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A Mighty Heart Review


Excellent
It's a sign of filmmaking prowess, and occasionally genius, when a director can hand viewers a scenario with a foregone conclusion and make them get lost in the story anyway. In A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom shows that he is definitely that kind of director, flinging us into a panicked maelstrom of chases and false leads that all lead to the same murderous finale, one that is likely clear even to people unfamiliar with the true story the film is closely molded from. Daniel Pearl, respected and beloved journalist for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped in Karachi in late January 2002 as he was researching a story on the shoe-bomber Richard Reid. His pregnant wife, journalist Mariane Pearl, marshals an ad-hoc group of his co-workers, Pakistani police, and U.S. officials to find him before it's too late. They're too late.

At the time, Pearl's kidnapping was like a tertiary aftershock to 9/11, proving that nobody was safe. The World Trade Center, international symbol of dominating Western capitalism, made sense as a target. Pearl, a universally respected journalist (evidence shows that "beloved" would actually not have been too strong a description of people's feelings about him) who wanted only to understand the terrorists and to explain them to the world, made no sense. And it's that swirling fog of frightened confusion that Winterbottom evokes so powerfully in A Mighty Heart, one of the best films yet made about modern terrorism.

Continue reading: A Mighty Heart Review

The Punisher (2004) Review


Bad
Over the course of two hours, the Punisher, Marvel Comics' black-clad antihero (played by Thomas Jane -- now rebranded as "Tom Jane") kills more people than cardiovascular disease. Bad guys get their head split in two, knives in the throat, and shot in all kinds of sensitive places. So, why will action junkies, like myself, feel like they've been duped? Read on.

The plot stars promisingly enough. Frank Castle (Jane, *61, The Sweetest Thing) is an FBI undercover agent, the kind of guy who's so good that the Bureau moves him around for his own protection. At his final job in Tampa, he busts up a major weapons deal that kills the son of powerful crime lord Howard Saint (poor, poor John Travolta).

Continue reading: The Punisher (2004) Review

Everybody Wins Review


Weak
Everybody wins... except the audience, in this initially promising but ultimately baffling waste of a movie, another flick in a long line of Debra Winger thrillers. You know, the kind with a knife on the cover of the DVD, separating her from the male lead. Right. Oddly, there's no blood-covered knife to be found in Everybody Wins: The body count is exactly one, and even that is totally bloodless (despite it occuring during a head-on collision between motorcycle and truck). The plot is barely worth explaining: A "good samaritan" (Winger) hires a flashy P.I. (Nick Nolte) to clear a teenager of his murder conviction. Why the erraticly behaved Winger is interested in this kid turns out to be the big mystery in the film, not the obviousness of his innocence. Nolte turns out to be the surprisingly only thing worth watching here. Who knew such an awful movie (and that title) could come from the pen of Arthur Miller?

All Revved Up Review


Bad
What are John Turturro and Lili Taylor doing in a movie with race cars on the video cover -- a movie called All Revved Up?

Beats the crap outta me. I suffered through the 83 minutes of Revved and am no closer to figuring out why it was made, what attracted its stars to the project, or even what the hell it was supposed to be about.

Continue reading: All Revved Up Review

Romeo Is Bleeding Review


Good
Lena Olin is up to her old tricks again, as are Gary Oldman, Juliette Lewis, and Annabella Sciorra, in this twisted tale of a slightly corrupt cop and the company he keeps. Not much about Romeo is Bleeding sticks with you for long, the exception being Olin's shrieking hit-woman who ends up with one arm... Delightfully bizarre.

The Punisher (2004) Review


Bad
Over the course of two hours, the Punisher, Marvel Comics' black-clad antihero (played by Thomas Jane -- now rebranded as "Tom Jane") kills more people than cardiovascular disease. Bad guys get their head split in two, knives in the throat, and shot in all kinds of sensitive places. So, why will action junkies, like myself, feel like they've been duped? Read on.

