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Kids (1995)

13 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The kids in the title of the film, “Kids,” refer to rebellious, aimless, pathetic, sex-crazed, drug-addicted, loudmouthed teenagers who care about nothing except sex, drugs, alcohol, skateboarding, and each other’s company. These are city kids who may seem like clean-cut kids to some people’s eyes (emphasis on the “some”), but are really some of the worst sort of young people around. And “Kids” is an ugly portrait of them.

This may seem like a documentary, but it isn’t. The social interaction and the way the camera lingers around it may have viewers mistake it to be reality. But the 19-year-old Harmony Korine, who has an ear for how inner-city children talk, wrote this film with dialogue, and the director Larry Clark directs the young actors and keeps his camera movements to frenetic quietness. But at times, it’s very disturbing, especially in the scenes involving sex.

The central character is a boy about fifteen or sixteen years old named Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick). At first, he looks like a normal kid and seems sincere and kind of nerdy. When we first see him, he’s making out with a girl in her bedroom and he talks her into having sex. At first, the girl says she’s afraid of having a baby, but Telly coaxes her by saying that with him, she wouldn’t have to worry about it and that she would love it.

It’s after that (and yes, we do see it) that we know that Telly is obsessed with deflowering young virgins. Not only that—13-year-old virgins. After he leaves his latest victim’s house, he walks the streets with his buddy Casper (Justin Pierce) and tells him about his philosophy of virgins and that he might be getting addicted to deflowering virgins. He doesn’t believe in condoms, either.

Casper is another kid who doesn’t care about much. He’s constantly stoned and drunk, and seems to envy Telly’s track record with sex. Their friends aren’t any better—together, they talk nonstop about sex, smoke weed, and drink. There are younger kids with them—they try to fit in by acting like big-time sex addicts too. But we also see just how dangerous they can be, as they beat a kid closely to death with a skateboard.

We experience a 24-hour routine day with these kids. But while all that’s going on, we get something close to a plot with a girl named Jennie (Chloe Sevigny), who is the only sympathetic character in the movie. Jennie has only had sex once, whereas her friends have experienced it multiple times and talk in as much detail about it as the boys, though they have very different opinions. Anyway, Jennie goes with a friend named Ruby (Rosario Dawson) for an HIV test. Ruby has had sex with eight guys and tests negative, but Jennie has only had sex with Telly and tests positive.

Just when you didn’t think it was possible to dislike Telly more, we find out that he is HIV positive and is spreading the virus around as he continues his one ambition in life. As for Jennie, her life collapses around her. And now, she spends the day trying to find Telly and save another girl from a fate similar to hers.

The young actors are all too real at playing these rebellious youths, particularly Leo Fitzpatrick as Telly. The hatred of Telly has to be credited to Fitzpatrick for a real tough performance. This is every parent’s nightmare.

“Kids” is not a film to enjoy, but it’s taken as a wake-up call to the world, as most critics of this movie say it is. Everything seems real, and that’s an unnerving aspect of viewing these kids. Even more unnerving is that if you watch this film and then watch a documentary about inner-city children, you won’t notice much difference. It’s hard for me to believe that “Kids” was even scripted with dialogue, but it was. And it’s hard to believe that the kids are actually young actors, but they are. “Kids” is not an enjoyable film—it’s uneasy to watch at times, but mostly, it’s a powerful, deep look at how these kids may slowly but surely be wasting their lives away.

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Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill (1995)

10 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill” is an entertaining family adventure that has an interesting group of heroes for its target audience—being a Disney film, I assume that’s children under the age of ten, although if you get past the silliness of the premise, people of all ages can enjoy it too. The premise and its group of heroes are quite intriguing material for a family adventure movie. It’s a Western about a young boy who saves his family’s farm from an evil land developer with help from three legendary figures—Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and Pecos Bill. That’s our group of heroes (the “tall tales” of the title)—folk heroes, not necessarily superpeople with abilities to fly or practice jujitsu onto their enemies. Already, I’m intrigued. Even if “Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill” gets a little too ridiculous at times, it is mostly very entertaining.

