May 2005

As with most sports films, you know how the final game ends up. What makes it such a treat is how director Robert Aldrich gets you there. The Longest Yard jumps from comedy to sports film to drama with equal ease, and the level of cynicism and bleakness inside each jumps out with alarming intensity. This is the film for football fans, and anyone interested in catching the upcoming Adam Sandler remake should skip the theater and just give the far superior original a go.

The Longest Yard: Lockdown Edition
4 & 1/2 Stars

Burt is dead sexy

When people think of the great sports movies, football-themed films are always conspicuously absent from the list. Baseball, of course, rules the genre, with basketball and golf taking up the next two slots. So why, when football is such a massive part of American sports, are there no great movies about it? Well, to tell the truth, there is a great football movie, and no it’s not Any Given Sunday or Rudy. It’s the 1974 Burt Reynolds classic, The Longest Yard.

Seriously. Why? Well for one, it’s just a great movie. Man vs. The Man. Underdogs bucking authority for one last shot at dignity and pride. Great stuff, that. But most importantly it’s the football. The last 1/3 rd of The Longest Yard is the game between the Burt Reynolds led convicts and the prison guards and, if you took out the talky bits, it’s as if you’re watching a semi-pro game. It moves like a football game, and boy does it hit like one. They didn’t pull any punches filming this, and that shows up on the screen. Having the bulk of the teams comprised of ex football pros certainly makes it feel all the more real.

The gist of the story is this: former All Pro quarterback Paul Crewe hasn’t played a game since he was kicked out of the NFL for points shaving. Fed up with his kept life, he steals his gal’s car, tears through the city in a high speed chase, dumps the car in the bay, and then beats up two cops. Needless to say, he goes to jail. He ends up in Citrus State Prison, where the warden (a phenomenal Eddie Albert) has pulled some strings to bring the ex NFL great to his little facility in the hopes that Crewe will coach his guards’ semi-pro team to a national championship. Crewe refuses to help, but eventually agrees to lead a team of convicts against the guards in an exhibition match which Albert thinks will be an easy win for his law-lovin’ boys.

Boy, is he wrong. Crewe collects an assortment of violent offenders and near-sociopaths that manage to come together for their own pride, dignity, and a shot at crippling the guards who torment them every day.

As with most sports films, you know how the final game ends up. What makes it such a treat is how director Robert Aldrich gets you there. The Longest Yard jumps from comedy to sports film to drama with equal ease, and the level of cynicism and bleakness inside each jumps out with alarming intensity. This is the film for football fans, and anyone interested in catching the upcoming Adam Sandler remake should skip the theater and just give the far superior original a go.

Ludicrous Hullabulloo

by Alan Rapp on May 23, 2005

in DVD Reviews 

What ever happened to Michael Keaton’s career?  Seriously folks, I’m asking you, the guy was Batman for cris’sake!  I can only assume that his latest film, White Noise, is a very loud and extremely painful cry for help from a guy who looks to be about one year away from doing gay porn.  I personally do not believe in EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), contacting dead people through the static in your television, and I have to say the movie only made me sorry for those that do, which I sincerely doubt if that was the director’s objective.

White Noise
1/2 Star

What ever happened to Michael Keaton’s career?  Seriously folks, I’m asking you, the guy was Batman for cris’sake!  I can only assume that his latest film, White Noise, is a very loud and extremely painful cry for help from a guy who looks to be about one year away from doing gay porn.  I personally do not believe in EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), contacting dead people through the static in your television, and I have to say the movie only made me sorry for those that do, which I sincerely doubt if that was the director’s objective.

Jonathon Rivers (Keaton) is a successful architect with a young son and a hot new second wife (Chandra West) who mysteriously disappears one night on her way home.  Paranormal expert Raymond Price (Ian McNeice) approaches Rivers and explains his wife is dead and trying to contact him through his television set.  At first Rivers is skeptical, but after his wife turns up dead, rather than going to the police, he buys into the guy’s rather flimsy story with ridiculous speed, never looking back.  He joins with Price and Sarah Tate (Deborah Kara Unger), a young woman who is trying to reach her dead fiance, into discovering what messages his wife is trying to send him from beyond the grave. 