The plot stars promisingly enough. Frank Castle (Jane, *61, The Sweetest Thing) is an FBI undercover agent, the kind of guy who's so good that the Bureau moves him around for his own protection. At his final job in Tampa, he busts up a major weapons deal that kills the son of powerful crime lord Howard Saint (poor, poor John Travolta).

Continue reading: The Punisher (2004) Review

Jesus' Son Review


Extraordinary
It's a typical day in the life of rambling junkie F*ckhead, whom we'll call FH for the purposes of this review. He just broke up with his on-again, off-again heroin buddy and girlfriend, Michelle, stole a car, drove to the local bar and is getting wasted with his buddy, Wayne, a burned out husk of a human being and card carrying member of the Undead Drunks Club.

After several shots of rotgut to wash down the uppers, downers and endless fuel of smack, bleary eyed Wayne asks FH if he wants to make a couple bucks to pay for the drinks they're gonna have later (we realize it's only mid-afternoon by this point.) They meander off to a nearby house and proceed to rip the copper wiring out of the walls. "Yep," Wayne chuckles. "This ought to be worth forty bucks - enough to get drunk tonight. Heh heh."

Continue reading: Jesus' Son Review

The Postman (1997) Review


Bad
When picking a protagonist for a movie as massively pulp as this filmwas, a good idea is to make a character that the audience can have some connection with. In order to do this, it might be a good idea to not associate said character with anything that alienates the character. In other words: if you want to choose your basic pulp protagonist, please do not choose their occupation as something that has become synonymous with psychopath.

Yes, I'm talking about The Postman. Post-millennial, post-apocalyptic, and post-intelligence, The Postman is the story of patriotism being reborn (ironically, the patriotism is in opposition to nationalism, which is the flip side of the patriotic coin) in the form of Postal Carriers. OK. It's dumb. The United States has become defunct, a racist psychopath holds all of the power, and the first thing that the new US Government is trying to get working is the mail.

Continue reading: The Postman (1997) Review

The Mothman Prophecies Review


Very Good
Although its title sounds new age goofy, The Mothman Prophecies most certainly is not. It's an intelligent, tense thriller of the unexplained, a film for anyone who thinks the X Files movie comes up short. In fact, most of the action plays out like an extended X Files episode, one that would leave fans of the genre a little spooked, slightly sad, and wanting more.

Based on real events, most of which occurred in 1966 and 1967 (the film is set in present day), The Mothman Prophecies is a complex meeting of unseen monsters, voices from beyond, and eerie coincidence (...or is it?) Richard Gere stars as John Klein, an established Washington Post reporter whose good fortune is shattered when his beautiful wife Mary (Debra Messing) sustains severe injuries in what appears to be a single car accident. As Mary slips in and out of consciousness, she asks if John has seen "it." "It," according to her wild sketches, appears to be some sort of beastly giant bat. Either Mary has suffered brain damage, or something wholly supernatural has entered John's life.

Continue reading: The Mothman Prophecies Review

Trixie Review


OK
It's a damn shame when a bad movie happens to a great actor. It's even worse when you try to enjoy their performance in the film while being distracted by a terrible wasteland of a script. Such is the sad case of Alan Rudolph's latest "screwball noir" farce, Trixie, a misguided attempt at expanding the noir genre by giving it a comedic twist.

Everything seemed to be in place to make a good film out of Trixie, starting with a great cast of Nick Nolte, Will Patton, Dermot Mulrooney, newcomer Brittany Murphy, Nathan Lane, and the wonderfully versatile actress Emily Watson. The story follows a misunderstood girl named Trixie, who has an annoying habit of mixing up her metaphors - with such memorable lines as "life is no bed of gravy" and "it's like looking through a needle for a haystack." Trixie holds dead-end jobs as a security guard for low-rent department stores but yearns for something better in her life. Don't we all. Eventually she takes a job at a casino resort as an undercover cop and gets involved in a tangled mess of a political sex scandal/murder mystery. Don't you just hate when that happens?!

