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Young Frankenstein Review


Essential
Mel Brooks was just about at the top of his game back in 1974, when he directed both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein tells the tale of an heir (Gene Wilder) of the original Frank, who inherits his creepy castle (shot in the original castle from the first Frankenstein movie) and starts work anew on his ancestor's experiments. Of course, this is courtesy of Mel Brooks, and it's perfectly parodied -- probably the best horror spoof ever made and a far cry ahead of Brooks' later Dracula: Dead and Loving It gag. Wilder and Peter Boyle (as the monster) are hysterical, but it's Teri Garr who steals the show as Frankenstein's buxom and considerably vapid assistant. The special edition DVD is especially recommended -- with a handful of outtakes and deleted scenes (though none are nearly as funny as what made the final cut).

Marooned Review


Very Good
Remarkably prescient, this 1969 drama about astronauts stuck in space, unable to return home due to a rocket malfunction preceded the real Apollo 13 drama by only one year. For its era, the special effects are impressive, though the plot -- which involves a massive rescue attempt that sees not one but two spacecraft attempting to rendezvous with our heros -- is on the far-fetched side. Kudos for impressive realism in its treatment of the effects of the lack of oxygen on the crew and its long periods of quiet frustration, a great respite from typical in-your-face adventure fare.

Superman Review


Very Good
Yeah, it was 1978 when Superman first hit theaters in the version most of us remember -- with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel and Marlon Brando as his disco-inspired pop. Superman is a lovable epic full of quaint nostalgia and incredible mysteries of logic (because if the earth spun the other way round, time would apparently reverse... riiiight). The story tells the bulk of the Superman legend -- his escape from Krypton, coming to terms with his powers as a youth in Smallville, moving to big old Metropolis and becoming Clark Kent (and falling for crusty Lois Lane), and dealing with a Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, excellently over the top) plan to buy up real estate in Nevada and then destroy most of California, thus making his new coastline worth millions. Watch for Terence Stamp's Zod in the first scene -- he'll be back to rule as one of cinema's great villains in Superman II.

Continue reading: Superman Review

Superman II Review


Good
"Kneel before Zod."

Superman II had all the signposts of a disaster. Richard Donner, who shot much of the footage during the production of the first Superman, found himself forced away from the movie and replaced by Richard Lester, who claimed never to have heard of Superman before signing on to the franchise. To top it off, Marlon Brando sued to cut out all his scenes as Jor-El. And Gene Hackman was unavailable to shoot after Lester took the reins.

Continue reading: Superman II Review

Crimson Tide Review


Very Good
The Cold War may be over, but it lives on through films like Crimson Tide.

Crimson Tide is a new action/psychodrama about a mutiny aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine. When World War III is about to erupt thanks to Russian coup-artists, the USS Alabama, helmed by Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is sent to prepare for the worst. When the order to launch comes in, Ramsey's executive officer, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), clashes with the Captain over a last-minute, incomplete order which could recall the missile launch. The result is mutiny, with half the ship siding with the Captain's single-minded, stubborn decision to fire, half standing with Hunter, who wants a confirmation before blowing up the world.

Continue reading: Crimson Tide Review

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace Review


Terrible
Christopher Reeve allegedly insisted that if he was going to slum his way through a fourth Superman movie, it would have to involve a story about nuclear disarmament. Noble, yes, but after Supe tosses all the nukes into the sun, Lex Luthor tosses token villain "Nuclear Man" (Mark Pillow, whose career was promptly killed after this debacle) into the mix. Pathetic battle, combined with the usual "hide that secret identity!" subplot, ensues. Worst of all are the special effects: I didn't think you could make an entire movie on a bluescreen in 1987, but damn if director Sidney J. Furie doesn't try. I've also never seen people falling sooo sloooooowlyyyyyyyyyy. Avoid!

