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Scream 3 (2000)

16 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Midway through “Scream 3” (the final chapter in the apparent “Scream” trilogy), we are informed of the rules of the trilogy by a posthumous video message from Randy, the film-knowing victim in “Scream 2” played by Jamie Kennedy. He tells the ways of the trilogy and references “Godfather” and “Jedi,” while saying plot twists are revealed, the past (preferably events in the first film) will haunt the characters, and basically, anything goes.

This video is viewed by returning characters Dewey (David Arquette), Sidney (Neve Campbell), and of course, the cutthroat (so to speak) reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox-Arquette). This is convenient because the killer in the Grim Reaper costume and ghostface mask is at it again and maybe for the last time. This time, the killer plans to finish everything and everyone. Randy’s video is help for Dewey, Sidney, and Gale, but not for the audience of “Scream 3”—what Randy forgot to mention was that the final chapter of a trilogy is sometimes the weakest one. That is certainly true of “Scream 3” itself, which is most disappointing. I really liked the first two “Scream” movies and found them scary and satirical of the slasher movie genre—the satire really worked. Here, in “Scream 3,” we get some amusing lines of dialogue (though the script is not written by Kevin Williamson this time, but by Ehren Kruger), a couple of funny cameos, and some points of somewhat true emotion. But ultimately, the movie sinks because it mainly just descends into the very clichés it was trying to satirize in the first place. The fun is gone. In a trilogy, nobody is safe and all bets are off. Don’t get me wrong—this could create a huge amount of suspense, but the story is not well-executed for us to be on the edges of our seats.

As you recall from “Scream 2,” a movie franchise was brought in, based on the events in the first film which were written into a best-selling novel by Gale. The movie-within-the-movie was called “Stab.” In “Scream 3,” we have “Stab 3” in development—strange how no one ever mentions a “Stab 2.” This brings the attention of another killer who strikes right before production is about to start. So now, young police detective Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) recruits Gale and Dewey to help figure out what the killer will do now. This time, there are clues—near every body is a picture of Sidney’s mother who, if you recall from the previous films, was murdered four years before. What could they mean? And which of the actors in “Stab 3” is next to being killed? Are you still with me?

One of the problems with “Scream 3” is that the characters are so thin and dull that I didn’t care who lived and who died. Even Gale, who was so feisty in the previous films, is reduced to being just a target. Parker Posey does what she can, playing the actress who was supposed to play Gale in “Stab 3,” showing spunk and selfishness. And then there’s Sidney, the star of the previous films. Here, she is barely seen in the first half and is given nothing special to do when she shows up on the set of “Stab 3.”

And of course, you need to watch the previous films to understand much of what is happening here. But the better idea would be to just watch “Scream” and “Scream 2” and accept them as individual films because “Scream 3” has lost the series its energy.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

7 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember when after “Fargo” was said to be based on a true story; the Coen Brothers revealed that it wasn’t entirely true. Now they say their movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is based on the epic poem “The Odyssey” by Homer. They later revealed that they had never read the story. This movie is not an adaptation to the poem, although there are a few elements taken from the story put into this strange, whimsical Western—there’s a Cyclops, three sirens singing on some rocks near a river, and a journey in which one thing happens after another.

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is an active, wonderful piece of work from the Coen Brothers. It’s a fun, strange, whimsical Western story about three members of a chain gang who escape while shackled to each other’s ankles. When unchained, they go on a series of adventures to find a buried treasure that one of them says to have left behind at his home. Oh, and they come across a one-eyed Bible salesman. And three women bathing on rocks that they call sirens.

It’s a road movie, basically, in which these three Southern fugitives seek to find redemption and joy. The self-appointed ringleader Everett McGill (George Clooney) is seeking to settle things with his wife (Holly Hunter); the sour appropriately-named Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) is hoping to start a new life away from the family name; and the dim-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) learns along the way that baptism is the best way to go from here. They are chased by the town sheriff, who has a hollow voice, sunglasses, and a big dog.

While on the run, they go through many occurrences, as many people in road movies do. They get baptized in a river, they are briefly accompanied by a black boy named Tommy who sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads, they become a huge hit by singing a bluegrass-themed song “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” and they come across a one-eyed Bible salesman (John Goodman). These sequences are handled effectively and to near-brilliance. Some are funny, like the Cyclops; some are just plain fun, I especially love the scenes involving the men singing “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow” while dubbed as the Soggy Bottom Boys; some are dark, the men come across a Ku Klux Klan rally at one point. And then there’s one particular sequence that almost stops the show. It’s an encounter with three sirens that bathe themselves near a riverbank and sing in unison, “Go to Sleep, Little Baby.”