Continue reading: Trixie Review

Remember The Titans Review


Very Good
Here's the pitch: Take an emotional drama about the racial conflict concerning the integration of a black high school and a white one in the South. Then wrap the entire plot around a hard-nosed high school football coach (Washington) with an unorthodox style but an uncanny ability to get the most out of his players. As an added little twist in this case, the old white head coach (Patton) stays on as an assistant so we can play with a fair amount of racial conflict and power struggle as these two egos collide, and ultimately generate a little more emotion as they become friends.

The last bit aside, we've all seen this movie a couple of times before, so we know what to expect from the feel-good sentiment. To be sure, a lot of bigoted white folks are going to do a lot of mean things until they slowly start to understand that we are all the same on the inside. And a bunch of jaded and underachieving high school athletes will slowly learn what it is their coach is trying to teach them about becoming men and champions. Throw in the fat kid from the wrong side of the tracks who finds his inspiration and a little pride along the way, and we've got the most heartwarming film ever made.

Continue reading: Remember The Titans Review

Armageddon Review


OK
Relatively silly and far too long disaster movie, with a gang of unruly oil drillers sent to dig an 800-foot hole on an asteroid, drop a nuke down the hole, and get the heck home, before earth is destroyed. About like it sounds -- also, somebody please boot Liv Tyler off the planet before her acting hurts somebody.

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Gone In 60 Seconds (2000) Review


OK
You are Nicolas Cage. After clawing your way through B-movies to an Academy Award for Leaving Las Vegas, what do you do? You take part after part in a progressively worsening slate of action films (pausing only for the even worse melodrama City of Angels), bottoming out with Snake Eyes and 8MM. Your action career is at an obvious end. So do you go back to the drama you can pull off so well?

No! You take a role in Gone in 60 Seconds, and try to extend your movie muscle even further! Here's a movie that's pure, unabashed Hollywood: Randall "Memphis" Raines (Cage), in order to convince a mean criminal to spare the life of his brother (Giovanni Ribisi), must BLOW UP 50 cars in the next 72 hours!

Continue reading: Gone In 60 Seconds (2000) Review

Fled Review


Bad
Drivel attempt at remaking Midnight Run, sans humor or decent acting. Or even a decent title.

The Punisher Review


Weak

Stone-cold antihero vigilante Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) begins this adaptation of Marvel comics' morose cult favorite "The Punisher" as a top-ranking, six-language-speaking undercover FBI counter-terrorism agent on his last gun-running sting before an early retirement, which he plans spend with his beautiful young wife and kid.

But that's before the son of a millionaire money-laundering crime boss gets killed in the resulting shootout. The next week, said crime boss (torpid John Travolta on villain autopilot) sends his henchmen to wipe out every living soul at Castle's family reunion, leaving the man himself for dead too, and thus setting the stage for...nothing more than your standard-issue, R-rated, pistols-a-blazin' revenge fantasy.

The only thing that makes Castle unique in the genre is his skull-design T-shirt that gives him the vague facade of a superhero -- something he needs badly since the guy has all the personality of a block of wood. The blank glower on the chiseled visage of Jane ("Dreamcatcher") is just barely enough to sell his pent-up-rage, but the actor's virtually monotone performance is symptomatic of the whole monotone movie.

Continue reading: The Punisher Review

Gone In 60 Seconds Review


Weak

"Gone in 60 Seconds" wants to be a dusky, adrenaline-driven joy ride of car chases and ultra-cool criminal heroes, but it's so bland that it only manages to be exciting for about 20 seconds at a time.

This year's brain-dead summer action entry from producer Jerry Bruckheimer -- king of expensive, MTV-edited, cookie-cutter, popcorn crap pics for the easily entertained ("The Rock," "Con Air," "Armageddon") -- it stars Nicolas Cage as Memphis Raines, a reformed car thief forced back into "the game" when his inept younger brother (Giovanni Ribisi) bungles an assignment to swipe 50 rare cars for smuggling overseas.

