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I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

14 May

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Of all the boring, deplorable slasher-movies to resurface in the mid-1990s, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” at least has an advantage of having an interesting story. (In fact, it sounds more interesting than it actually is.) Here’s the setup: four young friends celebrate the 4th of July when they get into an accident. That night, they accidentally hit a man on a dark highway with their car, and kill him. Unwilling to face manslaughter charges, they decide to take the body and dump it off a pier and into the sea, and never speak of it again. Exactly one year later, they’re reunited in their hometown when they receive notes that say “I know what you did last summer” and are stalked by a mysterious figure. Who is it? Was it someone who saw what they did that night? is it the same person, revealed not to be dead? Is it one of his relatives or friends? One thing is for sure—whoever it is wants to pay them back.

That sounds like a good idea, and you can develop dramatic tension with that premise, as well as suspense. For example, the guilt that these four people feel since that accident must be a huge amount of such, and that it drifted them apart makes it more complex. And there is a character—the victim’s sister—that is probably the most interesting person in the movie. She’s a recluse who lives alone in a country house and apparently has not fully come to grips with her brother’s death.

I wish the movie had been more about her. It would have been more interesting than how it is now, because as it is now, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is just a bore. It’s a typical slasher movie. The characters are not developed in a way that you care for who lives and who dies. The situations are laughably bad. And the killer in this movie is a fisherman with a slicker, hat, and hook (in a fishing town it’s said that a lot of people wear slickers, but in the middle of summer, I don’t think so). There’s more to do with setups and slashings than much else, story-wise. The large-breasted heroine screams at the most inopportune moments, especially in the climax. And it ends with a particularly uninteresting twist that didn’t make a lot of sense to me (though to be fair, that’s probably because it was a weak twist to begin with).

What else can be said about a film like this? It’s just a dumb, insipid slasher-movie with hardly anything to offer, except a subplot involving that character I mentioned above. She’s played by Anne Heche and she does give a solid performance. I want to know her story. Better yet, I’d like to rewrite the entire screenplay so that this admittedly-interesting story can be delivered in a much more involving way than it is now. I guess I give actors Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Ryan Philippe credit for trying to make something out of their lazily developed characters, but they needed better material to work with here.

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.

The Happening (2008)

9 May

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I hate to pick on M. Night Shyamalan. I really do. His successful 1999 thriller “The Sixth Sense” is a masterpiece in my eyes. I really like his follow-up thrillers “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” and I find “The Village” to be quite underrated. But as “Lady in the Water” declared his downfall as a filmmaker by just trying too hard to make a complicated, laughable story into something even more so in execution, this is also proven in the follow-up to that film, “The Happening.” For those who thought “Lady in the Water” was inept, “The Happening” is even more so. It’s strange (not in a good way) and just laughably bad.

This is one of the stupidest apocalyptic thrillers I’ve ever seen. See if you follow this—it begins as some sort of neurotoxin hits several people in New York, causing them to freeze in time, take a few steps backward, and then ultimately kill themselves.

Richard Roeper put this best, by the way—“Something wicked this way comes, and when it does, you die.”

Anyway, this airborne silent-invisible killer spreads from city to city. It’s posted by the media as a terrorist attack, but (get this) there’s a different theory that maybe nature has something to do with it, that it’s extremely ticked off at society and has found a way to communicate through the trees in order to spread a toxin in the air that will destroy all of humanity.

Yeah, that’s silly enough. It’s even more laughable as the heroes we follow in “The Happening” actually talk to the trees and plants in an attempt to soothe them and spare their lives.

Our heroes are a high-school science teacher, Elliot (Mark Wahlberg); his emotionally withdrawn wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel, keeping her eyes as wide as she possibly can); Elliot’s best friend, Julian (John Leguizamo); and Julian’s young daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). They leave the city of Philadelphia by train after news of the attack, but then are stranded in a rural area where they must…outrun the wind?

Yep, they outrun the wind and find shelter easily. And get this—they never stay in one spot and hole up! They keep going from place to place without having the intelligence to just hide in one location and wait out the storm. These characters are too dumb for a slasher-movie, let alone a disaster-movie.

The atmosphere is practically nonexistent. There’s hardly a sense of menace in the air (so to speak), so it’s hard to fear for the characters when the threat is near. And characterization is even worse—it’s stilted and forced, and the dialogue doesn’t help either. Speaking of which, say this line without cracking up (I dare you)—“Don’t take my daughter’s hand unless you mean it!” I don’t know about you, but that line kills me.

What was M. Night Shyamalan trying to pull off here? An environmental message within an apocalyptic thriller? Well, if he can’t make trees or plants seem ominous or threatening, there’s hardly anything that can be worth recommending for “The Happening.”

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

23 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crucible (1996)

22 Apr

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

Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)

21 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Harold and Kumar are appealing characters. They’ve certainly proved that in 2004’s “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.” Harold is of Korean descent, Kumar of Indian descent, but they’re both living in America like every day Americans…and they get along great together because they smoke more pot than Cheech and Chong. In “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,” they spent a night of funny misadventures trying to find White Castle and eat there like regular Americans. Along the way, they are met by racists who make them miserable. That movie had a heart to it. Their next movie, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” has no heart and I’ve been unable to locate its brain.

This is a mean-spirited, uninspired sequel to “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” that is an insult to the eyes and ears of people who love comedy. It does have decent performances by John Cho and Kal Penn, reprising their roles as the likable potheads Harold and Kumar, but the script has nowhere interesting to go and the direction is heavy-handed.

