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Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

2 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: Zero Stars

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I could start off this review by saying comedy is subjective, I don’t have to laugh at what you may find funny, I don’t have to like what you like, and so on. But instead, I’ll just say this: it’s unfair to call Tom Green’s “Freddy Got Fingered” the worst movie I’ve ever seen simply because I don’t find it funny and it made me feel unclean having watched it. After all, someone may admire it for being…different. Someone may even find it funny. So take that in consideration when I say this: not me.

“Freddy Got Fingered” is the film I personally hate the most. There are other movies that could qualify as “the worst movie ever made,” but I do enjoy “Birdemic,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” and “The Room” on campy levels. But that’s because they weren’t trying to be funny, and as a result of incompetence, they ended up being funny by default. “Freddy Got Fingered” is a comedy. It is trying to be funny. And if there’s anything that annoys audiences more, it’s when supposed-comedies don’t make them laugh. Not only did I not laugh at any of Tom Green’s antics in “Freddy Got Fingered,” but I shut down for a while after I watched it. I felt so unclean—not only did I want a shower, but I also wanted to gargle some mouthwash. (Maybe a colonoscopy wouldn’t have been so far out either.)

I despise “Freddy Got Fingered”—heartily and sincerely dislike it. Let’s get this over with…

Canadian comedian Tom Green became a hit with silly white-rap videos on TV, with a persona of a man-child rapping about childish things. Sad to say, this gave Green the opportunity to direct, write, and star in his own movie. The stuff he couldn’t do on TV with his “different” sense of humor, he could exploit to the nth degree with some of the most vile grossout humor ever brought to cinema. That’s just the way it works in Hollywood, I guess…

Why bother describing the plot? It doesn’t matter what the plot is, because it just gives Green an excuse to do whatever he wants. But essentially, it goes like this. Green plays a loser named Tom Green—er, I mean, Gord Brady—who wants to be a cartoonist and produce his own TV show. But things don’t work out for him, because he’s a screwup who scares the big-time executives away—er, I mean he’s an artist who thinks differently. He wants to win the approval of his stern father (Rip Torn), who sees him as nothing more than a disappointment, while his mother (Julie Hagerty) supports him no matter what. Meanwhile, he gets a girlfriend, Betty (Marisa Coughlan), who is wheelchair-bound and desperately wants to have oral sex with Gord…who of course has fun whacking her legs with heavy objects. Blah blah blah, hijinks ensue, Gord gets a show, everyone lives happily ever after…except for me.

Does the plot even matter? “Freddy Got Fingered’ is practically an hour-and-a-half-long geekshow attraction and the only point of it is for Green to be as off-the-wall as possible. And it just doesn’t work for me. Green was off-the-wall in “Road Trip” too, but he had some control and mildly amusing moments as well. But here, he’s the one in control. He wrote and directed the movie, and he takes center-stage as this odd, hapless protagonist, and I do not want to be in the company of this persona for another hour-and-a-half. He mugs constantly for the camera, he shouts many words/phrases repeatedly at a time hoping they’ll be funny, and he does the most nonsensical things imaginable, which is where the “highlights” of the grossout humor come in. For example, someone injures his leg in a skateboarding accident, Gord licks the open wound. Gord masturbates a horse and then an elephant (which ejaculates on his father). Gord comes across a dead deer, and, following the advice of “getting inside your characters,” skins the deer and wears the bloody skin.

Oh, and there’s another running gag involving a young child who always gets hurt and miraculously turns out OK…the punchline is more offensive than funny and pushes the limits of the R rating more than…oh no…it’s coming back to me…the worst part of the movie…

Gord visits a friend in the hospital and comes across a woman in labor. What does he do? He brings the baby out from her womb and, when it appears to be dead, brings it back to life by flinging it around the room with its umbilical cord. With so much blood being sprayed everywhere as a result, I have to wonder—what would it really take to bring an NC-17 rating in a mainstream comedy?

I get it. It’s shocking. It’s different. It didn’t make me laugh. It wasn’t for me. It made me mad. It made me uneasy. It made me unclean. And I could’ve turned off the movie at any time (thank God I didn’t see this in a theater), but I felt I had to keep going as a rite of passage for a film critic. I sat through it, and I can rest easy, with the full confidence that no matter how many bad movies I’ll continue to see in the future, none can be as hurtful as “Freddy Got Fingered” was to me.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

21 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

SPOILER WARNING!

In 2001, one of the most highly anticipated movies in renowned filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s career was to be released. Why was it so heavily awaited? Because it was Spielberg’s attempt to bring his own version of a Stanley Kubrick film to life. The late Kubrick, director of such stylistic, mostly bleak & calculating films as “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange,” admired (and maybe even envied) Spielberg’s vision (and vice versa, I believe). So, when Kubrick brought his idea of a “sci-fi version of ‘Pinocchio’” to light, he wanted Spielberg to direct it. Both directors went through years of collaboration (and arguments about which of them was better to direct the film), and Kubrick wrote a 90-page story treatment. When Kubrick died in 1999 (the same year his film “Eyes Wide Shut” was released), Spielberg decided to bring Kubrick’s vision to life himself.