Enemy Of The State Review


OK
It was a disappointing day on many levels. First I show up to the theater and pay $2.75 for a single slice of pizza. I take it into the theater and didn't see the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace preview that I wanted to see. After that, I watch the disappointing movie Enemy of the State

Enemy of the State stars Will Smith as Robert Dean, an attorney who is handed a video tape by an old friend running for his life, who just happened to come across Smith in a lingerie store. The problem? It shows an NSA agent killing a congressman. The mastermind behind that murder and others to come is agent Reynolds (Jon Voight). The NSA has Dean's life under 24-hour surveillance. They have bugs in his pants, his cell phone, his pen, (is this beginning to sound familiar?) Dean's only chance of survival is a man named Brill, an acquaintance he used for some of his cases. Gene Hackman plays Brill, and his character is the guy who is just so darn convenient to have around in the time of crisis.

Continue reading: Enemy Of The State Review

A Bridge Too Far Review


Good
There are star-studded projects, and then there's A Bridge Too Far, a World War II movie the likes of which would cost upwards of $300 million to make today. There are lots of bridges in the film, actually: The Allies aim to capture a series of them in German-occupied Holland as part of Operation Market-Garden, a byzantine plot that would theoretically cripple the German war machine in western Europe, where Germany is already on the run. However, Allied mistakes and an unexpected amount of German firepower nip the plan in the bud. The film is more a showcase for some searing acting -- and at three hours long, there's plenty of it -- than it is a classic war film. The battle scenes just don't come across as impressively as in other films of the era -- the fact that VW Beetles with plastic tank shells on them were used in lieu of some of the Panzers is just one sign that all the budget went to that exhaustive cast list.

Young Frankenstein Review


Essential
Mel Brooks was just about at the top of his game back in 1974, when he directed both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein tells the tale of an heir (Gene Wilder) of the original Frank, who inherits his creepy castle (shot in the original castle from the first Frankenstein movie) and starts work anew on his ancestor's experiments. Of course, this is courtesy of Mel Brooks, and it's perfectly parodied -- probably the best horror spoof ever made and a far cry ahead of Brooks' later Dracula: Dead and Loving It gag. Wilder and Peter Boyle (as the monster) are hysterical, but it's Teri Garr who steals the show as Frankenstein's buxom and considerably vapid assistant. The special edition DVD is especially recommended -- with a handful of outtakes and deleted scenes (though none are nearly as funny as what made the final cut).

Get Shorty Review


OK
The cryptic title of Get Shorty should forewarn you of the confusion to come when the film actually starts. To be honest, I >still< don't really know what it's supposed to mean. Initially, I was pretty excited about the prospects for Get Shorty: it's John Travolta's much-anticipated follow-up to Pulp Fiction; great actors Gene Hackman and Rene Russo both star; the well-regarded Elmore Leonard penned the novel that the movie is based on. What a disappointment!

The story goes: Travolta is Chili Palmer, a small time Miami hood, a "shylock" whose job is essentially coercing money out of people. His boss sends Chili on a chase for some questionably-raised funds; in Vegas, another contact sends him to L.A. to track down an entirely unrelated debtor, Harry Zimm (Hackman). And there are a few drug dealers who have their payoff stuck in a locker at LAX.

Continue reading: Get Shorty Review

The Birdcage Review


Excellent
It's a rare event when a remake of a film rivals the greatness of the original. The Birdcage, based fairly closely on La Cage aux Folles, achieves just that, memorably updating the earlier film's script with modern humor and a distinctly American setting.

The story has been done a thousand times, but La Cage aux Folles was one of the originals. Armand Goldman (Robin Williams) is an openly gay drag club owner in South Beach, Florida. Albert (Nathan Lane, best known as the voice of the weasel in The Lion King), aka Starina, is Armand's feature performer...and his "wife." When Armand's son-via-one-night-stand Val (Dan Futterman) announces his impending marriage to Barbara (Calista Flockhart, a dead ringer for Audrey Hepburn), Armand freaks. When Barbara's arch-conservative parents (Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest) drop by for a visit, it gets even worse.

Continue reading: The Birdcage Review

Antz Review


Very Good
Every ant has his day. At least, that's what Woody Allen would have you think, in this twisted animated version of Annie Hall meets Brazil. Starting with a moody grass-scape of what turns out to be a quiet corner of Central Park, voiced-over by Allen's "Z", a hapless worker ant who feels the weight of the colony--so to speak--on his back, Antz tracks a lot like any Allen flick.

