Archive | 1996 RSS feed for this section

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.

Scream (1996)

7 Apr

Drew Barrymore in Wes Craven's "Scream"

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When asked why she doesn’t like “scary movies,” teenage Sidney Prescott’s answer is blatant: “What’s the point? They’re all the same—it’s always some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who’s always running up the stairs when she could be going out the front door.” And surely enough, she herself is attacked by a serial killer and does attempt the front door to escape, but whoops! The door chain is difficult to get rid of in a hurry! So what does she do in desperation? Run up the stairs, of course.

That’s only one of many clever moments in “Scream,” a horror movie in which the characters have actually seen other horror movies. It’s a satire of the genre that does what all great satires do to succeed—it contains self-referential humor to gain the comic aspect it’s going for, but it also actually becomes what it’s supposed to be satirizing so that it balances out. As a result, there are as many scares in “Scream” as there are laughs, thanks to a clever, witty screenplay by Kevin Williamson, and nifty direction by Wes Craven who clearly has a true affection for the horror genre.

The film begins with a 12-minute prologue featuring teenage blonde Casey (Drew Barrymore) alone in a big house, preparing to watch a horror movie on TV when her boyfriend arrives. But she gets a mysterious phone call, asking what her favorite scary movie is; Casey plays along, thinking it’s a prank, and they talk for a while. What’s her favorite scary movie? “Halloween—you know, the one with the guy in the white mask who walks around and stalks babysitters.” But then things turn dark when Casey realizes that the person he’s talking to can see her, and as she tries to get him to quit calling her, he realizes that his intentions are deadly. He tells her to play his movie-trivia game in order to live—“Name the killer in ‘Friday the 13th.’” Of course, she gets it wrong (“Jason didn’t show up until the sequel,” the phone voice reminds her), and she and her boyfriend are murdered by someone sporting a Grim Reaper costume (white mask and black rope) and a knife.

Right there, you see how all out “Scream” goes. This prologue is all characterization, dark wit, suspense and ultimately a double-murder, so that we’re on edge for the rest of the film while sticking around to see what else is going to be thrown at us.

It turns out that was just the beginning, as our focus switches to the killer’s real target, a troubled high school girl named Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) whose mother was raped and killed exactly one year earlier. Now it seems like the killer is still out there, assuming the accused man was framed in the first place, and is out to kill Sidney just one year since that tragic incident. And if this is sounding at all like the plot for a horror film, it is the plot for a horror film, as the killer who menacingly stalks and calls his victims is seemingly creating a real-life horror movie of his own.

There are many refreshing aspects of “Scream,” and one of them is the whodunit element. The characters are all developed in a way that A) you actually care for who lives and who dies, and B) it really is hard to tell who the killer is. It could be this person; it could be that. The movie keeps you guessing. When the ultimate resolution comes, it’s actually pretty satisfying.

Among these characters are aggressive news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) who is covering the story and will do anything to get what she wants; Sidney’s boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), who is the first person accused of being the killer; police deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who isn’t taken seriously because of his young age; Stu (Matthew Lillard), the high school’s goofball; and Sidney’s friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), the one character you want to see get slaughtered fast (she’s too cold to be likeable; even Gale manages to gain more sympathy than her). My favorite was video-clerk Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), the resident teenage movie buff who describes everything occurring as standard horror-movie stuff. He’s the one who knows the score on this horror film within a horror film (if you will). Some of the best scenes are ones in which he tries to explain the “very simple formula” of it all, and also there’s the scene in which he explains the basic rules of surviving a horror movie—don’t have sex, don’t drink or do drugs, don’t say “who’s there,” don’t investigate a strange noise outside, and never, ever say “I’ll be right back.” One of the most inventive moments of parody comes when Randy, alone in a house watching “Halloween,” is yelling at the screen, “Look behind you!” As he’s saying this, what he doesn’t realize is that the killer is sneaking up on him from behind.

I love the numerous movie references that are scattered throughout; particularly, fans of the horror genre would love to hear these characters talk about their favorite films. We have “Halloween” (of which footage is shown in similarity with what happens in the actual story), “Psycho” (“Did Norman Bates have a motive?”), “Prom Night,” and even director Craven’s own “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (“The first one was scary, but the rest sucked,” one character notes), among many others. Craven even manages to take a shot at his own status, having one of the characters call him “Wes Carpenter” (it’s said that some people confuse him with John Carpenter of “Halloween”).

What makes “Scream” an entertaining horror movie is that the characters themselves have seen horror movies. They know better than to make the same stupid mistakes that the standard stereotypes in the genre make; instead, they make new stupid mistakes so that the plot can keep going, and the killer can be satisfied with the way his sick, demented plan comes into place. Everything comes together in the final act, in which everything is revealed and there is still a good deal of clever moments; I won’t give it away, but the notions the revealed killer bring up are effectively creepy and clever in the way that he knows that they too belong in a horror movie.