The result was “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” a film that many audiences & critics saw as an ambitious mess upon theatrical release. They saw it as a clash of two different directing styles from a director trying to mimic another director’s trademarks. Spielberg was traditionally seen as a sentimentalist/optimist, and for him to go more artful and deep by way of Kubrick (who seemed to have a dim point of view about human nature) caused people to scratch their heads. (We’ll get to the ending…)

The story is set in a distant future and centers around David (Haley Joel Osment), a robotic (or “mecha”) child who is the first of his kind—a mecha programmed only to love, invented after its creator (William Hurt) discovered a robot can feel pain. David is brought home to Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor) by her husband Henry (Sam Robards), who works at Cybertronics (the mecha factory) in New Jersey. David is a test project for Cybertronics and somewhat of a substitute for Monica and Henry’s natural son Martin (Jake Thomas), who is in a coma. David and Monica form somewhat of a bond, but complications arise when Martin awakens and gets David into trouble, causing things to go awry and Monica to get rid of him. But rather than take David to be dismantled, she instead leaves him in the woods where he and his robotic toy bear (named “Teddy”) have no choice but to brave the world they aren’t familiar with. This includes becoming part of an event that destroys mechas (called a Flesh Fair), a travel through Rouge City (imagine Las Vegas if it was taken over by “The Fifth Element”), and a journey to an underwater Manhattan. By his side is Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a mecha designed for prostitution purposes who David meets at the Flesh Fair.

Where the “Pinocchio” aspect comes into play is when Monica has already read the story to David, who has become genuinely fascinated by the concept of The Blue Fairy. When he is taken out into the world because he feels his “Mommy” doesn’t love him anymore because he’s a machine, David embarks on a journey to find The Blue Fairy and wish to become “a real boy.”

Think about what I just wrote—“David [a mechanical child constructed by man] is ‘genuinely’ fascinated” and “he ‘feels’ his ‘Mommy’ doesn’t love him anymore.” Why would a machine care or feel about anything other than what it was designed to do? For that matter, how can “love” be programmed at all? I don’t know, but in science-fiction, there’s always the reasonable answer of machines learning just as humans do, the more times interaction is a factor. David could have simply developed more than he was programmed to, by simply watching, listening and learning. That reasoning would also help explain why Gigolo Joe, who when we first see him seems like he’s being framed for murder of one of his clients, runs away when he could have stayed with the body, because after all, why else would a robot feel the need to save himself? And then later, when he joins David on his quest, he can’t help but express cynicism about the concept of a real Blue Fairy.

But then again, it can be argued that these emotions are simply part of the coding, because after all, artificial intelligence is simply that: artificial. All these machines can do is run programs that may fool us by being like them. So, perhaps, rather than actually learning and thinking, these androids are advancing in their programs—David furthers along his journey because he’s programmed to love and he’s taking it to the highest degree; Gigolo Joe is cynical and self-preservative because he’s supposed to behave like anyone would in a city like Rouge City.

I don’t know; no one knows for sure. But this kind of thing is fun to think about and discuss with fellow audience members. Far be it for me to bring up a lesser movie, but there is a line of dialogue in an ‘80s family film called “D.A.R.Y.L.” that actually sums up this film’s idea perfectly: “A machine becomes human when you can’t tell the difference anymore.”

What turned many people off when they first saw this film was the fact that it’s not always easy to determine the concepts of a robotic child programmed to “love” and it left them with more questions than answers… Isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t entertainment leave audiences wanting more? Well…that’s not the only thing. As I mentioned above, Spielberg and Kubrick were on opposite sides of the directing field, so audiences were uneasy with one trying to replicate the other. They felt Spielberg’s vision contradicted with that of Kubrick’s. But what really confused and angered many audiences about the film was its epilogue. Let me explain:

David and Teddy are trapped in a vehicle underwater where they find a statue of The Blue Fairy at a submerged theme-park attraction. David stares at The Blue Fairy as time goes on and on, wishing his dream of becoming a “real human” will come true. Does this make him less human or more human? It could be argued…both. 2,000 years later, humans are extinct and now-highly advanced mechas roam the world. David and Teddy are found and are thought of as special, as they are the only surviving mechas to know humans, thus giving them understanding to their existence. They reward David by bringing Monica back to life, so he can spend a single day with her as her son. Monica tells him she always loved him, David feels more or less real, and they lie peacefully together in bed as David’s journey to become real has finally come to a close…

It’s a highly sentimental (and as some would say, “schmaltzy”) ending that broke the film for most audiences, especially those who thought it was unnecessary, false, and went against what Kubrick would have originally intended. They put the blame on Spielberg because they believed Kubrick would have ended the film with David underwater wishing and praying, and Spielberg added on the extra half-hour to give David a happier ending. Even film critic James Berardinelli of reelviews.net stated in his original review, “There is no doubt that the concluding 30 minutes are all Spielberg.” What they didn’t realize until later was that the whole story was from Kubrick, and that included the much-maligned ending. Spielberg has gone on record saying that he tried his best to bring his late friend’s vision to life as best as he possibly could, even when his collaborators thought it wouldn’t work. He felt that if he didn’t do it, he’d be betraying him, and he simply couldn’t do that.