All of these sequences are well-done, and the actors have fun with their roles. Tim Blake Nelson, in particular, seems born to play this role—he has that natural dim-wittedness and his accent helps a lot as well. One criticism I must make is that Everett’s no-nonsense wife is a nagging shrew. I have to wonder why Everett would want to go back to this woman at all. I don’t think I can necessarily hold this against Holly Hunter, although she plays this person all too well. I also didn’t really laugh at the random acts of violence against animals in this movie (cows get shot and a toad is squashed). (I think it’s written in stone that no animal is safe in a Coen Brothers movie.)

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” does succeed in making us squirm in our seats during a few points and then laugh out loud during a few others. Sometimes, it does both. This is an entertaining road movie with charm, humor, and just plain fun in its Western surroundings.

NOTE: I have absolutely no idea why this film is called “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” If anybody has an idea as to why it is called that, please don’t hesitate to tell me.

The Gift (2000)

20 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Artistry can redeem any subject matter. In many cases, the material itself doesn’t necessarily matter for a film—it’s what the artist does with the material and how they handle it that really matters. In the case of “The Gift,” top-notch director Sam Raimi and his stellar ensemble cast make the best out of a standard screenplay from Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson (who also wrote the terrific “One False Move”) that is not necessarily bad or even mediocre, but could have been executed like a disposable, run-of-the-mill supernatural thriller if put in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Raimi and his cast make it anything but. It’s intriguing, chilling, skillfully-made, and very well-acted.

Cate Blanchett stars as Annie Wilson, a psychic living in a backwater Southern town in Georgia. She has three young sons, has lost her husband to an accident, and makes a living by telling fortunes to local people. She genuinely has the gift of second sight (her grandmother had it as well) and has sporadic visions in her dreams and by looking at certain places or objects. She doesn’t fool with people—she listens to her clients and reasons with them in good manner. She doesn’t even ask for money, though her clients are generous enough to give donations. It’s the least they could do for having someone listen to them and give them advice.

Among her clients is a victim of spousal abuse, Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank). Her husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves), is an abusive S.O.B. who beats his wife (giving her “welts the size of footballs on my back,” according to Valerie), and doesn’t approve of Annie giving Valerie advice. He threatens her and her children, even uses a voodoo doll to try and intimidate her, and says he doesn’t want her using her “devil tricks” on his wife anymore.

Also among Annie’s few defenders is Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), an emotionally troubled mechanic who is afraid he might do something bad to his father. And there’s also a possible romance between Annie and the school principal Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), although he’s set to marry Jessica King (Katie Holmes) whose father is highly respected in the town. Everyone else in this town either doesn’t believe in Annie’s gift or believes that she’s in touch with the devil.

Annie starts to see visions of impending doom for Jessica. Soon enough before Annie can even comprehend these visions, Jessica is missing. A few days later, the police go visit Annie to see if there’s anything she can see to give them some sort of lead to her whereabouts, even though they are reluctant to believe that she’s genuinely psychic. Annie is convinced by further visions that Jessica is dead and that Donnie may have killed her. And surely enough, the police find her body in Donnie’s backyard.

But it doesn’t stop there—Annie has to testify while trying to convince the skeptical D.A. of her gift, while also believing that there’s more to this incident than meets the eye. This leads to further plot developments that sort of run “The Gift” off of steam, but are still acceptable mainly because despite everything, we are curious to see where all of this is heading.

Admittedly, the first half of “The Gift” is even better than the second half. The setup is competently handled, and Raimi really knows how to grab our attention with his filmmaking. Notice little details in the Southern town that make it seem like a “Southern gothic” tale—it’s the kind of atmospheric detail that caught attention in Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” (minus the snow). And the story sets itself gradually with a consistently gradual pace, and the characters, for the most part, are well-developed. (For those who aren’t, they still fit their eccentric types, which is suitable enough.) The tension is present, with threats of physical violence and also those upsetting visions that would disturb any nervous viewer.

So, even if the second half of “The Gift” isn’t as intriguing as the first, as it does wind up in the traditional supernatural-thriller fashion with one or two unexpected twists, it’s still admittedly interesting to see where “The Gift” goes with this. As a result, thanks to Raimi’s filmmaking, we’re still not quite sure of what to think of everything being thrown at us, but we’re also still on edge.