“Scream” is a treasure in the horror-film genre. I liked the setup, I liked the self-aware characters, I love the clever wit that is scattered throughout with horror-film in-jokes and self-parody, and while it may be violent, it needed to be in order to make itself known as a legit horror movie and not just a spoof that seems “fake.” Thanks to Craven’s apparent love for the genre, and a crafty script by Kevin Williamson, this is a neat horror movie that even those who aren’t as fond of the genre might have a good time watching.

Sling Blade (1996)

24 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The first scene in “Sling Blade” lets you know that you’re in for something unique. It’s a remarkable monologue delivered by its lead character Karl Childers. Karl is mentally retarded, has a raspy voice, an overshot jaw, and a chilling story to tell. He has spent years in a mental institution after killing his mother and her lover. He is telling the story to a high school student for her newspaper and the only light in the room in which he tells the story is from a lamp. The lighting makes the scene even more chilling while he’s giving his monologue. But we also see the pain in Karl’s eyes as he tells it. It’s a great scene.

Karl is being let out into the world, because the doctors think he’s cured. He probably is. He’s not a killer; just a misunderstood human being. When asked if he could kill again, he says, “I reckon I got no reason to kill nobody.”

Karl Childers is one of the most memorable movie characters I’ve ever seen. Think of Forrest Gump crossed with a country man, give him a chilling back story, and you have a truly original character. He has little intelligence but feels pain and has a sort of sweetness to him. He also speaks and acts in a much distinctive way. Karl is played by Billy Bob Thornton, who also directed and wrote “Sling Blade,” with brilliance. He came up with the character, he notes, one day while shaving and practicing in the mirror, talking in a raspy voice. And Thornton makes “Sling Blade” a truly original, compelling, fascinating piece of work.

When he’s released, Karl finds work as a mechanic and befriends a boy named Frank (Lucas Black). Frank is a troubled boy whom Karl senses has a wounded spirit. He lives with a loving mother (Natalie Canerday), who lets Karl live in her garage. But Frank’s wounded spirit and troubles are caused by his mother’s boyfriend Doyle (country singer Dwight Yoakam), who is one of the slimiest characters in any movie. This is an example of Evil Personified. He lounges around the living room, has loud hurtful opinions about everyone, is abusive, and criticizes Frank very cruelly. Why the woman just doesn’t dump Doyle is beyond me, but whatever. Love is blind.

Another key character is Vaughan (John Ritter), a homosexual who is insecure about his sexuality but trying to accept it. He’s also a nice guy who looks out for Frank and his mother.

Even though I’m giving “Sling Blade” four stars, I have to admit I knew how the movie was going to end and what was going to happen. It became obvious when we have a character who has murdered in the past and another who might murder a boy and his mother. But it’s the way it’s all played out that grant the movie four stars instead of three-and-a-half. Everything else is great. The characters are well-developed, especially Karl who is, like I said, one of the most memorable movie characters. I enjoyed going along with Karl on his journey through the town—ordering French fries, going to work, and spending time with Frank and those around him. We see everything through Karl. We hardly stray away from him. Thornton is just wonderful as Karl—it’s the kind of performance that deserves recognition (and thankfully, it did). Lucas Black delivers one of the best child performances as far as I’m concerned (and that’s saying something, considering all the young talent that’s introduced year by year), John Ritter doesn’t hit a wrong note with his performance, and Dwight Yoakam is suitably (and memorably) slimy as the abusive Doyle.

“Sling Blade” is a fantastic movie. I loved almost every moment of it. Even the obvious destination isn’t overplayed, but just played. With great performances by the talented cast, excellent direction, and great writing, “Sling Blade” is a spellbindingly good film.

The Phantom (1996)

24 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Phantom” is based on the superhero comic strip originated in the 1930s, which means this is probably one of the very first superheroes, if not the first (I regret not knowing the history of Batman or Superman). The Phantom—or the Ghost Who Walks—is not one of the well-known heroes, and the film adaptation shows how dated the hero is. The movie apparently knows this too, as it takes place in the same time period as when the comic strip was first released. The movie is true to the Phantom’s origins. When he’s not the mild-mannered Kit Walker (Billy Zane), he’s the Phantom. He doesn’t have the strength, speed, or flight of Superman or Batman’s cool gadgetry, and he’s not very stealth either. He’s a man who is quick-witted and fast on his feet, but not incredibly super. He’s called the Phantom, or the Ghost Who Walks, but he’s not a ghost. He’s human—he can’t live forever. Apparently, he’s the 21st in a long line of Phantoms who live a skull cave in the jungle. Phantoms have a vow to fight evil and thievery, and thus whenever someone comes sneaking around the jungle trying to obtain something hidden, the “Ghost Who Walks” is there to thwart them.