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There is a lot you can read into this—like Kubrick wanting to make the Spielberg movie he always wanted, Spielberg understanding Kubrick more than we thought, and so on. And even if the movie doesn’t work for someone, it can’t be argued that there wasn’t a lack of understanding behind the scenes.

And thankfully, people who didn’t particularly care for “A.I.” before have since revisited the film, which resulted in softened views and opinions. Roger Ebert only gave it a slight positive review upon initial release (only to include it in his Great Movies collection ten years later). Doug “Nostalgia Critic” Walker has softened up on it, as seen in his 40-minute video review of the film. English film critic Mark Kemode even apologized for maligning the film severely, years after he first saw it.

There’s something special about “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” whether it be in front of me or behind the scenes. The visuals are outstanding, Spielberg’s ability to duplicate the style of visual storytelling Kubrick was also known for is remarkable, the concepts of what makes someone human are fascinating to think about and discuss with people, and the story of Spielberg working hard to make his late friend’s wish come true is something to be admired. I thought differently about this film too, when I first saw it like many other people. But also like those people, upon second viewing, I found myself with a deeper appreciation for it that has me coming back to it every once in a while.

NOTE: If you think for a moment that Spielberg was defending himself for the ending by putting all the blame on the late Kubrick, think about two things. One is, it makes sense that Kubrick would end a sci-fi film with human extinction (which is essentially what it adds up to, being in a world dominated entirely by super-advanced robots) because if you look at many of his films, you can see a pattern containing actions of the worst of humanity (possibly even a reflection of what he saw in the world he lived in). The other is, Kubrick was Spielberg’s dear friend to the end. Spielberg tried his absolute best to bring Kubrick’s vision to life, by copying styles and atmosphere Kubrick himself was infamous for. Why would he add on anything more than what Kubrick originally intended? Think about it.

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

23 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

You ever hear that expression “less is more?” “Jeepers Creepers” would have sufficed well with a lot less explaining and more subtlety. This is a horror film that begins as an interesting, tense, scary first half, and as it continues, it becomes even less successful while doing so. How? By explaining too much, and in the most improbable, silly ways too. Half of what is said about what’s going on here, and the motivations behind it, you can’t possibly take seriously because it’s all too ridiculous. This is not the film we started out with.

The film does start out fine, as we’re introduced to two likable characters—a college-age brother and sister driving home together for spring break. Played by Justin Long and Gina Philips, Dary and Trish engage in friendly, convincing sibling-banter and feel like real people. While they can be a little annoying at times with their ways of passing the time (exchanges of “nuh-uh” and “uh-huh” over and over again, for example), they are mostly likable enough for us not to want anything bad to happen to them.

On their drive, they encounter an intimidating truck whose (unseen) driver messes with them in a dangerous way. They survive, but later they spot that same truck, where the driver seems to have thrown a body down a pipe. Being out in the middle of nowhere with hardly another car and no way to call for help (and apparently there’s no cell phone service either), Dary bravely (though rather stupidly, but that’s what Trish acknowledges) decides to look into the pipe and see what’s down there. When he accidentally falls into it, that’s when he comes across a most grisly discovery. And that’s only the beginning…

And when Dary escapes and he and Trish make it to the next town, this is where “Jeepers Creepers” starts to go off track. Where do I begin?

Well, first of all, it seems the supernatural is an important element to this “driver.” It has its own theme song (“Jeepers Creepers,” no matter what tempo it’s being played at), and it apparently has its own omens too, like hundreds of crows and cats.

Second, it turns out it’s not a man at all. It’s some kind of winged beast that apparently eats body parts to compensate for what it doesn’t already have (eyes so that it can see, lungs so that it can breathe, etc.). All I’m thinking is, “What? Where did this come from, and how am I supposed to take this movie seriously anymore?”

Third, there’s a psychic. That’s right—there’s a crazy old lady in town who serves as the town psychic who can spew more exposition than you can think of, and probably more than she can even think of. Sometimes, I even think she might be making some of this stuff up—every 23 years, for 23 days, it gets to eat? You know, I think I give up asking.

I was rooting for “Jeepers Creepers,” as it began with atmosphere, tension, and actual character development (things that most horror films hardly bother with). And it is competently made. But while it certainly is ambitious, and while the monster itself would make an intriguing villain in a different light, it’s overdone and as a result is just plain silly.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

30 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

How the hell am I supposed to feel towards many story elements within Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums?” It’s unusual, bipolar, and twisted…and I loved every minute of it. This is a very original, effectively deranged comedy that toys with audience’s emotions, delights in eccentricity, is wonderfully deadpan, and presents a memorable group of quirky characters. It’s smart and sophisticated, while you can also add “devilishly clever” to the adjectives.