The boy’s name is Daniel Hackett (Nick Stahl, who’s OK but a little bland in the role) who has been told these tall tales by his prideful father Jonas (Stephen Lang). They live in Paradise Valley, a Western area untouched by sinister land developer Stiles (Scott Glenn) that plans to tear it all down as soon as he gets the deeds to every inch of it. But Jonas turns down Stiles’ offer, which leads one of Stiles’ hired guns to wound him. Jonas leaves the deed to the land to Daniel, who runs and winds up falling asleep on a boat in the nearby lake. But he awakens to find himself in a Texas desert (magically, I suppose), where he meets the first of the three heroes he will encounter—gun-slingin’ cowboy Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze, who is hands-down the coolest person in the movie). As Pecos Bill assists Daniel to get back home for his father, they run into lumberjack Paul Bunyan (Oliver Platt) and strongman John Henry (Roger Aaron Brown) along the way. They teach Daniel how to stand up for himself and his beliefs.

It’s a strong asset to the movie that these “tall tales” are represented with the same dignity of their legend. Pecos Bill may remind some viewers of Indiana Jones, but I guess that’s the point in giving him an adventurous personality with a sly sense of humor and manner. John Henry is a strongman who knows a thing or too about pride and respect (and had his own rocky relationship with his own father which shadows the life Daniel has with his strict father). Paul Bunyan is not a giant (though he is relatively large in human height), but he is as strong as they come when it comes to lumberjacking—he even lives inside of a hollowed-out redwood tree, which is a nice touch. (And of course, there’s Paul’s loyal blue ox, Babe, to complete the ensemble.) All three roles are played very well by the actors.

The film is not great—some motivations are unclear, and the writers couldn’t avoid sentimental clichés as well as adventurous clichés (such as when Daniel is only inches away from being cut in a sawmill). And there’s a walk-on by Calamity Jane (Catherine O’Hara), who I wished had a much larger part. But there are some things to like about it, especially the visuals. Visually, “Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill” is a treat, with top-notch production design and great cinematography. There are many great shots in the movie; my most favorite features a mountain meadow where butterflies flutter around the characters. The visuals, the heroes, and some gripping adventure sequences make “Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill” a terrific adventure indeed.

Heavyweights (1995)

27 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In the film “Heavyweights,” an eleven-year-old overweight kid named Gerry believe his summer is ruined when his parents toss him into a summer camp for fat kids. At first, he feels like he’s just been made fun of and is not very serious about losing weight. But then he sees that none of the other kids are interested in losing weight, and in their home cabin they keep a treasure trove of goodies.

However, the fun ends after a few hours into the first day when the friendly owners of the camp announce their retirement, and taking their place is a fitness guru named Tony Perkis, who wants these kids to lose weight and fast so he can make an infomercial about a fat camp that actually succeeds in its original purpose. So he makes life at camp hell for these kids.

OK, that’s the setup for “Heavyweights,” a family movie about summer camp that is surprisingly funny and appealing…right up until the overly predictable final half. This is a movie in which the kids get their victory, but not by conquering the crazed fitness guru’s dictation. No, they get their victory by beating the more athletic campers of a sports camp in an obstacle course and go-cart race. Why? Did the writer run out of ideas? Could the filmmakers have come up with anything but the overly predictable, unnecessary “big game” ending? Why did this have to happen?

I was having fun with a lot of the material before that ending. The kids are good comic actors—especially Aaron Schwartz as the central character Gerry, Shaun Weiss as the cooler fat kid Josh, and Kenan Thompson as their friend Roy. The adult cast has fun with their roles—especially Tom McGowen as camp veteran Pat, Tom Hodges as a Schwarzenegger-type named Lars, and Paul Feig as a skinny counselor named Tim. And there are multiple one-liners that made me laugh out loud, even when there are summer-camp clichés in the script, such as when the kids go to a dance. I also liked that these kids were not portrayed in a condescending way at all—they’re just regular kids who want to have fun but are sidetracked by Tony Perkis.

Oh, I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention the actor who plays Perkis. As Perkis, Ben Stiller is phenomenally entertaining. This performance has to be seen to be believed. Perkis has a mocking attitude that is part-Fonzie and part-Wayne from “Wayne’s World” and just plain silly. He is also psychotically energetic. But it should be no surprise that Ben Stiller has comedy in his genes. His parents are Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, a husband-and-wife comedy team who also make an appearance as the original camp owners. (I mentioned there are great one-liners in the script, one of which is when Jerry Stiller says one final piece of advice to the kids: “Never let anyone sign your checks!”)

But then the film sinks when it reaches up to the sentimental, feel-good “big game” ending that did not work at all, not in the slightest bit. Maybe it was to be expected, since we learn from the ads that the film was created “from the creator of ‘The Mighty Ducks.’” But I still can’t figure out why the creator wanted this movie—which had fun leading up to it—to end with such a clichéd scene with nothing new or original at all. This ending to “Heavyweights” forces me not to recommend it.

