Dawn

"Dawn Of The Dead" (R)

"Dawn of the Dead" does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It makes your skin tingle and grosses you out. And for everyone who pays to see this stuff, thank god it delivers!

Opening with a more thought provoking intro than the original “Dawn . . . ,” a modem day suburbia is shown quickly turning from white upper crust utopia, to a virtual hell on earth through disease – all in a matter of hours. It’s like the North American version of the Ebola virus.

One thing that struck me as I was watching this movie is that we are successfully shown what our own neighborhoods would look like if such an episode were to happen, except that we have all seen the previous installments of the Night and Dawn of the dead. For simplicity sake, the people in the movie who are playing us, never have. So there is a learning curve that these folks conveniently need to go through before they know how to survive the scourge. (Don’t get bit!)

Any movie fan who wakes up to see flesh eating people on the go, would immediately know to shoot them in the head to kill them. Only if confronted with Jason would you alter that rule. Or Freddy. And perhaps you’d need to switch to silver bullets for a werewolf, but those instances are rare indeed.

So much for the metaphysical aspects of the movie.

Eventually a lucky few get into the local mall to escape the marauding flesh eaters. Here you have plenty of food, water, clothing, and a lot of cool rooms and wide hallways that make filming a movie fun and interesting to watch. Also take note that in today’s society, unlike when the original was made 25 years ago, you won’t see a gun store conveniently located in the mall. This new arrangement always makes it easier for the bad guys to run amok, and forces movie makers to install a local gun store near the mall to even up the odds for the good guys.

In a world full of crappy remakes (as if the Hollywood writers are on strike again or something) this movie actually betters the previous “Dawn” movie. Not that there was anything wrong with the other mall o’ zombies movie, it’s just that the effect departments have really honed their craft 25 years later.

The gore is more realistic and the blood spatters with amazing effectiveness. If you liked the previous Dead movies, this is one movie you have to see.

One item for the continuity observers - the star of the movie (Sarah Polley) has a lot of blood on her face and hands as she flees from the initial hell on earth. But once she again has her feet on the ground – so to speak – her face is clean and leading ladylike, even though she has to work her hands in a fountain later to get them blood free.

Note to all budding directors; The Hollywood equation is obviously: Clean Pretty Female Faces = More Money At The Box Office.

Take note that the movie is not over when the credits roll and the lights come on. As everyone gets up to leave you are shown short snippets of what happens next, in between the credits. It’s a bit annoying to watch but necessary for the entire story to be completed. But as soon as you see the second ending, there is no need to sit though the rest of the snippets that serve only to force the viewers to watch the rest of the credits.

So halfway through the credits when you see the real ending, head for the car

- See it on "The Big Screen"


 

Master

"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" (PG-13)

Russell Crowe stars in this cat and mouse tale of the high seas between a French and English naval ship. The movie starts out with one of the most realistic "wood sided ships of the past" battle scenes ever filmed. Makes you think it will be the "Saving Private Ryan" movie of the 1800's, and make you realize just how awful the spitting distance cannon ball naval battles must have been.

But just then, director Peter Weir suddenly makes what can only be called a bone head mistake. As Jack Aubrey (Crowe) talks to one of his crew who is measuring the water level the ship has taken on after a battle, the English seaman reports "Three feet, six inches, Sir."

Not likely. Not then - not now - on any non American ship. I'd expect that in a Mel Brooks comedy, but not here.

Thankfully that was the only blatant screw-up, as the rest of the movie plays out realistically for the most part. Especially the surgery. This movie will remind you how great it is to have been born after penicillin was discovered.

It's not all fist to cuffs, as the movie takes time for a visit to the Galapagos Islands with a little science breakthrough time for the crew's doctor. But it's the final battle scene that we wait for, especially knowing the enemy French ship has superior fire power and design. The finale has nowhere near the intensity of the first scene, but it's good enough to give the movie the thumbs up it deserves.

