CAST: Jason Biggs, Jack Black, Steve Zahn, Amanda Peet, Amanda Detmer, R. Lee Ermey
Three childhood friends are on the verge of collapse when one of them is sucked in by a beautiful but vicious woman who will do whatever it takes to control his every move. This concept requires an everyman, played by veteran everyman Jason Biggs, and two goofballs, even more amicably portrayed by Zahn and Black. The two goofballs decide the only solution is to kidnap the bad girl and set the everyman up with the good girl. This “she-devil” scenario is an all too familiar one in real life and in movies. It works here because it’s actually funny. This is mostly due to the cast, which includes a cameo appearance by the trio’s musical idol, Neil Diamond. The plot is somewhat recycled and unrealistic, but it’s pleasant enough where stingy jerks immune to unpretentious comedy won’t be too bothered. Note: the PG-13 version is way funnier than the R version, if you get the choice. Rated PG-13.
CAST: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightley, Jonathan Pryce
Based on the world famous Disneyland attraction, Johnny Depp takes the helm of this swashbuckler sensation as Captain Jack Sparrow, an unconventional if not mysteriously clever pirate who docks Port Royal during the Golden Age of Piracy. There he meets Will Turner, a young idealistic blacksmith who is in love with the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann. One night, the Black Pearl, a legendary ship once commanded by Sparrow, attacks the port and takes Ms. Swann hostage, hoping that her blood can cure a curse the crew of the Pearl are on. So begins a fantastic journey across the Caribbean, with scurvy supporting characters, colorful sets, and a most electrifying villain in Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa. It’s pure fun from start to finish, with Depp’s performance as Sparrow already on the front page of his future biography. Rated PG-13.
CAST: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
The title card opens with a chilling excerpt: Three young filmmakers disappeared in the woods. A year later, their footage was found. We then see through the eyes of these three a journey into the wooded abyss where they are searching for clues about the Blair Witch, a local legend who back in the day snatched kids and killed them. They are making a documentary, so there are some interviews, shaky movements, and low production value. The once excited and determined demeanor of these believable actors quickly turns to terror and anxiety as they get lost in the dense wilderness, hungry and alone. Before long, they start to hear things. They feel like they are being hunted, or watched, or perhaps it’s all in their head. This truly frightening low budget horror film became a sensation at the time of its release for its revolutionary use of the Internet to promote it as “true events”. Though this isn’t an actual “found footage” situation, it is a landmark in independent filmmaking. The narrative is so believable because it constantly presents horrors that cannot be seen; only heard and maybe imagined. As Hitchcock would say, it’s what you can’t see that is the most terrifying. Rated R.
CAST: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline
Somehow, the geniuses at Disney were able to take one of the darkest tales of our time and turn it into a children’s masterpiece with a G rating. Though they take many liberties from the original novel (understandably), it is a minor offense considering the payoff. Quasimodo, not a deaf mute as a was in Hugo’s mind, is a kind hearted hunchback with fully speaking ability and a desire to see the world beneath his balcony up top the Notre Dame cathedral. But his cruel master, Judge Claude Frollo, engrains in him the idea that no one will ever love him due to his deformities. At the encouragement of his three gargoyle friends, who clearly are there to tone down the adult atmosphere, Quasimodo sneaks into the Festival of Fools, a fair where he meets Esmerelda, kind hearted gypsy who becomes a prisoner of the cathedral after making a spectacle in front of Frollo. Phoebus, the vain captain in the book, serves as a much nicer character, voiced by Kevin Kline. The songs, when not pandering to the kids, are forceful and unforgettable in their content. And a final note that is important: of all the Disney villains to come and go over the years, there is perhaps no one of greater evil and complexity then Frollo, voiced impeccably by Tony Jay. Truly a stunning standout in the already impressive so called ‘Disney Renaissance’. Rated G.
CAST: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tyduk
An incredibly clever world is contrived in this instant Disney classic where the world is run by anthropomorphic animals. With their rule comes the same trials and tribulations faced by the human viewership, including job security, social media, and the desire to create inclusivity among the predators and the prey. They no longer have animosity, for their natural instincts that are familiar were evolved from long ago. At least that’s what Judy Hopps, a bunny who aspires to be the first bunny cop (most of the cops are large mammals), believes. Against all odds, she graduates to the top of her class only to be stuck in the large metropolis Zootopia handing out parking tickets. She meets a cunning fox named Nick Wilde, who assists her in a missing animals case where fourteen ‘citizens’ have mysteriously disappeared. The animation is second to none, as only Disney can deliver even when not under the Pixar banner. Though children watching might not understand yet, their parents will take note at the subtle underlying themes of prejudice embodied within the script. It is not so blatant where it becomes an affirmative action ad, yet not so hidden where it can be ignored. Both reasons are why its message is so effective. Rated PG.
