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Mini Reviews (July 2005)

Clownhouse, Heights, Cujo, Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls, Momentum, Sky High, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary

Clownhouse (July 2/05)

Though it features an absolutely fantastic premise, Clownhouse feels as though it'd be much more effective as a 22-minute episode of Tales from the Crypt (rather than a padded-out, frequently dull 81-minute movie). Young Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters) has a terrible fear of clowns, something his cruel older brother (played by Sam Rockwell) enjoys teasing him about. But when three mental patients escape from a nearby sanitarium and disguise themselves as - you guessed it - clowns, it would seem as though Casey's worst fears have come true. Clownhouse's entire opening hour is essentially superfluous and could easily be condensed into about five minutes worth of screentime, and while the film's third act is admittedly quite exciting, it's almost negated by everything that's preceded it. And while director Victor Salva does a nice job of establishing a creepy, off-kilter sort of atmosphere, there's just not enough substance here to keep the viewer engaged throughout. As for the actors, nobody makes much of an impact except for Rockwell, who delivers an expectedly charismatic and natural performance (this being his debut, that's no small feat).

out of


Heights (July 5/05)

Based on the play by Amy Fox (who also co-wrote the script with director Chris Terrio), Heights follows several New York City based characters as they tumble in and out of each other's lives over the course of a particularly hectic 24-hour period. We meet: Isabel (Elizabeth Banks) and Jonathan (James Marsden), a well-to-do young couple whose relationship isn't quite as perfect as it seems; Diana (Glenn Close), Isabel's mother and an Oscar-winning performer with a crumbling personal life; Alec (Jesse Bradford), a struggling actor who finds himself the object of Diana's affection; and Peter (John Light), a Brit with a mysterious connection to Jonathan. Though it's exceedingly well acted (particularly by Banks, a relative newcomer who does an amazing job), Heights simply cannot shake its stage origins; this is despite the best efforts of Terrio, who attempts to infuse the movie with a sense of grittiness by employing a handheld camera (a choice that becomes very old very fast). No, the reason Heights just doesn't work can be attributed to the film's distinct lack of depth; we never entirely get the feeling that there's anything at stake for these people, something that's exacerbated by the increasingly preposterous coincidences that pepper the storyline. The melancholy score, by Ben Butler and Martin Erskine, is the most effective aspect of Heights - although it'd probably be more appropriate in a better movie.

out of


Cujo (July 18/05)

Cujo is, of course, based on the novel by Stephen King, and aside from a conclusion that's unreasonably upbeat, the film remains fairly close to the source material throughout (as close as a 92-minute movie can get, anyway). The story revolves around a mother (Dee Wallace) and son (Danny Pintauro) who find themselves trapped inside a broken-down Pinto by a rabid Saint Bernard named Cujo. Like King's book, Cujo sports a pace that's best described as deliberate; the majority of the film is devoted to character development, with the more violent aspects of the story relegated to the final half-hour. And, not surprisingly, the movie isn't even remotely as gory as the novel; the various throat-chomping and eye-gouging moments from King's work are completely absent here. Yet there's no denying that the sequences dealing with Cujo's assault on Wallace's cheap Pinto are extremely effective, primarily thanks to the performances (Pintauro, in particular, does a nice job; the poor kid looks genuinely terrified!) But despite Cujo's positive attributes, it's impossible to overlook the silly, implausible conclusion - which feels as though it was tacked on at the last minute by nervous studio executives.

out of


Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls (July 24/05)