Even if you're not a Crowe fan, this high seas tale is worth checking out.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Chainsaw

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (R)

Leatherface is back with the latest remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The good news is - if you like this kind of stuff - this movie works. And a theater full of people is the best way to see this film, so get in line now.

The story is similar to the original, even using 1970 style cars and Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes on the 8 track. But today's special effects are ahead of the original, and with “Buffy the Vampire” women in fashion, there will certainly be a buff chick (Jessica Biel) showing her belly throughout, to bring the movie to today's mass market.
Chainsaw2
Perhaps we could quibble with the notion that anyone could survive after being forced back-first onto a meat hook, like a slab of beef, much less attempt to run if freed from the hook later. (I've been couch-ridden after a bad sunburn on my back!)

No need to tell you any more - you know why you're in line for this.

And it delivers.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Kill Bill1

"Kill Bill" (R)

Quentin Tarantino is full of himself.

I like weird movies. I loved “Pulp Fiction.” But “Kill Bill” is over the top.

Uma Thurman plays a pregnant member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad whose about to get married. Each member of the Squad has a ridiculous snake name. It's supposed to be campy.

It succeeds all too well.

Uma is murdered along with her groom and church guests, except for one thing. She survives the assassination. (You'll notice a second gun scene as well that seems to show these assassins are pretty inept.)

Thus the plot - Uma (ok, I mean Black Mamba) must take revenge on them all.

That's it. That's the plot. But that's not the downfall of this film. Quentin uses everything in his bag o' tricks to keep the movie interesting. Black and white film, Japanese cartoon segments to move the story along, Clint Eastwood spaghetti western style photography, Chinese fake looking “flying” fighting. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, blood. Lots and lots of blood.

Blood in black and white. Blood in cartoon fire hose volume. Blood in vivid color at fire hose volume. Comical amounts of blood. “Should have bought stock in Red Dye #2,” gallons of blood.

Blood's not necessarily a bad thing, I only serve to warn those with an aversion to paying money to see blood. If this is you, you won't see much of this film.

But the laughable lines are awful. Too 70's tv sounding. Worse than Starsky and Hutch! And the scenes are w-a-y too long. Tarantino is too in love with his technique to cut this side of beef down to an edible meal.

Speaking of size, this is just half the movie. Kill Bill 2 comes out in February. Probably had to order up more blood.

The cast is somewhat strange:
Daryl Hannah
Vivica A. Fox
The voice of David Carradine
Lucy Liu
Chaiki Kuriyami

Only the Lucy Liu/Chaiki Kuriyami dramatic and long stylized ending scene actually works. See Chaiki Kuriyami below to get a more vivid picture of the strange but exciting, if not far fetched scene involving a sophisticated steel ball of death on a chain.

Kill Bill3

I'm guessing drugs were involved when this scene was written. The audience can't get enough of this stuff.

But it's not enough to recommend a trip to the theater. This is definitely a cult film that needs to be seen in the home, where you can nibble this fatty side of beef at multiple sittings, or fast forward when the pace slows to a mere crawl.

- Wait For Video/DVD


Lost

"Lost In Translation" (R)

It sounds like a bad premise . . . a movie about two American strangers who find themselves bored out of their minds in the strange city of Tokyo. And it stars Bill Murray.

I would have hated to be the guy that pitched this idea to Hollywood. But we should be glad someone did.

Bill Murray stars as Bob Harris, a washed up actor who's stuck in Tokyo doing ad work for a scotch whiskey company. It pays well (that's an understatement) so he puts up with it. For a while.

But there are few places on earth where you feel more alien than in Japan. Having been there myself, I can vouch for that.

But there is another American who is bored out of her mind as well. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a wife of two years who sees very little of her husband. He's an American fashion photographer and works all hours of the day and night, leaving her to her own devices in Tokyo.

Eventually Bob and Charlotte hook up, and here's where things get weird. They don't act like Hollywood script puppets! They act as normal people would act if they found themselves out of place in Japan. It's a story about two real people making the best of the situation they find themselves in.

Perhaps not worth a special trip to the movies, but definitely worth a rental.