This film is sort of like the flip-side of the usual feel-good family comedy-drama; if anything, it’s more like a satire on the genre. The family in this film is as dysfunctional as a movie family can get. First and foremost is Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), and yes that is his real name. Royal is the family patriarch who has left home abruptly and has lived in a hotel room on credit for years. He has left his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston), whom he has not divorced yet, and three children who have each grown up to be neurotic people with conflicts and issues. They are: Chas (Ben Stiller), who become a financial prodigy at a young age and is now afraid of more-or-less of everything; the adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) who was successful as a young playwright and is now married to an older man (Bill Murray) who hardly ever takes the time to know her; and Richie (Luke Wilson), a former tennis player who is in love with Margot (whom, let me remind you, is not blood-related to him). (Wait, what?)

There are other characters in the story, including Chas’ two young, personality-free sons (who seem to dress in the same identical athletic-wear every day); Royal’s loyal Indian servant Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) who…tried to murder Royal on one occasion (wait, what?); Eli Cash (Owen Wilson, who also co-wrote the film with director Wes Anderson) who writes Western novels that get mixed reviews and is like a member of the Tenenbaum family; and Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), an accountant who proposes to Etheline after 10 years with her as a client. This proposal gets the attention of Royal, who hasn’t seen his family in years, and so he decides to win back Etheline. How does he do it?…By faking a terminal illness. (Wait, what?)

So now the Tenenbaums are all together under the same roof, and it’s not pretty. With each odd personality trait and with a lot of resentment towards Royal, this is not a happy family in the slightest. Will they learn to love and respect one another?…Well yes, but it’s a bit of a bumpy ride getting there.

One thing I notice about Wes Anderson’s films are that each character is understated and he directs his actors in such a way that these people have all but lost their effervescence at some point in their lives. As a result, the actors are effectively deadpan for the roles. Even a character as broad as Royal is given the “whatever-seen-it” attitude. Thus, when the dramatic changes occur (such as Royal’s transformation from jerk to semi-respectful again), they’re interesting in the way they’re portrayed which is not over the top but with a suitable amount of wit, quirkiness, and understatement.

There are laughs in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” but the film is never “hilarious” in the sense that you fall out of your seat, rolling with laughter. The humor comes from cleverness in its satirical elements. And that’s another oddity of “The Royal Tenenbaums”—it seems to wallow in the task of making sure the audience is uncertain on how to feel during certain scenes. When you think you know how a scene will pay off, it suddenly turns around on you. it’s like there are some parts serious, some parts funny, in both the characters and the screenplay. How far does it go? Not too far, which is refreshing of itself. However, there are a few moments that took some serious bravery on Anderson and Wilson’s part, including the killing of a dog and the risky (or it is risqué?) relationship between Margot and Richie.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” is wonderfully offbeat and effectively deadpan. It’s a most unusual type of comedy in that it has a dark tone and a lot of weirdness to the story and characters. All of the characters are memorably original, the oddness is always present and strangely enough always welcome, and the film itself is intensely (entertainingly) silly. It’s weird, but I love it.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

13 May

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Michael Bay tends to make his big-budget action films an hour longer than they need to be. Apparently, how he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer manage to do that is to keep holding onto whatever eye candy they can create and market from their popcorn movies. Special effects take center while scripts are not usually called upon to serve them. And with “Pearl Harbor,” Bay and Bruckheimer take things a few steps further. This is their “epic” effort, set against a historical backdrop and attempting to tell a compelling human-interest story with a running time of 183 minutes. 183 minutes—if Bay’s earlier action films were an hour too long, then this one is about an hour-and-a-half too long.

Did Bay think he was making “Titanic?” Like that film, “Pearl Harbor” spends a majority of running time with a romantic couple and their conflicts with being together, with a historical event looming and waiting to come around until later in the film, when said-characters would have to endure true danger.

Actually, yes, I am convinced that this was an attempt to cash in on the success of “Titanic.” But the main problem with “Pearl Harbor” is the lazily-written screenplay. The dialogue is laughably bad; clichés in romances and war films are present; and the human-interest story is hardly interesting. So much money went into the look of “Pearl Harbor” that I’m surprised that the rest of it wasn’t used to create a more complex script. As it is, it looks nice, the cast is solid, the special effects are very impressive, and it has the potential to be something better than it is, given the subject matter which is admittedly captivating. Having a story set around the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 is interesting enough if given the right human-interest story. But I couldn’t care less about most of what was happening onscreen. That it runs over three hours in length makes it even more unbearable to watch.

The story centers on bomber pilots Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), who are best friends and practically brothers. Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) is a nurse who passed Rafe in a medical exam for the Air Corps, even though he is dyslexic. Rafe and Evelyn are fools for each other until Rafe announces to her that he’s joining the Eagle Squadron very soon.

Get this—Rafe gives Evelyn the news the night before he’s supposed to leave and denies her a night of romance so that the lust will be a good motivator not to be killed in the war, and return home. Then he tells her not to see him off, stating that if she does come, it proves that she loves him. Sheesh, this is the human-interest story we have to go through? That’s just the beginning. It gets worse as we endure a second romance between Evelyn and Danny, after Rafe is declared dead, killed in battle. And wouldn’t you know it—after all that time, we find that Rafe is still alive, as he comes home and discovers Evelyn’s relationship with Danny. And there you have it—a love triangle that will undoubtedly be interrupted and resolved by one of the key actions of World War II.