The acting is phenomenal—each of the actors give a solid performance in “The Gift.” British actress Cate Blanchett as Annie Wilson, the woman who starts to see this gift as a curse (and she even admits to having a premonition to her husband’s death, thus making her feel guilt), is excellent in this movie. It’s a courageous, understated role that she’s up to (and she nails the Southern accent as well). Keanu Reeves is surprisingly great and manages to radiate pure evil in the performance of Donnie—he’s genuinely menacing. (Keanu Reeves seems to be everyone’s go-to “bad actor,” but watch his performance here and you won’t even see Keanu Reeves.) Hilary Swank makes the best of her small role. The jury’s still out on whether Katie Holmes can act, but she’s suitably cheeky here as Jessica. Greg Kinnear does what he’s required to do (which is to say he’s mild, but supposed to be “too nice”). Giovanni Ribisi is terrific as Buddy—he doesn’t play it over-the-top with the loud fear; he’s genuinely disturbed and even kind of sympathetic.

Thanks to top-notch direction from Sam Raimi and of course solid acting by the ensemble cast, “The Gift” is a good example of artistry overtaking all. This easily could have been a bad movie, given most of its supernatural elements. It’s done very well as it is.

Final Destination (2000)

20 Mar

Final Destination2

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Death is all around us. It’s an unseen malevolent force that decides when we all die. It has this grand design that is already set in motion. But if that design is tampered with somehow, it only becomes worse for those who were meant to die in the first place. One by one, those who were meant to die originally die right away (not later—right away) in all sorts of freak accidents.

That is the premise for the movie “Final Destination” and what they don’t answer in this movie (or maybe the writers are just afraid to) is where religion fits into all of this. But once you take this premise and combine it with a dead teenager movie, you get a fun, scary thrill ride. This is the same league as dead teenager movies, such as “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” but somehow it’s better because it takes this premise seriously. The teenagers in this movie talk about their situation and try to deal with it before they die in horrific ways. Also, what makes this different from previous dead teenager movies (and more effective) is that the killer in this movie is Death itself—you can’t see it, you can’t feel it, you can’t escape it. That’s chilling enough.

The film opens with a terrifyingly convincing sequence in which a high school senior named Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) and his classmates are leaving on an airplane, heading to Paris for a class trip. But something goes horribly wrong and their plane explodes. This sequence is frightening for anyone about to take a trip on an airplane.

This sequence is a premonition from Alex. He sees the explosion and wakes up at the moment when the plane is about to take off. But he fears that this was no dream and he freaks out, getting himself and a few others (including a teacher) thrown off the plane before it takes off. It turns out his vision was accurate and they all watch as the most horrific occurs. OK, so they escaped Death for now, but this is just the beginning…

Now the question is who’s going to die next and how. One thing is certain—Death is not going to stop and (this is the goofiest part of the movie) no death will be subtle. It seems that Death is a huge fan of Rube Goldberg contraptions. All sorts of unexpected traps are set up to kill off these teenagers one by one. But strangely, it works, especially in a scene where it seems that a teenager is done for—a train is coming while the most macho and idiotic of the teenagers, Carter (Kerr Smith), has parked his car on the tracks; his seatbelt is stuck and the doors suddenly lock. The train is coming and despite the obvious oncoming, I bought the suspense.

Another element I liked about the movie—the teenagers talk about their situation. They have meetings. They try to figure out a way to cheat Death’s design. It’s fun to watch them talk about this preposterous yet terrifying situation. Alex and his girlfriend Clear (Ali Larter) even come in touch with a mysterious mortician (Tony Todd, “Candyman”), who seems to be Death’s spokesman and even has that chilling line, “I’ll see you soon.” (That’s even in the trailer.)

What really helps in the movie is that I actually did care about who lived and who died. Devon Sawa and Ali Larter are appealing as the two leads. The only exceptions are Kerr Smith, who is just plain obnoxious, and Seann William Scott (whom you might recognize as Stifler from “American Pie”), who overdoes it with the white guy-black guy wannabe persona and wardrobe.

