “Bio-Dome.” This character is so obnoxious, so unwatchable, that I wanted to punch a hole in the screen to let off some steam. And Stephen Baldwin is not much better as Doyle. I hear he’s the brother of Alec; I can almost hear Alec mocking him.

Nothing in this movie is redeemable. I feel sorry for anybody who could possibly find anything that’s thrown at the screen the slightest bit funny. “Bio-Dome” is an obnoxious piece of trash that needs to be taken out.

And compacted.