An hour-and-a-half into the proceedings is when we finally endure the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admittedly, it’s pretty intense and is told in a somewhat-credible way, given the goofiness of certain situations (such as a stutterer who alerts his fellow soldiers of the attackers, and even a private who runs out to find out what the commotion is all about, while brushing his teeth and wearing a towel). But here’s a major problem with this action sequence—we never got to know any of the soldiers getting killed in the attack. Rafe and Danny are unwinding from an argument the night before, and aren’t in the middle of the attack. And as for Evelyn, she and her giggling friends are attacked at the base hospital, even though I don’t think I’ve read that the Japanese fired on civilians. Everyone else is just an extra. That’s a very bad move to set up these three characters and not put them in real danger for the attack, and even worse not to give us memorable character traits for the ones that are getting killed.

I never cared for the protagonists, or the love-triangle they have to endure. Dramatic tension is cast aside for clichéd writing and uninteresting situations. The romance is recycled from what seems like soap-opera material. When the attack does come is when things are more interesting—even though the poorly-developed characters aren’t in much danger in that central sequence, at least we don’t have to deal with their story for a while. But once that’s done with, there’s still an hour left, with more monotonous characterization and dull conditions. You know you’re in trouble when you find yourself wishing for more over-the-top action in a Bay picture.

The only redeeming aspects of the final hour of “Pearl Harbor” are the moments involving actors playing true-life characters. In particular, Jon Voight (sporting a rubber chin) plays Franklin D. Roosevelt who of course declares that America join the war—he has a particularly “awesome” moment in which he, out of anger, wills himself to stand up from his wheelchair and stand up to Congress. Also entertaining is Alec Baldwin as General Doolittle, who late in the film states every single obligatory war-movie-speech cliché in the book. That is irritating yet funny at the same time.

I can’t really blame Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale because they are admittedly solid in their lazily constructed roles. The blame has to go to Randall Wallace’s screenplay. It lacks dramatic pull, wastes a great chunk of running-time on uninteresting characters, and lacks an element as vital as intelligence. “Pearl Harbor” is overlong, unexciting, and unremarkable. And it just shows everything that “Titanic” did right (whether you like it or not) and what this movie does wrong.

Hannibal (2001)

8 May

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

You know that old saying, “Less is more?” That was certainly true of “The Silence of the Lambs,” which implied heavy violence while actually showing the aftermath so that we, as an audience, can picture what it must have been like. It maintained a terrific amount of psychological tension that way. It would be a mistake to show in graphic blood-and-gore details and lose the psychological terror of the situations. I say this because 10 years after “The Silence of the Lambs” was released, “Hannibal” would come around and also turn things around. It shows more; it delivers more blood and gore. It seems as if a majority of the film’s budget went into how the filmmakers were going to gross people out. So much for psychological terror.

“Hannibal” is the sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs,” both films based on novels by Thomas Harris. Director Jonathan Demme has not returned this time around, and instead has been replaced by Ridley Scott. And also, Jodie Foster, whose portrayal of heroine Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” won her a richly-deserved Academy Award, has decided not to return to the role this time. Instead, she’s replaced with Julianne Moore. But we still have Anthony Hopkins back in the iconic villainous role of cannibalistic serial killer/former psychiatrist Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. But even his psychotic charisma isn’t enough to save “Hannibal,” which is a big step down from what made “The Silence of the Lambs” special.

This is not the gripping psychological thriller it would like us to believe. We see everything that would have been implied in the original film in graphic detail, just because Scott feels the need to shock his audience. We have a man cutting off his face (and then feeding it to his dogs); we have men being eaten alive by numerous boars; and there’s also a scene in which a man has his skull cut open, exposing his brain and having Lecter cut out a part of it, sauté it, and then feed it to the man, who is still alive.

While Clarice Starling was a complex center of the original story, Clarice this time around is hardly anything more than a plot device. She is brushed aside to make room for running time with Lecter, who is really the center of “Hannibal” (going by the title, that should be obvious). The intricate characterization of Clarice Starling is practically nonexistent here. The relationship between Lecter and Clarice (the most captivating part of the original film) is barely here, as the two only have a few scenes together. And even then, when they have their final encounter in the climax, it’s more disappointing than it is compelling. I give Julianne Moore credit for doing what she can with the role, but she’s given much of interest to do. (Besides, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Jodie Foster in the role anyway.)

Hopkins’ creepiness factor that came with the character of Hannibal Lecter has been toned down for “Hannibal,” which also seems like a disadvantage. While it does make Lecter more of an anti-hero than a full-fledged villain this time around, it’s not exactly what we like to see from the character. Oh, he still commits horrible crimes in this one, but there’s never a sense that we wish he would get caught, which itself makes it kind of sick in a way.