OK, why he’s called “Ghost Who Walks” is beyond me. Is “Ghost Who Works” really supposed to sound scary? Why not “Ghost Who Kills?” That’s as silly, but more threatening than…a ghost who walks. But more importantly, there’s the issue of the Phantom’s silly purple costume and eye mask. Yeah, it’s pretty silly-looking and you know purple never blends into anything, let alone the jungle. But let it slide—the movie is entertaining enough to forget that.

“The Phantom” features an evil industrialist named Xander Drax (Treat Williams), who plans to find a few of these mystical skulls that, when combined, can create unbelievable power and thus give him the ability to overpower mankind. Onto him is a Big Apple newspaper publisher (Bill Smitrovich) who investigates along with his daughter Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson). But Diana gets captured by Drax’s pirates, including Catherine Zeta-Jones as an exotic bad girl whom Diana constantly tries to get to join the good side because…she’s a woman, I guess. The Phantom rescues her, and he helps on the quest to stop Drax from locating the skulls. And by the way, here’s a “small-world” moment for you—Kit Walker, the Phantom’s human identity, actually had a relationship with his damsel-in-distress Diana in the past. Small world, huh?

“The Phantom” lets loose a lot of fun action sequences—chases, fights, and other stunts that are quite impressive. My favorite is a central sequence in which the Phantom and Diana get away from the villains’ ship, using one of their planes, and having to land on the Phantom’s fast horse before the conveniently-extremely-low-on-fuel plane crashes. (This horse and the Phantom’s wolf who runs at the same speed have to be the fastest animals in the world.) There’s also a showdown in a creepy cavern, a struggle with a truck on an unstable suspension bridge, and other neat action scenes that are quite fun. No wonder, considering the writer of this movie—Jeffery Boam—was the writer of the third Indiana Jones movie.

Billy Zane is a terrific casting choice for the Phantom. He’s sly, suave, bright, and just finds the right tone for the role. Kristy Swanson, as Diana, doesn’t just play the damsel-in-distress. She has enough spunk and nice moves to make the character as interesting as she can. Treat Williams is an absolute riot as the slick villain Drax—you can tell he’s having a ton of fun with this role. And also on hand is Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has plenty of gusto as the woman working for the bad guys, but could maybe be useful for the good guys.

Even if “The Phantom” gets pretty silly (and you have to admit, that silly purple costume doesn’t make the Phantom look particularly threatening), it is still a modestly entertaining movie with game performances and some nifty action scenes as well.

Fear (1996)

2 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Fear.” What a generic title if I ever heard one. You could give that title to any thriller and it’d make about as much sense. It’s a thriller, it’s a horror film, it acts upon fear. There has to be a better title than…”Fear.”

Now that I’ve got my issues with the title out of the way, I’ll state right away that “Fear” is a well-made thriller that fits into the class of deceptive-individual movies. Those are movies in which a character is introduced as a nice person for the other character to befriend and interact with, and then by the end of the movie, that person will have tried to kill the other person after revealing his or her true nature. There’s a whole list of them—“Firstborn,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Single White Female,” “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” “Unlawful Entry,” all of which follow the same formula. “Fear” still manages to succeed due to craftsmanship and conviction.

“Fear” takes its time to develop the characters so that it’s all the more troubling when things inevitably don’t turn out to be as they seem. Instead of the antagonist being the most interesting character, as most of these movies go, the protagonists are set up in an interesting way so that we grow to care about them and root for them when things get ugly.

16-year-old Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon), after living with her mother for most of her life, is now living with her father Steve (William Peterson), his second wife Laura (Amy Brenneman), and their son Toby (Christopher Gray). As to be expected, she doesn’t quite like this adjustment. The problems with this family are developed in a credible way, with tension and partial dysfunction.

While at a rave with her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano), Nicole meets an older, gentle guy named David (Mark Wahlberg), who seems like the perfect boyfriend. He’s a nice guy, he respects her wishes, he doesn’t pressure her into sex, and says and does everything right. Nicole falls for him, and Laura sees him as a nice guy for her stepdaughter to date. But Steve, on the other hand, has his suspicions. To him, David just seems too right. And when David starts to show signs of his real (dangerous) personality, and Nicole comes home with a black eye, it becomes clear that David is not the nice guy that Nicole fell for.

This was Mark Wahlberg’s first real chance to handle a difficult acting lead role after his former fame as the rapper Marky Mark. As David, Wahlberg delivers a genuinely unnerving performance in the way he switches back and forth from kind and earnest to psychotic and furious. It’s like you can actually hear the ticking of the timebomb about to go off in his mind. As for the other actors, Reese Witherspoon is very convincing as the innocent, corrupted Nicole; William Petersen does strong work as the father trying to protect her; and Amy Brennerman is fine as the confused parent in the mix.