Like the “Scream” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, “Final Destination” will inspire the obligatory sequels. I hope at least one of them is as good as the original. But then again, I’m asking for too much. Director James Wong, whose previous TV efforts are impressive, has created a dead teenager movie that has a new twist in the plot, a talented cast, and an intelligence that can’t be described if you asked me to describe it. “Final Destination” is scary, thrilling, well-acted, and well-directed. It is also silly. This is not a great film but a good film. I just hope Death doesn’t take that last sentence the wrong way. If so, I’m committing myself into a padded wall room in a mental institution.

Pay It Forward (2000)

13 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Pay it Forward” has the idea for a “perfect world” and I guess I can buy into it—if someone does you a favor, you pass it on to three other people. You don’t pay it back, you pay it forward. Why not? Even if the world doesn’t turn out perfect (does it ever?), at least you’ll be satisfied. You should try it sometime, but you have to do them a huge favor so they can pass it on for sure…well, maybe.

The movie “Pay it Forward” is being criticized as being “emotionally manipulative”—for me, that’s too strong a criticism. I bought the message of “paying it forward” and even felt the emotions that are conveyed in this movie. It also helps that the movie is well-written, well-made, and especially well-acted by the three leads—Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, along with Academy Award nominee Haley Joel Osment, from “The Sixth Sense.” I liked “Pay it Forward” so I guess that means I didn’t mind being manipulated by this particular film. I know that last sentence is going to be used for something sooner or later if anyone ever reads this review, but you know what? I don’t care.

As the movie begins, a washed-up news reporter (Jay Mohr) brings himself into a situation he doesn’t belong—a household robbery. You can already tell this guy has put himself into many situations where he doesn’t belong. But he gets his price when the criminals get away and the police follow him. The reporter’s car, however, is crashed into in the process. So, the guy is standing in the rain with no car and no money. Suddenly, a stranger with a dog and an umbrella walks by. Of course the guy thinks the stranger is messing with him and it doesn’t make things less confusing when he gives the reporter the keys to the stranger’s new Jaguar. Why? “Call it generosity between two strangers.”

Flash back to “four months earlier,” as we meet a young boy named Trevor McKinney (Osment) who is starting junior high school. Since this is a school in Nevada, there are metal detectors in the entranceway and knife-wielding bullies (oh yeah, and some annoying, whining classmates). What is unusual at this school is his social studies class. His teacher Eugene Simonet (Spacey), an apparent burn victim (he has scars on his face), is an intellectual who uses an impressive vocabulary, has a hint of sarcasm in his speech, and a lack of condescension when teaching. The assignment for his class is to come up with an idea to change the world. (Trevor asks, “So you’ll flunk us if we don’t change the world?” Simonet replies, “You might slip by with a C.”)

This gives Trevor the idea of “paying it forward.” He brings a homeless man (James Caviezel) into his home and gives him food and bed for the night. Trevor’s mother Arlene (Helen Hunt) is angry. She wants this man out of the house. But then she sees that the homeless man paid Trevor’s favor forward by fixing the car in her garage that hasn’t run in years.

Simonet lets it down easy to Trevor that the idea is a bit preposterous. Trevor doesn’t care because “everything sucks.” Another way Trevor tries to use his idea is by helping his mother, who is a recovering alcoholic, in having a relationship with the teacher. This leads to a loving relationship that brings Simonet and Arlene together, complications with the boy’s real father (Jon Bon Jovi), and moments of truth (How did Simonet get those burns?).

This story is told in flashback while in the present time, the reporter, played by Mohr, is trying to track down the source to this whole “pay it forward” movement. He meets the man who gave him the Jag and is told that he was helped by an African-American man who got himself arrested for pulling a gun on a nurse because she wouldn’t let the man’s asthmatic daughter be treated first. And so the reporter has to find the man who got arrested and figure out why he did it, and so on. This whole subplot is a bit flawed, especially when we’re trying to keep track of events in chronological order and focus on the relationships between Simonet, Arlene, and young Trevor.

“Pay it Forward” is mostly set in Las Vegas—the streets, the homes outside of it, the desert. It’s an offbeat setting but it works. We see where Arlene works, we see how Trevor gets to and from school on his bicycle, and we see where Arlene and Trevor’s home is located. Setting the movie in Las Vegas is appropriate for utopian ideas like the central one here.