Batman Forever (1995)

26 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Batman Forever” is the third entry in the Batman film adaptation series, following the box-office hits “Batman” and “Batman Returns.” Those two movies were directed by Tim Burton, who certainly gave the Caped Crusader a dark edge and a really dark story in each of the movies. They weren’t necessarily aimed at smaller children, which kind of ticked some people off, since they were hoping for lighthearted family adventures to take the whole family to see. So, for the third movie, Tim Burton wasn’t the director, and made way for Joel Schumacher. The result is “Batman Forever,” which is not completely satisfying, but still the Batman movie that audiences were hoping for—an amusing, high-spirited, brighter, more colorful, fast-paced thrill ride.

There are certainly more kid-friendly jokes such as the closeups of the batsuit buttocks and batsuit nipples, which are shown right at the opening as Batman is suiting up and preparing for action. And there are some pretty cheesy lines, like—“It’s the car, right? Chicks dig the car”—and—“Not every girl makes a superhero’s nightstand.” And to keep things less terrifying for the kids (I mean, compared to Danny DeVito’s repulsive Penguin in the previous film), Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as Batman’s arch-nemeses play their roles so over-the-top that you can’t take their roles seriously. You just sit back and laugh at their goofy antics.

A lot happens in “Batman Forever.” So I’ll try to fit everything into the story description. Batman a.k.a. eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer, taking over for Michael Keaton) is still fighting crime in Gotham City, but now has two villains to conquer. The first is Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), who was the former lawyer Harvey Dent until he went insane after half of his face was badly burned. He has his own aids by his side and he’s diabolical enough, but he’s not necessarily intelligent. This is where Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) comes in. Nygma is a scientist working in Bruce Wayne’s electronics department. He has invented a machine that to beam television waves to your brain—just think of the ultimate 3-D. He tries it on himself and becomes…well, “wacko.” He hopes to ultimately humiliate Bruce since he was the one who shunned his invention, and also hopes to rule Gotham City. Getting a green suit & mask and calling himself the Riddler because he loves to create difficult riddles for his new subjects to solve, he joins up with Two-Face as they race to kill Batman.

But meanwhile, Bruce has a few problems to deal with. One is seducing a female psychiatrist named Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), who only has eyes for the Caped Crusader. (“It’s the car, right? Chicks dig the car.”) But she seems to know a lot about split personalities, which everyone in this movie seems to have, so it shouldn’t take too long for her to figure out who Batman is.

Also, there’s a new boy in Wayne Manor—a young acrobat named Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) whose parents are killed by Two-Face at their circus show, while Two-Face tries to get to Batman. Bruce feels sorry for Dick and, along with his butler Alfred (Michael Gough, reprising his role), takes him in. But the problem is Dick is a rebellious, motorcycle-riding street punk who sometimes attempts to run away. However, Bruce shows Dick his motorcycle collection and everything seems cool. And if Dick proves to be loyal enough, maybe he’ll become Batman’s sidekick, called Robin.

The storyline is overstuffed, as you may have noticed. But they do deal with some interesting developments, such as the new romance and the new father/son type relationship with Bruce and Dick. And like I said, the movie is mostly cheerful fun in its action, which is fine for those who thought “Batman Returns” was too dark and gloomy for audiences. We have many one-liners from the heroes, laughs for the villains (particularly the Riddler), and some cute visual gags that pass for neat gimmicks and some outstanding stuntwork. For example from that last one, I love how the Batmobile rolls straight up the edge of a skyscraper—it’s one of those moments that remind you of the original campy 1960s TV series “Batman.”

The movie looks good—brighter and more colorful in how it presents Gotham City, with its many towers, bridges, and expressways. There are many impressive sets along with fantastic art direction—like the villains’ lairs and laboratories. There’s a really neat visual style in “Batman Forever.”

Val Kilmer makes a nice Bruce Wayne, though a little pale in comparison to Michael Keaton’s great performance. In fact, there are times when he comes off better as the role of Batman than Bruce Wayne. Tommy Lee Jones is wonderfully over-the-top as Two-Face, but not so much as Jim Carrey, who goes beyond nutty as the Riddler. Nicole Kidman is suitably bright and feisty, and as Dick “Robin,” Chris O’Donnell is an appealing casting choice.

By the way, there’s something I should say about the portrayal of Robin. This is possibly the only thing that’s taken seriously in “Batman Forever,” if you can believe it. You can feel Dick’s plight, having losing his parents and understanding why he does what he does in the final act—suiting up as Robin. Also, while the other Robins sport suits that act as human bullseyes, this Robin’s outfit is still somewhat flashy, and yet this one looks pretty cool.