“Fear” doesn’t offer that many surprises, but it is well-acted and effectively creepy. It sets up the characters in interesting ways and plays the story from the sympathy we gain for the protagonists, so that the horrific moments really mean something. Everything builds up to an inevitable climax in which David and his friends attack the house with the family inside. It’s standard, but offers a few surprises as well. “Fear.” Boring title, nicely-done thriller.

Jack (1996)

11 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Jack” is a movie about a little boy trapped in an older man’s body. However, it’s not through a magical occurrence, like in “Big,” but through a rare medical condition that causes a kid’s cells to accelerate four times the normal rate. At age 10, he looks like a full-grown 40-year-old man. That’s the setup for “Jack” and it’s a nice one that could have resulted in an engaging drama. But as it is, it’s one of the clumsiest lost opportunities I’ve seen. While there are a few cute moments in the movie, there are many moments that are unnecessary, others that are uncomfortable, and worst of all, moments that are uncomfortably unnecessary.

Robin Williams is admittedly an ideal casting choice for the title role of Jack, the little boy in a grown man’s body. I guess that’s because Williams, a comic known for his goofy antics, never seems to have grown up. He’s like a live-action cartoon that only takes time to relax when held in check. It’d make sense that he portray the role in this movie.

The movie begins with Jack’s birth. He’s fully-developed after a two-month pregnancy and it turns out that he has an unusual internal clock. He will age four times as fast as a normal person. Ten years later, Jack has been mostly kept in the house by his loving parents (Diane Lane and Brian Kerwin) as other kids his age stare at his bedroom window, thinking he’s a “freak.” His home-school teacher Mr. Woodruff (Bill Cosby) thinks it’s time for Jack to go to public school, but Mom is scared that Jack will never fit in with the other kids, since he’ll be the only one in the fifth grade that shaves.

They of course decide to give Jack a chance to see how well he adjusts to school. At first, he’s picked on by the other students and has a miserable first day. But the next day, the other kids discover that he’s a good basketball center and can also help them out with other favors, like picking up a “Penthouse” magazine without any sort of ID. “I just don’t shave for a day so I look like I’m 50,” Jack explains. He has a new best friend in a kid named Louie (Adam Zolotin), who invites him join in with his treehouse club.

The low point of the movie is a subplot involving Louie’s trampy mother, played by Fran Drescher. Jack meets her while posing as the school principal as a favor to Louie. In that scene, it’s uncomfortable with the misunderstandings, as Drescher’s character doesn’t know that Williams’ character isn’t a grown man and is yet flirting with him. Robin Williams doesn’t really play the scene as a 10-year-old would, it seems more like lines from failed versions of his standup. And Fran Drescher is as irritating as you imagine she’d be outside of TV. That’s not the end of her character, however. There’s an entire sequence that lasts about twenty minutes that features him meeting up with her in a bar where she works as a waitress. There’s more uneasy flirtation going on, more misunderstandings, and of course, a bar fight. This sequence doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie. Take it (and Fran Drescher) out of the movie, and you wouldn’t miss a thing.

There’s also a great deal of awkwardness in a scene in which Jack attempts to ask his pretty fifth grade teacher Mrs. Marquez (Jennifer Lopez) to the school dance. How am I supposed to feel during that scene? Am I supposed to laugh, because Jack looks like a grown man when we know he isn’t and he’s asking out his cute school teacher? Is this a dramatic moment? I wasn’t sure of it.

I think the movie might have been more effective if it focused on Jack’s mortality. There are moments when you think they’re going to dig deeper into it (there’s a deep moment in which Jack is asked what he wants to be when he grows up—“Alive”), but there’s never a big dramatic payoff.  When the movie was over, I didn’t feel anything or learn anything. I mainly saw pointless moments and forced comedy with obvious payoffs. It’s like they thought why look more into Jack’s internal clock when there’s a bar fight to commence? Or why go further into the kids’ introduction to “Penthouse” when their treehouse can collapse? And of course, we have Robin Williams in a classroom asked to take a seat in a small wooden desk—let’s break it! Then let’s do it again! See, while they’re thinking that, I’m thinking, “Really? This was directed by the great Francis Ford Coppola?”

Francis Ford Coppola, I imagine, wants to try something new with his films, like every filmmaker should. So, one shouldn’t be necessarily surprised to see his name attached to a director’s credit in “Jack.” However, it’s necessary to surprised to see his name because of how inept the movie is. It has some cute moments (such as when Jack is sharing his Gummi Bears with his teacher, or Jack is hanging out with his friends, and a rare few others) as well as moments of appropriate drama (like that “Alive” moment I mentioned, as well as Mr. Woodruff’s speech about why Jack is so special), but as a whole, “Jack” isn’t what we expect from a great director like Coppola, and doesn’t even come close.