In fact, if it wasn't for all the formula-driven bad guys, perilous situations, and narrow escapes, Antz would be exactly like any other Allen film. But this is animation, and that means kid-pleasing effects must plaster the screen. Sadly, this hurts the story to the point where Antz will quickly get lost in the shuffle of animated films coming out over the next year, despite its unique touches. To make matters worse, some of the more gruesome scenes, including an ant-termite battle that would leave Private Ryan wetting himself, are decidedly not for children.

Continue reading: Antz Review

Unforgiven Review


Extraordinary
"I do not like assassins -- or men of low character." Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood face off in one of the best westerns ever made -- make that the best western ever made -- produced some 50 years after the prime of the western era. Eastwood plays a reluctant assassin trying to raise money to save his small farm, kids, and sick pigs, while Hackman's much-abused sheriff aims to stop the killing.

The dialogue is fantastic, with Eastwood utterly believable in his testifying to the evils of whisky, and Hackman totally at ease with saying he "et it." Richard Harris's English Bob is an unforgettable pansy of a villain, and the widescreen cinematography is lush during the day, ominous during the invariably rainy nights.

Continue reading: Unforgiven Review

The French Connection Review


Essential
The French Connection puts the majority of contemporary action movies to shame. It proves how potentially smart this genre can be, and how dumb recent action films really are. Unlike many modern-day thrillers, this film is an exciting, taut, and realistic portrayal of urban police life, but it does not fill its running time with gratuitous violence, nonstop profanity, and copious amounts of sex. Character motivation and story drive the film forward--not a needless excess of violent, antisocial behavior. It's a standout cinematic achievement that won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Film Editing, and Best Writing.

Ernest Tidyman's story follows the adventures of two New York narcotics cops, "Popeye" Doyle (Hackman), and his partner, Russo (Roy Scheider). They track a lead about a large drug delivery that develops into a plan that could entirely destroy the marijuana trade between Paris and New York.

Continue reading: The French Connection Review

Welcome To Mooseport Review


Bad
If you thought the issues that plagued Florida voters during the last Presidential election were a bit unbelievable, then welcome to Mooseport - a coastal Maine town where electing a mayor is more difficult than counting hanging chads. In this film, an "election" means finding the most qualified person to decide the "tough" issues like where a stop sign should be placed or who should date the town veterinarian.

Enter former President Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman). He's the most liked President since JFK, and he has decided to make Mooseport his retirement haven. Not that he has much of a choice since his ex-wife, the former First Lady, has nearly cleaned him dry in a nasty divorce. Mooseport is also going through a crisis. The mayor has recently died, and the troubled city council cannot find anyone willing to run for office. With President Cole now living in town, the city council sees him as the answer to their prayers, and after enough of their pressure, Cole enters the race for no other reason than to keep his last possession: his vacation home.

Continue reading: Welcome To Mooseport Review

Runaway Jury Review


Extraordinary
It's a sunny weekday in beautiful New Orleans as a middle-aged, white-collar businessman arrives at his office. He settles into a chair behind his desk and ponders a song in his head. He can't think of the words, so he calls his secretary into the office. He explains to her that he will be celebrating his young daughter's birthday later today, and he promised to sing this song for her. The secretary smiles warmly and helps him remember the lyrics.

Suddenly, horror and chaos erupt as gunfire interrupts their singing. The businessman instructs the secretary to take shelter behind his desk as he locks the office door. After a moment, the gunfire stops, and he cautiously peeks outside the door -- only to be shot point blank in the head by the gunman, who then turns the weapon on himself.

Continue reading: Runaway Jury Review

Behind Enemy Lines Review


Good
A film like Behind Enemy Lines reminds you of how the movies can so easily be used for government propaganda during times of crisis. During WWII, local cinemas were littered with the likes of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Gary Cooper fighting for freedom and the American Way against Nazi bastards and ruthless Japanese. Vietnam and the Cold War also had their propaganda films -- Rambo, anyone? In more recent times, the Gulf War and the Serbian conflict have also become the targets of eager filmmakers, but the public hasn't really accepted these films -- apparently the scale of the conflicts has not been enough to make much of an impact on an apathetic populace.