A furniture-obsessed mobster ("They call him The Carpenter. He's bad. Really bad."), played by former art film denizen Christopher Eccleston, has threatened to kill Ribisi if Cage doesn't deliver the same 50 cars in 72 hours. So he abandons his modest, honest job running a go cart race track in a desert town and re-assembles his old crew of generically eccentric tough guys from central casting (with oh-brother nicknames like Mirror Man, Tumbler, The Sphinx), and one sexy tomboy ex-girlfriend (Angelina Jolie in a blond dreadlock wig), to pull off the heists -- all in one night.

Continue reading: Gone In 60 Seconds Review

Remember The Titans Review


Good

As generic as a message movie can be, "Remember the Titans" is a stirring and gratifying "true story" which nonetheless plays like it was written by a computer and directed by someone consulting an instruction manual before every take.

Based on the life of the man who coached the first integrated high school football team in Virginia, circa 1971, it's a blatantly manipulative feel-good flick that is a virtual encyclopedia of racial strife clichés, sports clichés and unforgivably shopworn warm-fuzzy moments like the ubiquitous Motown-sing-a-long scene in which characters line dance and croon into hairbrushes or other substitute microphones. There's four -- count 'em four -- such scenes in this picture.

The football games are filmed so uncreatively they might as well be stock footage filched from 100 other forgotten big-screen gridiron yarns. Aside from being distinctively black or white, the ensemble of ballplayers are mostly nondescript, interchangeable broad-shouldered lummoxes from central casting.

Continue reading: Remember The Titans Review

Jesus' Son Review


OK

Another scruffy, festival circuit flick about lovable, good-looking junkies, "Jesus' Son" gets by on a pair of commendably manic performances from rising stars Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton, but otherwise plots a rambling pre-destined course through blissful and heinous heroin binges, petty larceny and overdose deaths on its way to a stupor-emerging, halcyon rehab finale.

The versatile Crudup ("Waking the Dead," "The Hi-Lo Country") gives good druggie voice-over as an aimless '70s loser known only as F***head (or FH for short), who becomes addicted to H after falling for a beautiful, bedraggled user played by Morton (who was so brilliant as Sean Penn's mute, doormat girlfriend in "Sweet and Lowdown").

Between bloodshot romance, lost souls sex and fiery arguments, they carry each other toward their next fix, just trying to "feel alive."

Continue reading: Jesus' Son Review

Trixie Review


Weak

Undeniably an ardently independent filmmaker with unique and eccentric vision, Alan Rudolph has made some peculiarly fascinating movies.

"Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" radiated with atmospheric, addled Algonquin Roundtable intellectualism. "Afterglow" made the threadbare theme of marital infidelity almost hypnotically riveting.

Even when he goes down in flames, like he did with last year's "Breakfast of Champions" adaptation, he does it so spectacularly that it's almost impossible to look away.

Continue reading: Trixie Review

The Mothman Prophecies Review


OK

By making a big deal out of the fact that his supernatural chiller "The Mothman Prophecies" is based -- however loosely -- on true events, director Mark Pellington seem to be hoping the picture's vagueness and creative liberties might come under less scrutiny.

Furnishing the story about an epidemic of haunting phenomena in a West Virginia hamlet with an acutely icy and unsettling atmosphere, Pellington certainly makes it easy to go along for the ride. But whenever there's a break in the action, the film's fictionalized elements can't help but come into focus, requiring the viewer to beat back the same sense of curiosity required to get sucked into this creepy legend in the first place.

The "true events" on which the movie is based took place in Point Pleasant, W.Va, in the mid 1960s, where dozens of residents reported eerie encounters with a giant, shadowy, winged humanoid with glowing red eyes. Many more said they began hearing unearthly voices that vaguely prophesized impending disasters and other phenomenon.

Continue reading: The Mothman Prophecies Review

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