Rivers becomes increasingly obsessed after hearing his wife on a tape Price plays for him; he buys thousands of dollars of computer equipment, recording equipment, television monitors, and VCRs to spend 20 hours a day recording looking for messages from his wife.  He totally ignores his job and his son, sending him off to live with his ex-wife.  After several attempts he discovers his wife always comes to contact him through the white noise at exactly 2:30 (am or pm seems to not matter to ghosts).  In her message she seems to warn him against some danger. 

Along with seeing his wife he also finds images of people in danger which he later discovers are people still alive that he has a chance to save if he follows the clues his wife has given him (I can’t believe I watched this whole movie!).  Also in the static are three mysterious strangers that have some stake or control in all of this very odd tale.  I won’t tell you anymore about them, not because there’s any kind of plot twist, but simply because that’s as far as these guys were developed.  Even from watching the director’s commentary I was unable to learn anything of interest about them, except that the director thought they were “really cool.”

The extras include 3 documentaries about EVP presented by the experts in the field.  As laughable as the movie is it looks sullen compared to these people walking around hotel rooms with microphones asking ghosts to talk to them.  One of the extras even shows you how you to can record voices from white noise, giving you lists of the equipment you will need and a nice step by step how to guide on how to record.  After watching moments of these extras I seriously wondered whether the makers of this DVD think EVP is complete crap and used this opportunity to let these people show how laughable their “science” is.

Also included are a commentary track with director Geoffrey Sax and Keaton which gives some nice shooting and production stories, but does nothing to explain this stupid, stupid script.  Of course a DVD wouldn’t be complete with out some useless deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director on why they weren’t worthy to be included in this gem of a movie.  Also included are some previews to movies you could be watching rather than this one.
As for the sound and picture quality they are what you would expect from a major studio DVD, with the optional different languages and subtitles. 

The problems in the movie are too numerous to go into much detail, but here are a few.  The movie never explains how people still alive are contacting Keaton’s character through the white noise that only the dead can use (let alone how the dead are doing it).  The three odd gentlemen/creatures are never developed nor explained, nor is the reason why all contact happens at exactly 2:30.  Rivers never once stops to consider he is being hustled, part of an elaborate hoax, or is going insane, all much better explanations for what happens than any given in the movie.  The police never think it’s suspicious when Keaton keeps ending up finding dead bodies, or when the people helping him turn up dead or injured.
The documentaries are unintentionally laugh out loud funny if you can manage to sit through them.  The seriousness that these people take to finding sounds in radio waves or television signals is just so bizarre you can only chuckle.

I can’t really recommend this to anyone; if you believe in EVP you won’t after watching this, and if you don’t you will just see this experience as a terrible waste of time.

One final note, the movie begins with a quote from Thomas Edison, who I honestly believe would have electrocuted himself on his first light bulb if he knew his name would ever be associated to such…….noise.

Kicking & Screaming won’t take any space on the ‘great sports films’ rack, but it should provide families with some easy laughs and some rainy day diversions.  And if nothing else, it’ll provide moviegoers with the all important tetherball fix we’ve so desperately been lacking.

Kicking & Sreaming
2 & 1/2 Stars

Will Ferrell doesn’t exactly break cinematic ground with Kicking & Screaming, but as yet another entry in the ‘kid sports’ genre, it’s certainly a little unique.  Not nearly as blue-collar and sarcastic as The Bad News Bears (which gets its own update this summer from Richard Linklater and Billy Bob Thorton), K&S provides a lot of unexpected laughs.

Scream, Dracula, scream!