Just about the only thing Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls has going for it is the curiosity factor, thanks to a cameo appearance by none other than Michael Jackson (the film was also partly shot at Jackson's infamous Neverland Ranch). Once you get past that, though, all you're left with is an epically terrible debacle that isn't even remotely entertaining. Ostensibly a comedy, Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls follows the disparate survivors of a plane crash as they attempt to survive on a deserted island that just happens to be home for intelligent apes, Noah's Ark, and an oversized, killer pig (nicknamed, oh-so-cleverly, Jurassic Pork). Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls has been written and directed by Bryan Michael Stoller, an unusually inept filmmaker of Ed Woodian proportions. Stoller throws in a new pop culture reference virtually every 30 seconds or so, but not a single one is used well; instead, characters from a plethora of films - from Men in Black to The Sixth Sense to Planet of the Apes - pop up indiscriminately and for no particular reason. Worse than that, none of this is even remotely funny - despite the best efforts of a surprisingly adept cast, which includes Eric Roberts and Charlie Schlatter. And, it's also worth noting, Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls has the dubious distinction of featuring some of the worst special effects in recent history. This is a complete and utter disaster all around, one that should be avoided at all costs (and for you Jackson fans out there, his role amounts to about two minutes worth of screentime - it is so not worth it).

no stars out of


Momentum (July 26/05)

One can't help but wonder if Momentum was originally conceived as the pilot episode for a new television show, as the film plays out like the first installment in an epic science-fiction series. Grayson McCouch stars as Zachary Shefford, a college professor with telekinetic abilities who encounters a mysterious ex-FBI agent named Raymond Addison (Louis Gossett Jr.) Addison informs Shefford that there are other folks out there with his abilities, although some use their power to easily and efficiently commit crimes. Adrian Geiger (Michael Massee) is the leader of one such faction, and Addison wants to send Shefford in undercover to infiltrate the group. Also thrown into the mix are a pair of actual FBI agents (played by Teri Hatcher and Carmen Argenziano) who are investigating the unusual circumstances surrounding a recent armored-car robbery. Although the film is surprisingly well directed by James Seale, Momentum never quite comes off as anything more than a typically moronic straight-to-video genre flick. The screenplay, by Deverin Karol, emphasizes cliched, shopworn dialogue and silly one-liners that seem as though they'd be more at home in an '80s actioner. The acting is somewhat better than one might expect, though, with Massee and Gossett Jr. delivering compelling, effective performances (Hatcher, on the other hand, isn't even remotely convincingly as a grizzled cop). But the bottom line is that aside from the out-there plot elements, virtually everything about Momentum is utterly routine.

out of


Sky High (July 28/05)

Because Sky High opens with a fantastically entertaining half hour, it's hard not to be disappointed when the film morphs into a routine high school drama (a bad high school drama, at that). Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of two world-renown superheroes - The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston) - and as such, is preparing to attend a special school just for would-be superheroes (and their sidekicks). And though Will doesn't seem to have any powers, he befriends a group of outcasts - much to the consternation of some of the more popular students. Sky High is elevated by some seriously entertaining supporting performances from folks such as Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, and (of course) Russell, who are so effective in their various roles, it's impossible not to wish the movie had revolved around them. The film's screenplay (written by Paul Hernandez, Robert Schooley, and Mark McCorkle) is occasionally smart - particularly as it lampoons superhero cliches - but mostly dumb, as evidenced by the silly, predictable plot twists revolving around Will's high school antics (ie he abandons his less popular buddies after being invited to sit at the "cool" table in the cafeteria, only to eventually realize that friendship is more important than popularity). Having said that, the very presence of Campbell in a mainstream production (a Disney production, no less) is enough for Sky High to warrant a mild recommendation.

out of


Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (July 29/05)

Though it's purportedly the third installment of the ongoing Urban Legends series, Bloody Mary feels more like a half-baked Ring ripoff than anything else. See if this sounds familiar: a young woman must solve a decades-old murder case in order to put an end to a restless spirit's killing spree. Aside from a couple of interesting kill sequences (particularly the hapless victim who wakes up with a spider colony on her face), there's virtually nothing here to hold one's interest. The sluggish, painfully slow pace is exacerbated by a complete lack of compelling characters, although star Kate Mara does possess a certain amount of charisma (too bad she's not given anything to do). Screenwriters Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty display none of the creativity and ingenuity that was so prominent in their first collaboration (X2: X-Men United), while director Mary Lambert imbues the film with a flat, visually unappealing sense of style. Urban Legends: Bloody Mary makes one long for the comparatively stellar second installment, Final Cut, which was - at least - a decent slasher film.

out of