I mentioned before that I bought the film’s emotions and the movie succeeds in creating genuine feeling for the characters. The script is partially responsible, but it’s the actors who must receive high praise. Kevin Spacey is excellent as a man trying to hide his face by using words instead of a mask—his vocabulary is his mask. His lack of condescension to his students is particularly noticeable and his wit is subtle. But he’s an intellectual who knows what he’s teaching, though he doesn’t expect an idea from one of his students to actually change the world. Helen Hunt shows some of her best work since her Oscar winning role in “As Good as it Gets” as a recovering alcoholic who loves her son but is trying so desperately to show it. And then of course, there’s Haley Joel Osment, quite good and effective as Trevor. His timing is excellent and he is a perfect co-star with Spacey and Hunt. And he can also tell the differences in people—who are nice and who are not, especially when Bon Jovi comes in and almost messes everything up.

The ending is most unsatisfying. I won’t give anything away but I don’t really think that this is the right ending for this movie. It gets worse when you really consider the idea again and think about how it led to this totally unsatisfying conclusion. But until then, “Pay it Forward” is a nice movie about three complicated people and a message that gets its way across. I may have been manipulated by the emotions, but I’ll take it.

Hollow Man (2000)

9 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Hollow Man” is a science-fiction film that is truly a missed opportunity, considering that a film about a man becoming invisible can be very interesting. Invisibility is a common fantasy for some people and “Hollow Man” would like to be the new adaptation of “The Invisible Man.” But instead, it starts out promisingly, but only gets worse as it continues, and ultimately results in an unnecessary and very silly action climax that shows that the screenwriters have given up trying to tell a compelling story and just decided to go for the throat. This is one of those scientific-experiment-gone-wrong movies, which can either be very effective or very campy. “Hollow Man” doesn’t fall into either of those categories.

It’s a shame too, because the film has some really great special effects. But effects don’t make a movie—if they did, there’d be more appreciation for the “Star Wars” prequels (but I digress). While the effects are eye-popping, they can’t excuse the film for its flaws.

“Hollow Man” starts out in an interesting way. There’s a startling shot in which an invisible predator eats a rat (since we can’t see the creature actually eat the rat, you can imagine a disgusting sight). And we learn of a top-secret experiment run by a six-member scientist team. Most notable is the egotistical, intelligent Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), who plans to be the first human subject to be turned invisible. But it can be tricky, because if it doesn’t work, he could die. (This has only been tested on gorillas so far. By the way, don’t ask me how this invisibility formula works—there’s a great deal of technobabble that I didn’t get.) Luckily, the formula does work. After much eagerness, Sebastian is invisible.

This is a scientific breakthrough that can change the history of the world as we know it! Or at least, that’s what someone was supposed to say in a movie like this.

Sebastian takes a great deal of pride in his being invisible, and is constantly stalling on being changed back to his visible form. He’s having way too much fun and letting everything go to his head. What you can know for sure is that he is not going to give this up, and he has also become a sex fiend that his prey can’t see. The other scientists—including personality-deprived heroes Linda (Elisabeth Shue, who very rarely turns in a bad performance) and Matthew (Josh Brolin, equally wooden)—realize that Sebastian has transformed into a transparent monster and try to figure a way to change him back without him knowing, but Sebastian is one step ahead of them…

So you know the drill—big climax, transformation into a different movie (a practical slasher movie only the killer is unseen), heroes try to escape from an elevator shaft, and they improbably save the day. This final act of “Hollow Man” loses the film its dignity. When it isn’t boring, it’s laughable.

Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian is the only interesting character in “Hollow Man,” but only in the first hour. When he goes psycho and starts to kill off people, he becomes as ruthless as Jason and just as dull. The movie loses track of his plight and just gives him scenes of mindless violence to take over. Bacon does what he can with the role (that is, when he’s Sebastian’s disembodied voice after his character is invisible), but it’s just not enough.

I want to say more about the effects in “Hollow Man.” They’re incredible. When a gorilla is tested for the formula early in the movie, you actually see the layout of its skeleton, nerves, organs, muscles, and skin as it transforms. It’s not a simple task—most movies about invisibility just make the character disappear like that; but not here. We see what looks like a legitimate painful process and it’s repeated once Sebastian has undergone the procedure. These effects are outstanding, but it’s just not worth waiting for them to show up on screen.

Unbreakable (2000)

7 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When you hear about writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to his masterpiece, the 1999 supernatural thriller “The Sixth Sense,” you either expect very much or very little. It’s that feeling you get when you watch the trailer of “Unbreakable” and you notice the writer-director’s name, as well as the somewhat similar tone that “Sixth Sense” had, what you can gather from the trailer. Oh yeah, and Bruce Willis is in both movies.