And here’s a question—even though Lecter’s disappearance and the search for him has become so notorious that his stuff is selling on eBay, Lecter has somehow managed to create a false identity among society in Florence; how is it that only one person seems to notice who he is?

Other characters include—hateful politician Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) who is constantly on Clarice’s case; Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) is that aforementioned person to see through Lecter’s phony identity, as he attempts to capture him for the reward money; and there’s also one of Lecter’s previous victims, an attorney named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, uncredited) whose face is horribly disfigured since his encounter with Lecter and is more ruthless than Clarice suspected when he put her on the case for a new lead in the search for Lecter. Neither one of these characters reach three-dimensionality; though to be fair, Merger comes somewhat close, but not quite enough.

But what about Scott? How does he fare as the director this time around? Well, being a Ridley Scott film, “Hannibal” is laced with atmosphere and inventive shots, and I suppose I can give him credit for being able to pull off what probably couldn’t have been filmed by many other filmmakers (the brain-eating scene, for example). One thing “Hannibal” that is undeniable is that it’s stylistic.

“Hannibal” is clumsy, ordinary, unnecessary, and worst of all, it’s anticlimactic. After so much buildup waiting for Lecter and Clarice to square down, we’re subjected to a “climax” (if you would even call it that) that is so disappointing that it’s hardly worth talking about. Something terrific could have been made here; as it is, it’s pretty much disposable.

The Accountant (Short Film) (2001)

15 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

One of the best ideas from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was to create an awards category for short films, because any good or great film at any length—long or short—can tell a story and create effectiveness all the same. This is especially true of “The Accountant,” a short film (about 35 minutes) that won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Watching the film on DVD, it’s easy to see why.

“The Accountant” takes place mainly on the O’Dell family farm in the South. Walton Goggins and Eddie King play brothers Tommy and David O’Dell, who call in an accountant (Ray McKinnon) to help save the farm. They get more than they bargained for, as the Accountant (whose name is never revealed) is a walking calculator who finds an amount in just about everything. He doesn’t even use a calculator—he figures numbers with his hands and feet. He also smokes chain and swigs beer like it’s no one’s business (he drinks a lot in this film and for those who are wondering when he has to take a leak, you’ll have a big laugh midway through the film).

The Accountant is a tall, well-dressed man who constantly leers at those around him, is intelligent, and also smokes, eats, and drinks a lot. He also has his own conspiracy theory about how things work in the South. Is he right? The strange thing is that he could be. I bought this character completely, and Ray McKinnon portrays the role excellently.

The other actors—Goggins and King—have good, convincing chemistry together. You really buy them as brothers.

Another great thing about “The Accountant” is the writing. This is an intelligently written film—not only does every line reading sound like the opposite of a line reading, but when these guys talk, we’re interested in what they have to say. Whether it’s listening to the Accountant’s unheard-of solution to the brothers’ problem (funny at first but shocking toward the end), the Accountant figuring the odds of David’s wife cheating on him (very funny), picking on Southern stereotypes (love the references to “Sling Blade” and “In the Heat of the Night”—by the way, all three actors guest-starred on an episode or two of that show, so that’s a neat in-joke), or ranting about the conspiracy that the South losing touch with its heritage, I loved listening to what these people had to say.

“The Accountant” was written and directed by McKinnon (that would definitely explain how he played the lead role so well); it was also produced by Goggins and McKinnon’s wife Lisa Blount. You can tell that they put their hearts into this film. It’s well-made, superbly written, and well-acted with a great blend of humor, quirkiness, and an effective message. It deserved the Oscar win.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)

9 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” is a computer-animated theatrical movie by Nickelodeon that is more likely a feature-length pilot episode for a TV show on Nickelodeon. This movie was released around the same time as the first “Harry Potter” movie and the first “Lord of the Rings” movie. After your kids have seen “Harry Potter” but may find “Lord of the Rings” too intense, “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” may be their cup of tea. This is a fun, silly adventure that will entertain its Nickelodeon target audience.

The title character is a grade-school boy inventor named Jimmy Neutron who in the beginning of the film, flew up in his homemade rocket to send a satellite (a toaster) into space. He believes there is an advanced alien civilization out there and plans to prove it but when he arrives back home, he is late for breakfast and his parents are frustrated. (“I don’t care how advanced they say they are,” Jimmy’s mom says. “If your father and I haven’t met them, they’re strangers.”)

Jimmy has many inventions around his house. He has a mechanical canine named Goddard which explodes when told to “play dead” and then fixes itself. He also has many inventions that get him prepared for school—these inventions would make Rube Goldberg proud. At school, his friends are Carl Wheezer, a fat kid with allergies, and Sheen, an odd kid obsessed with a comic-book superhero named Ultra Lord. His enemies are a snobby girl named Cindy and a cool kid named Nick. Why is Cindy an enemy? Because Jimmy and Carl are at the age when girls are “icky.” “We don’t like girls yet, do we, Jimmy?” Carl asks. “Oh no we don’t! No, no, no!” Jimmy exclaims quickly.