But that all changed on September 11, when American support for patriotism and military might -- no matter who the adversary -- hit a sudden, fever pitch. And so it was that the spring 2002 release (a dumping ground for films with very low expectations) of Behind Enemy Lines was pole-vaulted forward to the holiday heyday of November 30, 2001, buoyed by sky-high audience approval at test screenings. You want your ripped-from-today's-headlines movie? You got it.

Continue reading: Behind Enemy Lines Review

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace Review


Terrible
Christopher Reeve allegedly insisted that if he was going to slum his way through a fourth Superman movie, it would have to involve a story about nuclear disarmament. Noble, yes, but after Supe tosses all the nukes into the sun, Lex Luthor tosses token villain "Nuclear Man" (Mark Pillow, whose career was promptly killed after this debacle) into the mix. Pathetic battle, combined with the usual "hide that secret identity!" subplot, ensues. Worst of all are the special effects: I didn't think you could make an entire movie on a bluescreen in 1987, but damn if director Sidney J. Furie doesn't try. I've also never seen people falling sooo sloooooowlyyyyyyyyyy. Avoid!

Crimson Tide Review


Very Good
The Cold War may be over, but it lives on through films like Crimson Tide.

Crimson Tide is a new action/psychodrama about a mutiny aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine. When World War III is about to erupt thanks to Russian coup-artists, the USS Alabama, helmed by Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is sent to prepare for the worst. When the order to launch comes in, Ramsey's executive officer, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), clashes with the Captain over a last-minute, incomplete order which could recall the missile launch. The result is mutiny, with half the ship siding with the Captain's single-minded, stubborn decision to fire, half standing with Hunter, who wants a confirmation before blowing up the world.

Continue reading: Crimson Tide Review

Absolute Power Review


Bad
Really lame thriller about the president and the cover-up that ensues when he murders some hot chick. Can't believe William Goldman wrote this crap, or that Eastwood, Hackman, Harris, and Davis bothered to get involved with it either.

Superman Review


Very Good
Yeah, it was 1978 when Superman first hit theaters in the version most of us remember -- with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel and Marlon Brando as his disco-inspired pop. Superman is a lovable epic full of quaint nostalgia and incredible mysteries of logic (because if the earth spun the other way round, time would apparently reverse). The story tells the bulk of the Superman legend -- his escape from Krypton, coming to terms with his powers as a youth in Smallville, moving to big old Metropolis and becoming Clark Kent (and falling for crusty Lois Lane), and dealing with a Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, excellently over the top) plan to buy up real estate in Nevada and then destroy most of California, thus making his new coastline worth millions. Watch for Terence Stamp's Zod in the first scene -- he'll be back to rule as one of cinema's great villains in Superman II.

Prime Cut Review


Good
A guy who turns his enemies into hot dogs and dopes up girls to sell as sex slaves?

Sounds far more interesting than it really is, and as the lead villain, Gene Hackman gets far too little screen time. Prime Cut is Lee Marvin's story, the mob enforcer sent from Chicago to collect half a million dollars in debts from Hackman's "Mary Ann," and decides to rescue poor Poppy (Sissy Spacek in her first speaking role) from Mary Ann's clutches.

Continue reading: Prime Cut Review

Heartbreakers Review


Very Good
The problem with a movie like Heartbreakers is that as hard as you try to concentrate on the notable qualities of the film -- the clever camerawork, the strong ensemble acting, the deft script -- every time Jennifer Love Hewitt walks into a scene, her breasts take over. Even my date noticed the blatant attempts by the filmmakers in drawing all attention to the chests of both Sigourney Weaver and Hewitt. Alas, all those breasts are never fully revealed -- like some bad '80s teen horror film censored by Jerry Falwell.