That said, I think “Unbreakable” is a wonderful movie. It’s eerie, original, and well put together.

It has that same uneasy feeling that was brought to life for the best in “The Sixth Sense.” Only this time, it isn’t a spin on the ghost story, but on the superhero origin story. The whole movie is scripted like the first half of a superhero movie and shot like a haunting portrait. Comic books featuring superheroes take on a major element of “Unbreakable,” but this is not a comic book movie. Far from it.

It begins as a security guard named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the sole survivor of a train derailment. Not only that, but he walks away from the crash completely unharmed, without breaking one bone in his body. This attracts the attention of comic book collector Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), whose life has been nothing but misfortune. He was born with a disease that makes his bones extremely fragile and easily breakable. As a child, his classmates dubbed him “Mr. Glass”, because his bones “broke like glass.” His mother got him hooked on comic books as a child to keep him from sadness, and he has been studying them ever since.

Anyway, Elijah contacts David and tells him a theory that may or may not be possible. From studying comic books, he has a theory that if there is a man such as him, whose bones can break easily, then there should be a man who is in the exact opposite way of living—an unbreakable, invincible man.

At first, David dismisses Elijah’s theory as just a crazy idea. But soon, he begins to ask some questions about himself. He asks his boss if he’s ever taken a sick day from work, and he asks his wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) if he’s been sick in the entire time they’ve been married. (There was a nearly fatal accident he and Audrey have been in years ago, but even that has its secrets.) David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) believes that Elijah is right and that his dad is some kind of superhero. He even goes to an extreme measure of attempting to shoot David with a pistol to prove to him that Elijah is right.

There’s a real amount of tension throughout “Unbreakable” that also comes when Audrey, a therapist, has Elijah for a patient and doesn’t know that he and David have already been in contact. There are many moments like that that just feel like there’s something eerie going on, but you’re not quite sure as to exactly what.

There are many touches that Shyamalan puts throughout the film. One is the use of glass around Elijah—you see him in a reflection off a TV or a glass case, and his own cane is made of glass. Then, there’s the constant use of lingering shots that just continue at their own pace—they’re well-directed, well-acted, and they take their time to continue. Another is the choice of clothing that these characters wear. I should explain what I mean by that, but I fear I might be spoiling something.

One could watch “Unbreakable” and appreciate what Shyamalan has done this time. It may not be up there with “Sixth Sense,” but what follow-up usually is? Then, one could watch the film more than once and piece the puzzle together after experiencing the twist ending the first time, as they did with “Sixth Sense.” Yes, there is a twist ending here, as there was in “Sixth Sense.” It features Elijah’s further characteristics, and I won’t give anything else about it away, but I will say this—When I watched it for the first time, I didn’t accept it because I couldn’t believe it. But I watched the whole film again and let everything piece together in my mind. What I realized is how tragic Elijah’s story is. It’s intriguing, the way that destiny could be either a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. That’s all I’ll say about the ending.

What “Unbreakable” might be missing, and I think this is what cost the film half-a-star from me, is a more confident, heartfelt relationship between David and his son. There isn’t that much of a sense of connection that we’re supposed to feel for these two. Actually, there’s some sense, but not enough. But what really makes “Unbreakable” stand out are the creative ideas put into the story, the consistent dark tone that comes with this type of storyline, and two great performances from Willis as the everyman and Jackson as the mysterious tragedy-personified.

Frequency (2000)

2 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember the scene in 1986’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” where Kathleen Turner’s character has just traveled back in time and was shocked to hear the voice of her dead grandmother on the telephone? That was a heartbreaking scene because it tapped into genuine emotions. What would you say if a dead relative—one that was very dear to you—was suddenly speaking to you again? What would you feel? Your heart would probably leap into your throat and you would probably want to cry for them.

“Frequency” is a science-fiction film that plays that way. It’s about a man in 1999 who finds his late father’s old ham radio and finds he is actually able to talk to the father from the year 1969. It’s as if time is continuing 30 years ahead or behind, depending on which side you consider.

The man in 1999 is a cop named John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel). When he was six years old, in 1969, a warehouse fire took the life of his firefighter father Frank (Dennis Quaid). One night, John looks through his father’s old trunk and finds his father’s ham radio. The radio still works and John decides to try it out. But who calls him on it? A man who seems to be “lost in the past,” if you will. This man is Frank. He’s talking about the 1969 World Series, and John laughs about the games he saw then. Frank wonders what he means, since the first game had just started. But John knows something about the outcomes of the games.