Now, even though I’ve mentioned a lot of positive things about “Batman Forever,” I can’t quite recommend the movie, mainly because I didn’t buy into the lightheartedness as a whole movie. Batman is conflicted and the other two films did terrific jobs at showing that while also have their light moments to balance out the really dark moments. This Batman movie is sort of all over the place, not really making us feel like this is the Batman we all know and admire. Even though there were things I liked about “Batman Forever,” the movie as a whole didn’t work for me.

Waterworld (1995)

24 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The most expensive movie ever made at its time, 1995’s “Waterworld” is known as one of the all-time bombs—up there with productions like “Heaven’s Gate” that didn’t even come close to making its money back. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s one of the all-time worst movies. Actually, it’s a pretty decent action flick with nicely-handled sequences and great sets that give atmosphere.

Though, with the label of “most expensive movie,” it’s easy to see why people were disappointed by the outcome of the production. Even disappointing to me, actually—for a movie of this budget, perhaps being merely “decent” is a disappointment. But you take what you can get.

“Waterworld” takes place in the distant future, as we see a change in the opening Universal logo with the polar ice caps melting, and a brief narration stating that most of the world is covered with water. Thus, we have Waterworld, a place filled with drifters, terrorists, and falling civilizations—all survivors now living on manmade boats, one large ship, and large docks. No land in sight. Freshwater and dirt are now valuable trading. People and brotherhood aren’t what matter to the survivors anymore.

Kevin Costner stars as Mariner, a drifter who lives on his own, sailing on a boat of his creation. He trades for some dirt and sells it in a civilization made up on a big floating “atoll.” However, upon closer inspection, the people there see that he’s a mutant—he has gills and webbed feet. But while the people want him executed, a barmaid named Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her adopted daughter Enola (Tina Majorino) believe he has seen Dryland, assuming from most of the materials he has traded. So they join him on a journey to get there. However, a terrorist group called the Smokers, led by one-eyed, nasty Deacon (Dennis Hopper), is after Enola (quite an unusual name—it’s “alone” spelt backward) because she has markings tattooed on her back that might actually be directions to Dryland (though no one can decipher them).

“Waterworld” has some intriguing ideas. As we see in the beginning of the film, we see how Mariner is able to stay hydrated and healthy—he processes his own urine, drinks it, gargles, and spits on his little lime tree. That’s very clever. We also see many of the technical aspects of this world—there are a lot of shots focused on how many gadgets work. I love the focus on the mechanics in this world.

But there are some pretty dumb moments with “Waterworld” as well. For example, why would the people on the atoll try and kill Mariner after finding out about his mutation, when HE WAS JUST ABOUT TO LEAVE? What did they have to worry about? And also, why is there a prejudice against people with gills in this world? With some experimentation, couldn’t there be some problems solved around this man who can breathe underwater, in a world that is maybe entirely covered in water? Nothing is made clear of this. There are also moments involving stunts involving jetskis in which the movie looks like a TV spot for Seaworld.

The action sequences are mostly well-staged, particularly the Smokers’ attack on the atoll as Mariner, Helen, and Enola must escape. Even if the stuff with the jetskis looks commercial-like, there is some impressive stuntwork there. I also really liked the final sequence in which Mariner must storm the Smokers’ ship in order to rescue Enola from Deacon’s clutches (and hammy speeches).

Kevin Costner is probably not the best choice to play this part—as the anti-hero, Costner doesn’t particularly come across with as much energy as Mel Gibson with his “Mad Max” movies, nor does he have the goofy one-liners that Schwarzenegger could deliver. Sometimes, he’s just kind of a bore. But as an unsmiling action hero, he’s mostly effective. He does have his share of badass moments. Dennis Hopper, as the villainous Deacon, is deliciously over the top and also serves as weirdly effective comic relief. Jeanne Tripplehorn is fine and Tina Majorino, while kind of annoying at first, gets better as the role progresses.

“Waterworld” has its problems, but has its action and sets to make up for them. This may be one of the bigger bombs in the past thirty years, but it’s far from one of the worst movies in the past thirty years. It’s just decent.

Before Sunrise (1995) – Before Sunset (2004)

16 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The films in the romance genre are a mixed bag. Once in a while you get a good/great one, but for the most part, they’re made up of the most annoying clichés and generically ineffective dialogue. Highlighting fresh young talents doesn’t do the job on its own. A good script and genuine chemistry among the romantic leads helps make a romance work. This is where “Before Sunrise” comes in.