CAST: Matthew Broderick, Rupert Everett, Joely Fisher, Michelle Trachtenberg, Dabney Coleman, D.L. Hughley
Popular Saturday morning cartoons rarely translate well to the big screen, and Gadget is no exception. Obviously it was a ploy to exploit the wildly popular 80’s show’s rather young audience into thinking they were going to be dazzled by a live action version of their favorite robotic detective. And it may have succeeded in that endeavor; the key word, though, being “young”. Adults on the other hand will find it tiresome and silly, which is a shame, considering some of the talent involved. Broderick plays John, a good hearted security guard who, after a horrible ordeal, becomes the prototype law enforcement officer who can literally spew out an array of machines by saying “Go Go Gadget…” and then whatever ridiculous CGI invention he can think of. Why the makers found it necessary to fill him with gallons of toothpaste, we’ll never know. The good news is that the movie is short, so it doesn’t demand too much, and the actors actually do a fairly decent job with the dreadful script, mainly Broderick and his evil nemesis, Dr. Claw, played by an exuberant Rupert Everett, who clearly got a kick out of this one (maybe he was one of the show’s few adult fans). Rated PG.
CAST: Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Thomas Mitchell, Cedric Hardwicke, Edmond O’Brien
Charles Laughton stars as the deformed bellringer of the famous Notre Dame cathedral in this faithful adaptation of Victor Hugo’s famous gothic novel. Quasimodo is his name. He is a tragic being who is a victim of circumstance beyond his control. Adding to the fact he was born a hideous mold with a lump on its back, he also is deaf from all the bellringing. His only source of human contact comes from his crestfallen master, Chief Justice Frollo. Frollo is a tragic figure himself. Bound by stiff morality, he finds himself immediately infatuated with a Gypsy girl named Esmerelda, whom Quasimodo also develops strong feelings for. To both their dismay, Esmerelda is in love with a vain army captain named Phoebus, creating a nasty love triangle that leads to a most violent act. The story is a familiar one by now, but this film was really the first to capture its harrowing nature. Though the ending is noticeably different then the novel, the spirit is all just the same; pessimistic, but exciting for those not living it. The real character of the story is Notre Dame herself, and the city of Paris that surrounds it, primarily its citizens. Giving credit where credit is partially due, this classic set an early standard for understanding the importance that extras can have on a film. Not Rated,
CAST: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
Jack Black shines brightly as the true story convict who, after serving his community with the utmost sincerity, becomes a murderer. How does such a thing happen? Director Richard Linklater, known for his unconventional but effective storytelling, uses a method of interviewing town gossips in the small town of Carthage, Texas after the events have already happened. He then cuts back and forth with a fictional narrative about how Bernie, a kind hearted mortician (ahem, funeral director) becomes a confidant to an 81-year old widow named Marge Nugent, whom the town despises for being too mean. Eventually, Bernie becomes her slave, nagging him, emasculating him, and eating away his good nature. It was only a matter time before he snapped and killed the old broad. Eventually, after spending her fortune for the good of others, he is caught. In comes flamboyant District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (McConaughey) who sees Bernie as merely a convincing actor who, deep inside, is a cold blooded monster. The element of the small town setting is most important here, as Danny sees that any resident of Carthage who is drawn as a jury member will acquit the sweet Bernie. The three main actors are all fantastic in their roles, but it must be stated again that it is Black who truly shines as a complicated case of the human mind and what it is capable of. Rated R.
CAST: Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Embeth Davidtz, Wendy Crewson, Oliver Platt
The most disappointing thing about Bicentennial Man is that it starts off really well, has a good premise there, but after halfway through, starts to fall apart. Based on a story by famed scientific author Isaac Asimov, Robin Williams plays Andrew, an NDS robot in the “not so distant future”. His primary function is serve a wealthy family, but it becomes clear he is more then a simple machine. He inexplicably has cognitive abilities, including creativity, curiosity, and genuine feelings for his human masters. The only key difference between him and humans (and the movie makes several points about this) is that he’s immortal. So after his first family, the ones he really loved, all pass away, he must seek out purpose for himself. That is where the movie falters. It sort of rushes itself the next hundred years, and even has the galls to throw in a cheap love story that doesn’t belong. It would have been more fascinating if the filmmakers took a darker approach and really examined what it would be like to see everyone you care about die while you continue to live, ageless and unhindered. Instead, it takes a Disney approach, using Williams’ appeal (which he still has here) to pander to the families. Disappointing indeed. Rated PG.
CAST: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Jon Polito
The organic theatrical nature of New York’s 1940s Broadway meets the glitzy glamor of the same era’s Hollywood Golden age in The Coen’s Brother’s bleak, otherworldly setting starring a frizzy haired John Turturro. He plays Barton Fink, a New York playwright who, after one successful production, is invited to be on retainer at a major Hollywood studio as a screenwriter for a boxing movie. The studio is run by a bombastic executive who is an embodiment of the sleazy, fast talking zealots who ran the show back then. Fink is set up in a shady of hotel that looks like it was hit by a disaster that destroyed everything except the building itself. He has writer’s block steaming from the pressure of doing something he’s never done before. While percolating, he meets Charlie Meadows, a sweaty insurance salesman who bears resemblance to the character Fink enjoys creating: the average man. There are clearly many themes and symbols in this strange experience that will go over many people’s heads. That’s not to say it’s pretentious. There is good dialogue and good filmmaking here, but it’s biggest failure comes from finding its genre. A thriller, a comedy, a drama, or a class all its own, Barton Fink is sure to spark some discussion, as it clearly did at Cannes where it had the rare distinction of winning ‘The Big Three’ awards: Best Picture, Director, and Actor (Turturro). Rated R.