Despite the massive amounts of boob time in Heartbreakers, the film delivers all the goods of a solid comedic vehicle. Max (Weaver) and Page (Hewitt) are a mother/daughter team who swindle rich guys out of their dollars in a con involving matrimony vows, extramarital trysts, and divorce settlements. Sort of like a cross between Anywhere but Here and The Grifters. With the IRS hot on their proverbial tails, the duo team up for one last job, bilking cigarette tycoon William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman) out of his cash. Alas, during the con job, Page ends up falling in love with a local bar owner (Jason Lee), a dead body ends up in their trunk, Princess Leia shows up as a divorce attorney, and a jilted ex-husband (Ray Liotta) shows up waving a gun and advising group therapy for everyone.

Continue reading: Heartbreakers Review

The Chamber Review


Bad
Goody goody Chris O'Donnell heads down to Mississippi to defend his long lost grandpa, who's about to be executed for a racist hate crime decades earlier. Is it possible to care about this story? Faye Dunaway's puppy dog performance sure doesn't help matters.

Bonnie And Clyde Review


Extraordinary
Faye Dunaway has never looked better than when she wore a hat titled to one side and aimed a gun right at the camera for the poster shot of Bonnie and Clyde. This watershed film from Arthur Penn tells the dreamlike, obviously fictionalized tale of infamous bank robbers Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Dunaway), who plied their trade in the south during the Great Depression. Their famous bullet-ridden end is one of cinema's most famous shootouts. Less has been said (though it should) for Bonnie's expertly written dialogue and impressive performances all around. You'll never root for the bad guys more than you will here.

Twice In A Lifetime Review


OK
Gene Hackman as tender steelworker/father in Seattle? We don't think so either, and this movie's ultimate plotline -- about Hackman's falling out with wife Ellen Burstyn and falling in with local hussie Ann-Margret, just doesn't play well today. It probably didn't play well in 1985, either, which is why you haven't heard of it. Despite a few interesting performances from some of cinema's biggest names, this one still merits a pass.

Under Suspicion Review


Good
It's an interesting box drama, and given its huge stars -- Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman -- it's amazing this is a "First on Max" thriller. Hackman plays a tax attorney in Puerto Rico who discovers a strangled girl's body on his morning run. He is brought in to answer "just a few questions," but soon it becomes clear he is the prime suspect. Or is he being framed? Is his gorgeous wife (Monica Belucci) involved? Maybe the cops?

The use of flashbacks is interesting and unique -- replaying scenes over and over with a different spin. And the film truly keeps you guessing, though it goes out of the way to make Hackman look guilty. But what's up with the nonsense ending?

Continue reading: Under Suspicion Review

The Package Review


Good
A capable and decent thriller, The Package has that familiar old Gene Hackman crusty military character that we've all grown to love. The conspiracy/nuclear disarmament plot is really outdated now, but a little paranoia can go a long way in a flick like this.

Extreme Measures Review


Excellent
It's an old question of what's right and what's wrong: if you could cure a disease by killing one person, would you do it? That's basically the premise which starts up Extreme Measures, an ultra-creepy little medical thriller by prolific filmmaker Michael Apted.

If you can deal with the notion of Hugh Grant as a doctor, you've probably suspended disbelief enough to buy the whole production. Dr. Guy Luthan (Grant) finds a mystery patient in his trauma room at Gramercy Hospital. When the patient dies from a bizarre collection of symptoms, no one seems to care except for the dashing British doc.

Continue reading: Extreme Measures Review

Heist Review


Good
David Mamet is a good director. Mamet's an even better screenwriter and playwright. The guy's authored some of the best film and theatre works in the past decade -- The Verdict, House of Games, Wag the Dog, State and Main, and the guy even won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Glengarry Glen Ross. With that said, it's such a shame that his latest crime caper, Heist, falls apart by employing too many of the well-known devices of a Mamet production -- double-crossing femmes fatale, overtly memorable characters, and deceptive plot lines.

But movies like The Spanish Prisoner, Things Change, and The Winslow Boy display a roundness to Mamet's innate abilities. And it's almost a crime to witness how all of that goes awry in his latest film, Heist.

Continue reading: Heist Review

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