- Wait For Video/DVD


Rundown

"The Rundown" (PG-13)

I'm not a fan of wrestling. I'm not a fan of “The Rock.” Nor am I a fan of Seann William Scott (the weasel-eyed guy in the American Pie movies), and I've never seen an "American Pie" movie all the way through. But that being said, “The Rundown” is hands down the best movie of the Summer – even if it is officially Fall.

The Rock plays Beck, a guy who is a hired gun to retrieve “items” for a rich thug. After the initial scene that serves to introduce Beck's abilities to the viewers, the plot starts when Beck is hired by his tough boss to retrieve the boss's son from the jungles of Brazil, where the son (played by Seann William Scott) is searching for a priceless golden idol.

Making matters worse (or better for us - the viewing audience) is a bad-ass gold mine owner who rules the jungle area with a heavy hand and doesn't much appreciate outsiders like Beck. This part is brilliantly played by Christopher Walken.

Other than a few MTV shaky cam fight scenes, and one too many repetitive scenic helicopter shots over the treetops of the Brazilian jungle, the movie is a totally fun "sure bet" joyride for the entire family.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Mexico

"Once Upon a Time In Mexico" (R)

Robert Rodriguez took a Hollywood sized budget and cast down to Mexico to make a movie that is so silly, it will remind you of a Wylie Coyote cartoon. The Mexicans are so authentic, the movie even comes with subtitles. And everyone knows how much Americans LOVE subtitles in their movies!

HA!

The cast will entice you:
Antonio Banderas (ok, so maybe HE won't entice you), Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Ruben Blades, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo.
Those who saw “Desperado” will know the drill. It's more of the same – but ten times more far fetched.

For those that need the plot line - Banderas is forced out of retirement to fetch his guitar case full of weapons by a scheming CIA agent (Depp) who wants Banderas to kill a drug boss (Dafoe) who is plotting a coup against the Mexican President. There are so many foes to be done away with in this Hollywood action shoot 'em up that you would think it would be interesting.

It's not.

It's meant to be funny too. And in a “Saturday Night Live” way, it is funny. (Every 10th joke works)

The plot is too tricky for its own good and that's a shame with all the talent on the screen. Those who are Salma Hayek fans should steer clear of all the other reviews out there that totally give away her role in the movie.

Blame this turkey squarely on director Rodriguez.

- Wait For Video/DVD


SWAT

"S.W.A.T." (PG-13)

Every generation has its own cop shows. Dragnet. Adam 12. Hawaii Five-O. Hill Street Blues. Homicide. The X-Files. Oh wait, they chase extraterrestrials. But hey, we LOVE our cops shows.

So along comes the remake of S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) a remake of a tv show that more than a few of us guys in our 40's were fans of in '75.

Samuel Jackson heads up the cast along side Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J. We've all been stung before by the Hollywood summer blockbuster roll out of general remake crap, but S.W.A.T. is not as bad as you might think.

Prepare yourself for the usual cop-movie formula plot that Hollywood forces every script to adhere to:

Scene one – Cowboy cops do what they feel is the right thing.

Scene two - Commander won't stand for any of it.

Scene three – (and here's the twist) the pace really slows down as Jackson enters the film and builds his very own S.W.A.T. team.

And, oh yeah - Scene four – the commander doesn't like Jackson either.

It's when Jackson enters the film that the movie will be a hard sell for some. Can you buy into Samuel Jackson in this role? Some can. Some can't. He's got that grin that says, “I know I'm too cool for this film, but I'll have fun with the part anyway.”

It's not “Bad Boys” with explosions and fist fights from the start of the titles to the ending credits, so if that's what you're looking for you need to look for the theater door marked “Ridiculous.” But there's plenty in S.W.A.T. to recommend the movie.

- Wait For Video/DVD


 

Open Range

"Open Range" (R)

Kevin Costner needs an editor.

Movie buffs will no doubt immediately pick up on that first sentence, and for anyone who doesn't get it – 2 hours is what Hollywood figures to be the maximum length American audiences will sit through most movies.