Ferrell plays a meek and embittered vitamin supplement store owner who just can’t measure up to his hyper-competitive dad (Robert Duvall), who just happens to coach the little league soccer team his son plays on.  After Duvall trades Ferrell’s son to another team, Phil decides to coach the perennial losers in an effort to one-up his old man.  Phil brings in the help of Mike Ditka, who has been warring with his dad for years, to get his coaching skills up to par.  By definition and federal mandate, hilarity then ensues.

Put rather simply, Kicking & Screaming is The Mighty Ducks Play Soccer; same idea, same ‘coach becomes win-obsessed jerk’, and same hokey finale.  Except that in this version, the kids are really nothing more than afterthoughts to the comedic force of Will Ferrell, who almost assuredly ad-libbed a good portion of his performance.  You’ll walk out of this movie remembering only Will Ferrell and Mike Ditka (who just steals every scene he’s in). 

There are some inspired moments with Ditka and Duvall, who bring a gleeful malice to their interactions as bickering neighbors, especially to their confrontation over who’s the better coach, but in the end this is Will’s show.  No one does over-the-top reactions like Ferrell, and his moments of lunacy are enough to make you forget just how flimsy the rest of the film is.  It’ll be interesting to see how this effects his steamroller momentum in Hollywood, but I can’t imagine it’ll put too much of a dent in it.  Judging from the audience of soccer kids at the screening, it’ll be a hit with the younger crowd.  After all, there’s nothing kids like more than seeing adults make fools of themselves, and Ferrell is blissfully unafraid to be a complete buffoon.

Kicking & Screaming won’t take any space on the ‘great sports films’ rack, but it should provide families with some easy laughs and some rainy day diversions.  And if nothing else, it’ll provide moviegoers with the all important tetherball fix we’ve so desperately been lacking.

Danny the Dog

by Aaron on May 13, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Action fans should be sated by the sheer brutality, and less-visceral seeking filmgoers should find a lot to enjoy with the film’s emotional heart, but Li has a long way to go before he can be judged by his American output.  Overall, Unleashed should provide action fans with some solid, if fleeting, summer enjoyment.

Unleashed
2 & 1/2 Stars

Jet Li, unlike Jackie Chan, hasn’t had a solid American release since his journey to our silver screen, and frankly he’s due.  While he doesn’t possess the charisma or easy charm of some of his Asian ambassador co-horts, Jet Li’s sheer physical prowess and humble attitude should translate easily with American audiences.  Sadly, Unleashed doesn’t exactly live up to the potential he’s shown.  Fortunately, it’s a sight better than previous efforts, if only due to the attention and care brought to the film by writer/producer Luc Besson, and co-stars Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins. 

Jet Li says “Arf”

The premise of Unleashed is unique enough to set it apart from the rest of the ‘unwilling hero’ genre that chokes the action film market.  Li stars as Danny, a vicious and unstoppable killer whose been trained to be little more than an attack dog by his low-level mob owner/uncle Bob Hoskins.  Until he’s let loose on whatever target Hoskins has picked, Danny is a meek man-child who doesn’t understand the world around him, but instinctively longs for a better life than the one he’s living.  After an accident, Danny finds his way to Morgan Freeman’s Sam, a blind piano tuner who lives with his teenage daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon).  Sam & Victoria tend to Danny’s wounds both physical and psychological, and try to get him accustomed to the world at large, but Danny’s old life comes back to haunt him as Bob Hoskins relentlessly tries to get back his most prized possession. 

In all actuality, were you to replace Li with Van Damme, Speakman, Seagal, or any other martial arts star, this film’s plot could be easily switched with any number of late 80’s / early 90’s fight flicks.  Tortured hero finds peace only to be dragged back into a life they’ve desperately tried to escape?  That’s about as original as a sunrise, but what sets Unleashed apart is the care paid to Danny’s rehabilitation, and the respectability lent the film by Freeman.  (As an aside, what is it with African-American Oscar winners going for an easy action flick as soon as the Oscar is in their hand?  Halle Berry did it with Die Another Day, Jamie Foxx is starring in a Top Gun-meets-War Games action flick (Stealth) this summer, and Lou Gossett, Jr. went from Officer & A Gentleman to Jaws 3-D.)  Freeman’s performance lends the 2nd Act of Unleashed more respectability than it probably deserves, but for an action film this piece manages to carve out an emotional core that is sorely lack from similar efforts, which makes the 3rd Acts descent into type all the more disappointing.  But until that point, the interaction between Danny and his newfound family is both endearing and uncommon, if a little creepy.  Victoria’s less than platonic interest in Danny is a bit baffling, and none too uncomfortable upon reflection.