We pick up where the first movie left off, as Harold and Kumar board a plane to Amsterdam to meet the girl of Harold’s dreams. What they didn’t count on was a racist old lady. Get this—what she sees when she sees Kumar on the plane is an Arabian terrorist ready to strike. And then she yells bloody murder and Harold and Kumar are arrested. You can already tell that this movie is going to blow.

Our heroes are accused of being terrorists and brought to the most unlikable character in the movie—a sleazy, slimy, evil-grinning, ultimately racist, hawkish government hotshot Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). There are so many wrong things going on with this character that it’s never funny. I wanted to punch a hole in the screen every time he showed up. What’s worse? Corddry plays the character so well. He locks the boys up in Guantanamo Bay, where no one “even heard of rights.” As the title suggests, Harold and Kumar escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Now, the title suggests at least some funny material. But no. It’s only five minutes out of this mess but an unfunny five minutes.

Anyway, Harold and Kumar are out to clear their name and have many misadventures involving hillbilly in breeders, a KKK rally, a bottomless swimming party, a conversation with an unexpected ally, and a tripping Neil Patrick Harris, played by…Neil Patrick Harris. Harris at least brings charisma to the mix but it’s too little, too late. All the other misadventures—especially the KKK rally and inbred Cyclops—are missed opportunities. And then there are two romantic subplots, but even they seem uninspired.

There is one funny moment that should be mentioned because I can only think of how better the movie would be if it was like that moment—it’s a flashback of the boys in college. Kumar was as uptight as Harold is and vice versa. That was funny and I just wish the movie took chances, like in that scene.

To sum it all up, THIS is what Harold and Kumar are reduced to? After getting to know them in the previous movie, which had laughs throughout, we have to see them be the targets of racism and that sleazy government agent? I mean it—Corddry deserves a punch in the face right now.

I heard there was going to be a third movie featuring Harold and Kumar—“A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.” If that’s true, the filmmakers need better material to work with. “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” is an uninspired sequel and not even Cho, Penn, and NPH’s charm, nor that one funny scene, could save it.

NOTE: Long after writing this review, “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” has been released. I still haven’t seen it yet, though I suppose I should.

Armageddon (1998)

18 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

1998’s “Armageddon” shares the same premise as “Deep Impact,” which came out the same year as this one. Both movies are about a giant asteroid about to crash to earth and wipe out mankind. But if there’s one thing to be said about “Deep Impact,” it’s that it’s a much better film than this loud, obnoxious, boring, distasteful action movie/special effects extravaganza.

“Armageddon” is the best title for this movie. As Gene Siskel, of “Siskel and Ebert,” put it, “Armageddon is appropriately titled because while watching it, you’ll feel as though you’ve been in combat—visual combat and aural combat.” He gave this film a thumbs-up, but my review is much closer to what Ebert thought of it.

The movie is about the threat of an asteroid that is said to be the size of Texas that could wipe out the whole planet. “Nothing could survive, not even bacteria.” Billy Bob Thornton plays a NASA chief who has to find a way to save the planet. He comes up with a solution: hire a bunch of oil drillers to go up into space and drill to the core of the sucker and then blow it up. Bruce Willis plays the leader of the drillers Harry Stamper, who is said to be the world’s greatest driller (what a distinction). He has his own team with him and they’re all different types of people (so we can tell them apart) and they’re just a ragtag band. Included in the team are a sex-obsessed weirdo (Steve Buscemi), a bass-voiced giant (Michael Clarke Duncan), and the boyfriend of Harry’s daughter, whom Harry disapproves of, shown in a completely over-the-top tantrum beginning. The boyfriend is played by Ben Affleck.

I guess “Armageddon” is supposed to be entertaining because there are nonstop special effects, little human story, and shots that don’t even last twenty seconds. This doesn’t even feel much like a movie rather than an overlong trailer, to say the least. Once the characters are up in space, the movie just drags on and on and on and it got very boring. I kept waiting…and waiting…for something to make sense.

Then, the movie was over. The second half of this movie is full of very tightly-edited scenes of sci-fi action and it all felt like a dead zone as it ran for an hour and a half. There are a lot of action scenes and they don’t really pay off or add to anything.

The characters here are dull, with the possible exception of Liv Tyler. She plays Harry’s daughter and gives a piece of realism to the human story, as much as there is. But Bruce Willis is wasted here as the dull leader of the drillers. The same can also be said for Billy Bob Thornton, who is forgettable here. Ben Affleck isn’t likable here in the slightest—he’s just a jerk.

The movie has very cheesy clichéd scenes that have been done to death. We get the slow-motion walking shots by the heroes, the over-the-top save-the-world speech, and farewell scenes that are not touching or effective just overdone. I wouldn’t mind so much if I wasn’t so bored already.

The movie runs about two-and-a-half hours. Why? I’m guessing action-director Michael Bay would like this movie as a popcorn movie or maybe he didn’t even want it that way. Whatever he wanted to do, he failed doing it. On the comic relief side, there is hardly any humor that is intentional and that’s also not a good sign. Some of the jokes that the characters say at the beginning are missing punch lines. Just when it feels like there might be one, the scene cuts to another. The worst part is that the movie hardly stops to take a breath once in a while. Does Bay think that the audience has an ingenious attention span?

See if you buy this—the planet is in huge jeopardy, right? An asteroid the size of Texas is going to crash down and wipe out humanity, so the heroes have to blow it up. Well, if the asteroid is that big, then wouldn’t even a piece be enough to wipe out the United States? And also, the characters are drillers who must be trained to be astronauts. Wouldn’t be easier to have astronauts train to be drillers?

“Armageddon” is a special-effects mess.