Costner has directed and starred in three:

“Dances With Wolves” - 3 hours.

“The Postman” - 3 Hours

"Open Range" – 2 hours, fifteen minutes.

At least he's learning to cut some footage.

The movie feels like three hours, but that's not all bad, considering the early American time period the movie is portraying. It's the old west – a time of reflecting as you drive cattle over the hills and prairies of this fine country. No need to rush a movie with great scenery in a time of no cell phones and instant CNN news flashes. Yes, this was a more relaxing time.

But as history buffs know, soon came resentment of the “free grazers” who pushed their cattle into land that was suddenly “owned by the locals.” And these locals weren't above murder to show they meant business. And for the sake of this movie, you have to toss in an evil sheriff to make sure we know just which side to root for!

Costner can certainly act, and he was the man behind this entire movie project, but he was wise to cast Robert Duvall in as many scenes as his own. Duvall is an actor's actor. He's the pro on any set. His presence is enough reason to see this film.

It's also rare to see a film that shows realistic gun battles as they would really play out back in the days when pistols were anything but accurate, and gunfights would lead to chaotic free-for-alls.

It's messy stuff. It's the roots of this country. You should probably see it.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


T3

"T3 - Rise Of The Machines" (R)

Good to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in a movie that doesn't blow. He was overdue for a hit and T3 was a sure thing.

But the movie is far from perfect.

James Cameron does not direct this movie. Cameron has proven himself a genius director and this movie suffers in his absence.

There is no Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) either. Remember how hard she trained for the role in T2? You'll miss her. Only Arnold seems to have prepared for the film.

Instead we get a veterinarian named Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) in a ho-hum performance, and Nick Stahl who plays John Connor this time. (Edward Furlong has drug problems so his filming days are on hold). Other than the fact that Nick Stahl is completely out of breath throughout the movie, he's otherwise ok. After all, it's only when delivering one of his 500 lines of dialogue that you'll notice he's out of breath. Strange.

I could tell you why a veterinarian named Kate Brewster is suddenly in the movie, but that would spoil it.

I can tell you that Kristanna Loken (as a Terminator) is just plain bad. I didn't find her all that menacing, I don't see any real acting skills, and on a lineup of 1,000 wannabe-breakout-Hollywood-actresses, she might come in 900th. There are A LOT of prettier girls than Loken in Hollywood, and a few in the theater I was sitting in. And if you're going to send a killer cyborg back in time, send a dude, or come up with a valid reason to send a chick. "Species" had a better premise, and even that movie stunk. Will T4 feature a 48 pound, 6th-grade-rapper-Terminator for Arnold to battle? Oooo, Can't wait!

The Hollywood Political Correctness has got to go.

Other things that bothered me:

I know Hollywood wants to wet down the streets to make the car chases easier to film, but must they put a star in a $63,000 convertible Lexus (with the top down) when it's obvious that is has not only been raining, but the car is soaking wet in shots yet the actress still has the top down and she's bone dry as if on a model shoot! What's going on?? Is the top broken??? Is she sporting invisible Gortex perhaps????

And the plot use of remote control cars to give chase? C'mon!! Time travel - perhaps. I'll buy that if the movie needs it. But making a group of average 2002 cars suddenly drive themselves at high speeds for miles on end like land cruise missiles as if an invisible man was at the wheel?? Does anyone actually buy this crap?? Even a room full of soap opera writers suffering from terminal writers block would have scoffed at this most absurd of plot devices. Where's James Cameron when you need him? Stop this cartoon madness.

I won't continue down the list of flaws as it will only serve to ruin the film for those just looking for action. The filmmakers and Arnold have fun as they revisit old scenes, (Arnold visits a bar to get clothes, and the, "She'll be back," line), but since Arnold isn't the same machine from the previous film, there's a lot of history between he and John Connor that is lost. Too bad. It's like running into a friend you grew up with, and finding out he has had a lobotomy and doesn't remember anything you shared before. This hurts the film.