The action sequences are among the best Jet Li has been able to produce with an American studio, which might be due to the involvement of Yuen Woo-Ping, the famed fight choreographer.  Director Louis Leterrier finds a perfect balance of brutality and grace in Li’s physical performance, and let’s the camera pull back enough to enjoy the sheer visceral impact of every kick, punch, head-butt, and body slam.  To be sure there’s no shortage of jump cuts and quick edits, but more than not the camera lingers on every hit, which drives home just how impressive Jet Li remains, even at the age of 43.  Similarly, the camera work on Unleashed is above the norm, with Luc Besson’s influence seeping through in every frame with subdued color work and striking camera movement.  Had a little bit more care been shown in how the last act played out, Unleashed might have been able to really distinguish itself from the current slate of punch-out films, but as it is Li will have to settle for better than average.

Action fans should be sated by the sheer brutality, and less-visceral seeking filmgoers should find a lot to enjoy with the film’s emotional heart, but Li has a long way to go before he can be judged by his American output.  Overall, Unleashed should provide action fans with some solid, if fleeting, summer enjoyment.

This is a rare case where I’ll say the re-make is better than the original, and Columbia TriStar really opened up the floodgates for this release.  Why they couldn’t put this version out originally, I’ve no clue outside of purely monetary reasons, but The Grudge: Unrated Director’s Cut should keep fans happy, and might be enough to convert those of us who didn’t give it a go the first time around.

The Grudge: Unrated Director’s Cut
3 Stars

Hollywood has opened Pandora’s Box with its recent slate of Asian Horror remakes.  Time will tell if fan’s appetites can stomach the upcoming Dark Water, but with the recent release of Ring 2, and the upcoming sequel to the Grudge remake, there seems to be no end in site of slick horror films showcasing creepy kids and women with long, black hair and bad posture.

I didn’t catch the Grudge re-make in the theaters, as I’d had an iffy reaction to the original (Ju-Oh).  So news that the Sarah Michelle Geller fueled remake would be utilizing the same sets, ghostly actors, and director didn’t really get me excited.  After sitting down with the upcoming Unrated Director’s Cut, I’m comfortable in my decision to stay away from the theater version, but I wasn’t wholly unhappy with the atmospheric thriller.

The Grudge tells the story of one very bad house.  Seriously, this place makes Amityville House look like Disney World in comparison.  Anyone who encounters the cursed house soon finds themselves contending with the murderous spirits of its previous occupants, and there ain’t nobody who’s a match for a cat-screeching little boy with pitch black eyes.  The film tells the stories of each of those poor souls who’ve walked in the wrong doorway.  Geller plays an exchange student who’s internship as a social aid worker brings her into contact with the home, and it’s through her that we learn the stories of each of the house’s victims who have all fallen before the unstoppable rage of it’s ghosts.

Plotwise The Grudge is paper-thin, but this is a movie more concerned with atmosphere and sheer creepiness than telling a cohesive story.  So while it certainly does the job in dispensing out the heebie-jeebies, you’re left feeling like you missed an integral part of the plot, when it wasn’t there to begin with.

This is a rare case where I’ll say the re-make is better than the original, and Columbia TriStar really opened up the floodgates for this release.  Why they couldn’t put this version out originally, I’ve no clue outside of purely monetary reasons, but The Grudge: Unrated Director’s Cut should keep fans happy, and might be enough to convert those of us who didn’t give it a go the first time around.