It’s later revealed to both John and Frank that they’re talking to each other thirty years apart via this ham radio. It’s a miracle that seems to have occurred thanks to extraordinary solar activity (Aurora Borealis). It’s a big, unbelievable occurrence.

Like most films dealing with such oddness in time, like time-travel stories, John learns that time can be altered. On the day that Frank is supposed to die in that warehouse fire, John warns him not to trust his instincts for once and he won’t perish in the flames. It works—the present time has changed.

This must be somewhat complicated. In fact, there are certain things that I was a bit confused by. For example, John feels like he remembers the original timeline but still has new memories of the altered timeline. If he and Frank changed the future, wouldn’t John be an altered John? He probably wouldn’t remember the old timeline. Everyone else has changed; they believe that Frank died of lung cancer instead of a fire. But then again, I don’t think you ask those kinds of question in time-travel stories.

Then, things get even more complicated as it turns out that this change in time has set off a chain reaction for the new present. The film transforms into a murder mystery as John discovers that the infamous Nightingale Killer has taken ten victims instead of the original timeline’s three. And one of those victims is his own mother (Elizabeth Mitchell). So, Frank and John use information they gain from their own time periods to put pieces of the puzzle involving the killer’s identity in order to prevent the killings from occurring, thus changing time again and saving lives.

The entire second half of the movie is focused on this murder mystery, and at first, it’s quite intriguing in the way that it’s set up. But then it sort of grows tiresome and drags on when we’d much rather see more of the relationship between father and son, which is really the heart of the story. That’s why I’m recommending “Frequency.” There are a few plot holes and inconsistencies, but the premise of the film and this relationship between Frank and John is endearing enough to make me care.

Dennis Quaid turns in a terrific performance as Frank. He’s likeable, convincing, and quite a father too. Jim Caviezel as John is merely adequate, but he does sell those intense moments. Of the supporting cast, Elizabeth Mitchell is underused as Frank’s wife and John’s mother, but Andre Braugher is excellent as Satch, Frank’s best friend.

The science of “Frequency” shouldn’t really matter, as not much is made out of it. But the fiction is a true delight. It shows good family values with its engaging premise and the relationship between a man and his late father provides the film’s heart.

Disney’s The Kid (2000)

12 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Adding the name “Disney” to the title of your movie must mean that families will automatically rush to the theater for some good, solid family entertainment from the Magic Kingdom. But you could call “Disney’s The Kid” just “The Kid” and it wouldn’t make much difference. Either way, this is a nice little movie that’s good for the family. It has its comic moments that entertain the kids, but it also has thankfully mature moments for the adults. It’s an involving, sweet, innocent family film—a feel-good story that Disney has been known for—and not just a kids’ movie, despite it having the “Disney” name in the very title.

The story is centered around hard-edged image consultant Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis). He focuses on his own image, while consulting the image of others—mostly celebrities and politicians. He gives brash-but-somewhat-helpful advice to his clients about omitting “self-pity” and also gives enough insults to everyone he meets, so that they all call him “jerk.” Not a day goes by without someone calling him “Jerk” either behind his back or right at his face. He alienates himself from family, he tyrannizes his personal assistant Janet (Lily Tomlin), and is even dismissive to his co-worker Amy (the always-delightful Emily Mortimer) who could be his girlfriend if he wasn’t such a “jerk.”

A few days before his 40th birthday, something strange happens. He’s visited by a little boy—a chubby lively kid named Rusty (Spencer Breslin). But this isn’t just any kid. As they both realize, Rusty is really Russ, at age eight. Somehow, Rusty has traveled forward in time to meet his 40-year-old self. Rusty is not so thrilled at his future self’s occupation—he doesn’t have a family, nor a dog, and has a job that just isn’t very exciting. “I grow up to be a loser,” the kid grimly states.

You can tell where this is going—Russ is going to realize through this kid what led him to become a loser and, with help from his past, is going to learn how he can become a better person. Now, I’m sure kids won’t appreciate this story very much, but they’ll still have the kid to identity with and the occasional slapstick humor that comes long (most of it is tame). The adults will get more out of it—this is their fantasy of revisiting their past. Yeah, the plot gets a little corny as it goes along, with story elements that seem added on for further drama, such as the subplots involving Russ’ on-again/off-again relationship with Amy and the heavy deal with Rusty being told that his mother is going to die from cancer. But most of the material does work, and leads to good lightly comic moments (most of which playing with Russ and Rusty’s relations with each other, or the question as to why the moon sometimes look orange), as well as effective dramatic scenes.