But soon, the advanced alien civilization visit Earth and kidnap all of the parents to take them back to their space station. At first, the kids are thrilled and eat all the ice cream they can eat. But pretty soon, they realize they want their parents back. When Jimmy discovers that the aliens kidnapped them, he and his friends have to get them back.

The way these kids travel into space is charming and maybe more than that. What do they do? They invent spacecrafts out of theme park rides. They don’t have to worry about breathing in space because apparently, the space in this movie has room temperature. Silly, I know, but this won’t encourage kids to try this at home. I liked the scene in which they camp out on the moon and tell a story of “The Blair Witch Project.”

I liked the opening scenes and some of the mid-section of the film. But what I didn’t care much for were the aliens. They’re just standard Nickelodeon-type villains and they grew irritating to me. Also, they looked hideous, maybe unintentionally hideous. They look like sunny-side-up eggs that have been waiting outside on a tray for a week. And so, I found the final half, in which the kids do battle with these monstrosities, to be more dumb than charming.

But I understand who “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” appeals to, and it will. The movie is visually stylish and appealing in its main character. But this movie will most likely not be in the same league with the Pixar films or even “Shrek.” Compared to those, the style is a bit inferior and the story is uninspired. Kids will like “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”—that’s all I can truly say about it.

Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut

8 Apr

Donnie Darko (2001)

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When “Donnie Darko” was released in 2001, it became a box-office flop. But since then, it has become a cult classic. It is easy to see why. “Donnie Darko” had a lot going on with it and while it didn’t pay off the way people expected, the setup left people wondering what they just saw and have their own ways of explaining what happened. I love a movie like this. It lets our imaginations run wild but also, doesn’t make us hate the movie. We love the movie. We embrace it. This is why “Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut” is actually somewhat better than the original cut. This new cut is twenty minutes longer but not a lot easier to understand. However, fans of the original will love the new footage that delivers more of the characters we have grown to love. It also enriches and strengthens the material, but the tone of the movie remains the same.

Richard Kelly is the director and writer of “Donnie Darko.” He delivers so much ambition to the screen and fills it with great performances and a unique, clever script. He warns us (on the Website and as a line said in the movie) to “pay attention; you might miss something.” It is possible to miss something here, but once you have your own idea on how every strange event in this movie pays off, you don’t really seem to care. I will not say how I think everything paid off because I could be wrong. I do think I have an idea, however. But I still won’t spoil anything.

“Donnie Darko” has a plot that doesn’t toy with reality but also with logic. How can anyone explain the presence of a six-foot-tall creature that is a demon crossed with a rabbit? His name is Frank and he visits the title character of the movie Donnie Darko. In the beginning of the movie, Frank forces Donnie to sleepwalk out of his house in the middle of the night just to tell him that within a month, the world will end. When Donnie wakes up and walks back to his house in the morning, he learns that a jet engine fell into his bedroom. The strange thing is that there are no reports of a lost engine. Nobody knows where it came from. Now how can you explain that?

Donnie Darko is played by Jake Gyllenhaal in an offbeat yet believable performance. He plays a schizophrenic oddball who visits a therapist every day, finds logic in almost everything that’s being thrown at him which causes him trouble in class, and lives with a seemingly normal family. He has supportive parents and an older sister old enough to vote (the movie takes place in the mid-80s—the sister announces she’s voting for Dukakis). His school life is like something out of a John Hughes movie. He has an English teacher (Drew Barrymore, also credited as an executive producer) who is good enough to get herself fired, a life lessons coach who lives her life following the tapes of a motivational speaker (played by Patrick Swayze), and a girlfriend (Jena Malone) who is in the witness protection program, taking the name of Gretchen Ross because it “seemed cool.” One of the film’s best scenes is in which Donnie’s parents laugh at Donnie’s behavior at a certain point instead of scolding him.

Donnie gets visions of the future from Frank and he discovers that time travel may be involved somehow. In this new cut, we see pages of “The Philosophy of Time Travel” being shown on the screen just to see if we can understand what’s happening. I understand that there is a Tangent Universe that rarely occurs. But when it does, the world has 28 days before it flashes into nonexistence. We also get a countdown every few minutes that keeps reminding us. We wonder what could happen when time runs out. Also strangely intriguing is when Donnie can see timelines (which look like the liquid ropes from “The Abyss”) pulling people into the future. When Donnie follows his own timeline, it leads to a gun. What would he do with that gun? Then there is the case of Grandma Death, an old lady who checks her mail everyday, expecting a letter from somebody, but from whom? Then we discover that she’s the one who wrote the book about time travel and we’re thinking about where it could go from there.

Richard Kelly directs and writes with a strange, creepy mood in this sleepy small town and suburban setting as Donnie tries to piece everything together, just as we try to piece it together as well. Maybe Drew Barrymore is the six-foot rabbit or maybe not, maybe we’re in a parallel dimension throughout this movie or maybe not, but it’s such an intriguing and interesting film that we desire an explanation. It would be one thing to have somebody revealed as Frank and an explanation as to what’s happened and why. But it’s another to figure it out for ourselves. All of the clues are there in the amazing journey and we just have to piece it all together. It’s like a “Twilight Zone” episode without a Rod Serling narration to explain what happened. The performances are very strong, especially by Gyllenhaal who has to carry the movie with his odd yet appealing gawkiness.