This is unlike most romances, in that it takes place in just a single day. As a sigh of relief, the story is very simple—here’s a man and woman, they meet, they enjoy each other’s company, and so they spend the night together before one of them has to leave. That is such a relief because it keeps itself contained to these limitations and makes the most of them. This short-lived romance just develops through this long night with no standard occurrences you see in most movies in the genre.

I shouldn’t even use the words “romance” and “couple,” since the alleged two people are only together for 24 hours (actually 14, I think). It’s just these two people meet, they engage in a friendly conversation, they decide they want to spend more time together before they separate, they have a most pleasant night together, and when they leave, they realize they weren’t ready for this. And that’s it. No melodrama. No misunderstandings. No bullies. There’s hardly even an agenda. We just enjoy the company of twenty-somethings Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they enjoy each other’s company.

They meet on a train in Austria. Celine is a French woman returning to a university in Paris; Jesse is an American headed to Vienna for a flight back to the United States. Celine sits next to Jesse. They go to the lounge car and make conversation. It’s a real talk too that attracts them to each other, wanting them to know more about each other. If only they could continue…When they reach Vienna, Jesse comes up with a crazy idea for Celine to get off the train with him so they can be together until he catches his plane. Celine agrees.

Jesse and Celine wander the streets through the night; still talking, learning more about each other, and their relationship gets stronger as it continues. But they do their best to keep from expressing their perfect feelings for each other and just try to keep a “perfect night.” This way, they don’t get hurt. Then comes two important questions—should they sleep together that night, and will they see ever each other again after they separate? They do love each other. Should they admit that?

“Before Sunrise” relies on two important things that make it work, and they’re both great—great dialogue and great acting. The screenplay is full of sharp dialogue (this is mainly an all-talk film) and the conversations that these two people share are worth listening to because they’re smart, amusing, and actually relatable. They don’t talk about anything spectacular; they talk about love, former lovers, school, parents, truth, music, even death and reincarnation. It all seems so natural, as does the acting by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who share an excellent rapport with each other. Their unquestionable chemistry onscreen seems absolutely genuine.

Aside from the two leads, however, Richard Linklater, director and co-writer (with Kim Krizan), has to take most of the credit for the treasure that is “Before Sunrise.” It’s pure movie magic all the way through. It’s sweet, it’s convincing, and always sincere.

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Sequels are always successful when they actually continue the story. “Before Sunset” is one of those sequels. Nine years since its predecessor, “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” continues with the growing relationship of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who are or aren’t meant to be together.

In “Before Sunrise,” the likable American man Jesse met the attractive, appealing French woman Celine on a train to Vienna, and talked her into getting off the train with him so they can spend the night together before he left for home. It was a perfect night that ended with their departing of each other. They arranged for them to meet in one year, but now in “Before Sunset,” nine years have passed and their rendezvous hasn’t occurred…until now.

Jesse is in Paris representing his novel, “This Time,” which is a fictionalized retelling of his and Celine’s night together. He is surprised to see Celine at the book signing. They encounter again and their feelings from before have come back.

Jesse has about an hour before his flight for America takes off and he and Celine decide to spend it together. And here, “Before Sunset” doesn’t cheat. It takes place in real time. It doesn’t transition to a different scene and a different conversation. We’re always in the company of these two as they go from place to place, and as they have conversation after conversation.

They share the same kind of whimsical dialogue shown in the original story. But this time around, they also share conversations that are darker. The question of love comes back into place, the way their lives have turned around since their night together has sad surprises, and the question of happiness is complicated for them. And then you get that pivotal thought if these two are meant to be together. Has fate brought them back for a second chance? They know they love each other, but can they act on these feelings?

“Before Sunset” is a remarkable technical and acting achievement, as director Richard Linklater has long shots (about five or six minutes long) as Hawke and Delpy continue to engage in discussion. This cannot be easy, but luckily, the actors are excellent here. They were great in the original film; they’re even better here. They know their characters inside and out, and at no moment are we seeing actors. We see Jesse and Celine together again. And it also helps that Hawke and Delpy also co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater and Kim Krizan.

The film has a great ending that leaves things open for interpretation until another sequel, which I seriously hope comes around because I want to see more of these two people interact with each other. And who knows? Maybe things will be better for them. Together. I really hope so. These two movies—“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”—are two of the best romance films I have ever seen and there’s enough intelligence for a third entry.