But if you ever want to see this movie, you must see it in a theater. Even if you have the latest 84" plasma screen and the baddest surround system ever offered, don't kid yourself. You can't compete with a Multiplex when they are showing a Schwarzenegger film that cost 175 Million to make.

Just don't expect T2.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


28 Days

"28 Days Later" (R)

If you liked "Night Of The Living Dead" and any number of knock-offs from that original movie, you'll no doubt enjoy "28 Days Later," a modern day version of the theme with an Ebola/SARS bit of viral twist to the story.

We start by witnessing the saving of chimpanzees from an experimental lab by a whacked out team of animal rights blokes in London. (Don't worry, although it's an English film, the dialogue is understandable by us patriots.)

Though the animal lovers are warned, before they can stop themselves, one of the members liberates an infected chimp and the virus "Rage" is let loose into the world.

Cool scene. Cool set-up.

28 days later, we watch as a hospital patient comes out of a coma. In a stunning long scene (filmed right at sun-up to capture deserted London streetscapes) our patient soon discovers he is the last man on earth. Or at least London. Or, as he enters a church, the last man alive in London.

Oops, some of the dead are not really dead. They are zombies!

And the then action begins.

It hardly stops. Especially when he meets other non-infected people who all strive to simply survive. And good-god does the blood flow. Yikes, what a gore-fest!

Don't get bitten, or get any infected blood in your eyes or mouth. Within 20 seconds of such misfortune, you too will turn into a red-eyed, rage-filled killer zombie.

That's about all I can say about that.

The movie is good but strangely suffers from its lack of a Hollywood budget. For this reason alone, I'd call it a terrific rental. There just isn't enough Hollywood meat to make a visit to the local multiplex mandatory. I read where the director shot this thing on digital video, then transferred to 35MM. It shows.

But it will look fantastic on that 27" TV in your living room!

- Wait For Video/DVD


Matrix

"The Matrix Reloaded" (R)

"There's a sucker born every minute."

No one knows that quote better than Larry and Andy Wachowski, who are laughing all the way to the bank with their latest movie, "The Matrix Reloaded."

This biggest of all box office draws started out on the right foot years ago in 1999, with breakthrough special effects that immediately trickled into TV commercials, and a year later, into other box office films from Hollywood to Chinese Hong Kong flicks.

But somehow I suppose the Wachowski brothers figured out that their special effects had been ripped off by so many people, so many times, that if they simply repeated the formula this movie would be a dud.

The story is the same as the last one - a second movie in what is supposed to be a trilogy. I liked the first one. I saw it once and that was enough, but I did like it. If you are one of those that saw the original a dozen times all the way through, and you can't turn it off when it comes on HBO, then by all means, knock yourself out.

For all others, read on.

Some folks like to sit around pondering the deep meaning of the constant pontificating Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who is trying to free the human race.
#1 His monotone speeches drag this latest movie straight into boredomville, so rest up before watching.
#2 I'll let you in on a little secret. It's not real. This is a fictional story that Hollywood writers are making up as they go along. Let it go already, there is nothing to understand.

For whatever reason the rules of physics refuse to apply at all in this installment. Cars all flip over during car chases for absolutely no reason other than the script says so. Over-and-over-and-over, cars are flipping by themselves. Flipping, flipping, tumbling. COME ON!

And no one can shoot straight, but we're all getting used to that. But when hundreds of bullets riddle a normal car full of occupants, yet the car still runs and no one gets hurt, it's time to fast forward the video. Oops, we paid to see it in a theater and we have to sit through it.

Damn.

Here's the clincher, and I swear this isn't giving anything away in this absurd movie. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is not only "The One," but he's really Superman. Yep, it's true. (See picture insert above)

If I hadn't been in the center seat of a sold out auditorium, there were several occasions where I would have walked to an exit. This has only happened to me once before during a movie called "The Big Bus."