The acting helps give the movie its credibility. Bruce Willis is an effective leading man and shows dimensions far from being a deadpan, wisecracking beatnik (a role he’s usually known for). He shares terrific moments with Spencer Breslin, who is very appealing as Rusty the kid. Of the supporting cast, Emily Mortimer is always a delight to watch, Lily Tomlin is quite droll as Russ’ bored assistant, Chi McBride has a nice moment as a boxer/client who teaches bullied Rusty how to fight, and even the appealing Jean Smart, who has the least amount of screen time, has some wonderful moments as a Southern newscaster, who is one of Russ’ clients and gives him helpful advice about dealing with his own past.

“Disney’s The Kid” nearly ends with the message that learning to fight leads to a successful life. And I’m glad it didn’t go that route, because that seems to be the staple for movie messages in a lot of movies; particularly action films. It seems like it’s going to go that way, in a scene in which Rusty uses his new fighting skills on school bullies. But then we get to the satisfactory happy ending in which Russ and Rusty realize the true meaning and ambition of their lives, and Russ realizes that if he can’t change his own life by having his past self deal with his present self, then maybe the best is yet to come.

Road Trip (2000)

6 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In 1978’s “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” Tim Matheson uttered the words “road trip” and that led to a very funny sequence while the Deltas are on a road trip. “Road Trip” seems like an extended play on that sequence—it makes sense, considering that the executive producer is Ivan Reitman, who produced the former. The result for “Road Trip” is somewhat uneven but mostly very funny and, in its own way, kind of sweet.

The main character is Josh (Breckin Meyer), a student of the University of Ithaca. He has a long-distance relationship with Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard), who goes to the University of Austin. They call each other every day and Josh sends videotapes of himself to her. But lately, Tiffany doesn’t call Josh back. This upsets Josh, who thinks that Tiffany may be cheating on him. It also drives him to give in to the seductiveness of the attractive Beth (Amy Smart), who has a crush on Josh and is being stalked by the nerdy teaching assistant Jacob (Anthony Rapp). They have sex after Josh bids on her at a girl auction held at a party, while being videotaped by Josh’s camcorder. But the next day, Tiffany finally returns Josh’s calls and says that she went through a mourning period due to her grandfather’s death. But wait. It gets worse—the sex video is accidentally mailed to Tiffany (one of Josh’s roommates mixed it with Josh’s “I miss you” tape, which he meant to send). Josh has three days to get from Ithaca to Austin before Tiffany comes back to school and sees the tape. Josh is joined by three friends (Seann William Scott, D.J. Qualls, Paulo Costanzo) on…what else, a road trip.

Of course, it’s not whether or not characters in road-trip movies make it to their destination that’s important. It’s what happens on the way. A lot happens on this road trip—their car explodes after jumping a huge ditch, they steal a bus, they spend the night in an African-American fraternity house, and more that I can’t give away. Some of the jokes are hit and miss, but there are more laughs. There is also a great deal of raunchiness—a diner cook makes French toast in such a nasty way that you might not want to try it again, there is a lot of nudity, sexual references, and sperm donations (in the most unusual way). You could call this the first follow-up to “American Pie,” which redefined the genre of teen sex comedies. (Oddly enough, Seann William Scott, who played Stifler in “American Pie,” plays a big-mouth best friend here.) Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the subplot involving MTV’s Tom Green as a seven-year student at Ithaca who tries to feed a mouse to a snake and terrorizing it until the moment of “fury.” That’s funny, too. And also a subplot involving D.J. Qualls’ hard-as-nails father (played by Fred Ward) who believes his son is kidnapped and waves a gun at anyone who doesn’t answer questions. A lot happens in “Road Trip” and even if all of it doesn’t mesh well, you still have a good time.

The real show-stoppers of “Road Trip” are D.J. Qualls and (sue me) Tom Green. D.J. Qualls is brilliant as the nerdy, cowardly college student who is afraid of his father and has a redeeming point on this road trip. Observe his performance and notice how flawless he is at playing this character. And as for Tom Green as the film’s narrator—this is probably the only time I’ve found him amusing. Then again, he tones down his persona here. All in all, I did like the characters and laugh a lot, so I recommend “Road Trip” while saying it could have been better.