“Donnie Darko” was already alive, original, and compelling; with the director’s cut, it is even more alive with originality and compelling energy. The pacing is just right. It allows the story to have depth and room to breathe. Like I said, I have an idea as to where everything led to but I will not give it away because of what everyone else may think. For the most part, “Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut” is better than the original cut and it loved it.

Joy Ride (2001)

3 Mar

joy-ride-original

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Joy Ride” is a popcorn movie that doesn’t require a lot of intelligence—it’s just one of those thrillers that require a suspension of disbelief, has a consistent fast pace with a running time of 90 minutes, and is also a good deal of fun. To be sure, there are questions to ask about certain parts of the movie (and I’ll get to that later), the bottom line is that the makers of “Joy Ride” succeeded in making a preposterous, entertaining, adrenaline-filled thrill ride.

The movie starts out in a suitably plausibly manner. Nice-guy/college-student Lewis (Paul Walker) is going home for the summer, from California to New Jersey. His best friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski), whom he actually wants to be his girlfriend, goes to school in Boulder, Colorado. So, Lewis decides to buy a used car (a 1971 Chrysler Newport) and drive them both home. On the way, Lewis makes a stop to bail his incompetent older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) out of jail in Salt Lake City. Fuller has a knack for getting himself into trouble, so it becomes natural that the elements that follow in the plot can be traced back to him.

Fuller rides with Lewis on the way to Boulder. When regular small-talk doesn’t work between the two brothers, Fuller buys a CB radio (“it’s like a prehistoric Internet”) for entertainment on the road. Fuller talks Lewis into imitating a woman’s voice in the hopes of suckering some poor trucker in for a joke. With the handle of Candy Cane, Lewis is able to set up a date with a certain Rusty Nail. That night, Fuller and Lewis set it up so that Rusty Nail believes that “Candy Cane” is at the motel they’re staying at, in Room 17, where an obnoxious customer stays. Fuller and Lewis are in the room next door, listening in on their prank going underway…and then they hear some weird noises, almost like thudding and choking.

It’s then that the practical joke takes a dark turn. The man in the room is murdered (with his jaw ripped off). Fuller and Lewis are thrown out of town, but they have something bigger to worry about—a stalking, taunting, psychotic trucker hot on their tail. They barely survive an encounter, thinking it’s over. But by the time they pick up Venna, the terror is far from over.

One of the elements that show “Joy Ride’s” effectiveness is the fact that the villain is never seen. We see his big-ass truck approaching; we hear his gravelly voice (which only Ted Levine can provide) on the CB; and he constantly sets up ominous trick after trick to terrorize Fuller, Lewis, and Venna. If that sounds like Steven Spielberg’s 1971 thriller “Duel,” which was also about a character being chased by a faceless truck driver, you’d be half-right. While both movies feature an ominous-looking, huge truck whose driver is never seen, they’re different in tone. “Duel” was a psychological thriller that featured the insanity that ensued as the hero became more and more frightened as he kept running from the villain. “Joy Ride” doesn’t go for that—it’s just mainly a chase picture with nothing specifically deep to be found.

But there’s not anything wrong with that if the movie is entertaining, which it is. There are some good tense moments as well, including that motel-room scene I mentioned where Lewis and Fuller start to worry about what they hear, and the realization that someone is following them the next day (Rusty Nail says on the CB, “You really oughta get your taillight fixed.”).

What also helps make the movie work are convincing characters to follow, and the three principal actors do game jobs. Steve Zahn, in particular, is quite excellent here, playing the ne’er-do-well who keeps getting into trouble, and whose “harmless little prank” gets himself, his brother, and his girlfriend into danger. While he plays the role relatively straight, Zahn displays effective comic relief here as well. He’s goofy, but credibly so. (My favorite bit is when he tries to imitate the noises he heard that night to a questioning cop.) Paul Walker is likeable as nice-guy Lewis—he’s just so clean that it’s easy to let any stupid thing he does slide. Leelee Sobieski is charming as always.

Now, as for the questions I’m sure people would ask about the logic of the movie. 1) How does Rusty Nail know everything the heroes are going to do? 2) Are there other truckers helping him out? Is that he’s able to pull off most of what he does? 3) There’s a sequence in which he chases the heroes through a cornfield; why do the heroes run straight through a row? Rusty Nail can’t turn his big semi around, so why don’t the heroes just run the opposite way? 4) By the way, if Rusty Nail has been following them all this time, how did his large truck go unnoticed?

But because of the pacing and the capable execution of the story, it’s easy to conclude that the unlikeliest situations are expected.

Everything leads to a well-crafted climactic final act that is both effective and breathlessly chilling.

Perhaps it’s not best to ask questions that “Joy Ride” raises a few times. It’s just a fun, scary thriller. It delivers what it promises—nothing more, nothing less. And I was glad to go along for the ride.