Whenever you find out that the hero of a story can fly up to the stratosphere with little effort, the credits might as well roll. For whenever the hero is in trouble, he can simply fly away. Whenever someone is in dire need of his help, he will simply fly to the rescue. And when he gets REALLY mad, he can fly REALLY FAST! Like Mighty Mouse. And Neo does it exactly the same as Superman and Mighty Mouse too - with one fist out in front of him and everything. Absurd.

And if you could really fly, why would you wait to fly at all? Birds don't wait until nearly beaten to death before flying away. It isn't like you'd need to conserve gas or anything.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Superman. And I can buy into the Superman theory - when I'm watching Superman movies.

As every review has reported, "The Matrix Reloaded" ends abruptly with a "To Be Continued" notice on the screen. Personally I believe it is because they were embarrassed to show us what other powers Neo has up his sleeve.

Spider webs!

This is just a guess, mind you. But after this Matrix movie, I wouldn't be surprised.

- Wait For HBO Release - (If you can)


 

Identity

"Identity" (R)

Take John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and an over the hill looking Rebecca De Mornay, and plop them all in a murder by numbers slasher film, and you end up with the best slasher film in years.

John Cusack plays a limo driver who's driving Rebecca De Mornay (playing herself - an aging movie actress) down a dark highway in the middle of a rainy night. Exciting problems ensue, and the two of them end up stranded in an old motel in the middle of nowhere. Nine others end up stranded there for various reasons as well. Like the "Bates Hotel," check-out time has a certain finality to it.

Ray Liotta plays himself too, (I've given up thinking Ray always takes the same parts - it's him) but here again, like most of his movies, it works. He's transporting a vicious killer in chains (in the middle of the night with no other State cars following - but I split hairs) when the gas runs so low that he too becomes stranded at the motel. Oh what luck for the others!

For about an hour, the action is non-stop and the moments are tense, as one by one people start to die in pretty fresh ways. Not a blood fest mind you, as Hollywood put their minds to the killings this time.

Then the movie starts to fall apart.

Or does it?

Rest assured I have given nothing away in the review above - unlike countless other reviews of this movie which hopefully you haven't read. Let me just end by saying you will never guess who the killer is, or what the heck is going on, until the credits start. And then you might find yourself in the parking lot before everything falls into place.

If all else fails, you can go back and watch it again.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


 

Recruit

"The Recruit" (PG-13)

The less you know about "The Recruit" going into the theater, the better. Nothing I say would keep you out of the theater anyway, especially if you are an Al Pachino fan.

I am.

Pachino stars as a CIA recruiter who sees a boatload of "talent" in Colin Farrell, who plays an MIT computer hotshot who tends bar to make a living. At least we see him working a bar once, so we have to assume that's his job. I suppose MIT recruited him as well, as that school is mighty expensive for a bartender. Perhaps his father left him something in his will, back when he worked for Shell Oil, but that's another flimsy part of the script.

It's only when Pachino gets Colin to go the The Farm, where all CIA operatives are trained on how to be all they can be, that we really sit up and enjoy this film. Fun stuff. Cool. Gritty. But while we're watching that, the Hollywood screen writers are busily getting ready to unleash their cheap, sleazy game of ping-pong with the script so that we when we expect (or want) this, they switch-a-rooney to that. And after ten minutes of that, they switch back to this. Then again. And so on, until you wish they would just make up their minds and roll the credits. You've seen it all before.

If you want to know how the CIA trains their staff - look elsewhere. Want to know what it would be like to be a CIA spook? Look elsewhere. Want to spend some time eating popcorn in a darkened theater watching Al Pachino in an action movie to waste a Sunday afternoon? Nothing wrong with that - this is your movie.

- Wait For Video/DVD

    

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MOVIE REVIEWS

My Personal Rating System is as follows:

See it on "The Big Screen" .  .  .  . (Best of the bunch)
Wait for video/DVD  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not a bad movie, but not worth $9)
Wait for HBO release  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not worth renting)
Avoid!  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not worth your time - period.)

                                                                            Back To Main Page

- Reviews by Jim Ramsey
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