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.)

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- Reviews by Jim Ramsey








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"The Ring" (PG-13)

It's rare to find a scary movie these days. Leave it to the Japanese to come out with one. And leave it to Hollywood to block the release of the Japanese film in America until they could remake it and snatch our hard earned dollars first. The Japanese graphic even looks scarier!

At least this time Hollywood did a decent job. I've never seen the 1998 Japanese film "Ringu," but it is said to be one of the scariest movies of all time (The Japanese "Exorcist") and made huge dollars at the overseas box office.

The story starts out as an urban legend. You all know an urban legend or two, right? A wild story that someone told you that happened to their cousin - except the exact same story is being told hundreds of time around the country so it's obviously a yarn.

A classic from the 70's is the kid in the neighborhood who ate Pop-Rocks candy, then chugged a Coke, and his stomach blew up and he died! Yeah, right.

Well here's a legend of a video tape. If you find it - and watch it - you die! Cool!!

One teenage girl tells her girlfriend that after you watch the tape, the phone rings and you're told you're going to die in seven days.

If you were a teenager, would you watch it? (And would you want an unlisted phone number first??)

Naomi Watts ("Tank Girl" and "Mulholland Dr.") plays Rachel Keller, a reporter for a Seattle newspaper who watches the video tape after four teens mysteriously die. She watches, then . . . Ringgg! Oops - it's that damn phone call, warning of impending death.

But it's no joke. It's downright creepy. For real.

Keep in mind this film teeters on the edge of being corny, and I can't stress enough the fact that you have to see it in a movie theater of quiet movie-going peers. Two or three clowns will turn this into a quip-fest of chattering up at the actors on the screen. Some audiences actually like talking to the screen. Avoid those theaters - at least for this one.

If your audience is quiet, I guarantee a creepy two hours that will have everyone nervously chattering afterward, much like the original "Friday The 13th" but with far less gore. The less you know before you enter the theater, the better. But this one works, folks.

- See it on "The Big Screen" - In a well behaved theater



"The Transporter" (PG-13)

From the moment the opening titles start, you can see this is one cool action flick. The foreign cast is selected perfectly and the movie opens with a roar . . . before slowly unraveling twenty minutes later. By the time it all ends, the audience around you should be laughing at the lack of direction.

Frank Martin (played by an Englishman named Jason Statham) is a BMW driving, BMW loving, professional illegal transporter who lives to transport unknown items from point A to point B while following his special rules. Rules that "bad guys" seem willing to pay a lot of money for.

Rules like: Never change the deal. Never use anyone's name. Never look in the package being delivered.

It's not that the packages he transports are really unknown to him - he knows exactly how much they weigh and how big they are. Technical stuff is his gig. As any UPS guy knows, the size, weight and dimensions are the key to the price. Right?

It's what's inside the package that he cares little or nothing about. And he's a stickler for his rules. It makes the opening scene both exhilarating and funny at the same time. When the deal suddenly changes and four bank robbers enter his getaway car instead of the three that he was expecting, Frank will have nothing to do with it. Meanwhile the cops are on their way.

Great scene. Enjoy it. Rewind it and watch it again. (Are you getting the picture here?)

As I said, the casting is great:
Jason Statham (Cool Transporter - (should wear a "Dangerous When Irked" button on his lapel) - tough guy)

Shu Qi (The Package)

Matt Schulze (The Villain (Played the scruffy gang guy in "The Fast And The Furious."))

Francois Berleand (French Cop)

The problem for some American viewers will be understanding the dialog, with Jason being from England, Francois speaking English wrapped in a thick French bearnaise sauce, and the Chinese hottie, Shu Qi, who learned just enough English to finish filming. All in all an English/French/Chinese in a blender approach. The subtitles on the DVD release will be helpful.

Shu Qi is well known in China, and has been in over 40 Hong Kong films - 13 of which I own on DVD with English subtitles - so I must admit I was anxious to see her first Hollywood release. Shu does the best she can with what script there is, but that's not saying much. Mostly frightened screaming for her first 4, or was it 8 scenes? A lot of screaming. I've seen Shu in too many movies to blame her, it's the directors fault for telling her to, "Just scream." There are moments when you can see her start to blossom, then the script shuts down and runs willy-nilly down a sloppy brainless action path.

Francois Berleand is a good French actor and does a great job as the cop who thinks he knows exactly what Frank is up to but just can't quite prove anything. But his accent is thick enough to cause whispers of, "What did he say?" throughout the theater.

One pet peeve of mine that far too many movies have abused - as any kidnapper knows, (or again, any UPS guy), you can't gag someone with a 3" x 4" piece of duct tape across their mouth.

But that aside, it really doesn't matter much because after an hour or so you'll begin to lose interest and decide to hit rewind and return the video in the morning.

- Wait For Video/DVD



"Red Dragon" (R)

Anthony Hopkins is back and witty as ever in Red Dragon, the prequel to "Silence Of The Lambs," and a remake, of sorts, of "Manhunter," which was directed by Michael Mann. (The styles of "Manhunter" and "Red Dragon" are light years apart, but the premise is close.) If you like the other two, Red Dragon will creep you out in all the right ways.

This movie starts out before Hanibal is imprisoned, but it doesn't really cover his entire killing spree because that will no doubt be the prequel-prequel, to "Silence," much like the Star Wars epic. But it does give us a taste (pun intended) of his ghoulish side before he was corralled behind the thick glass wall in a basement of a Baltimore hospital for the criminally insane. It's the Tooth Fairy we're after in this one, with Edward Norton playing Will Graham, an FBI investigator with a nose for sniffing out creepy white serial killers.

Speaking of noses - I wasn't the only one in the theater who noticed that the actress who plays Edward Norton's wife has a strange nose that looks like it met up with a serial killer with a dull pair of scissors. No kidding!

You'll thoroughly enjoy the banter between Hanibal and Will Graham as they play mental tug-of-war over the inner workings of the Tooth Fairy, and grimace as the Tooth Fairy plies his trade.

The film should hold up nicely as a rental in your dark family room as you eat fava beans and sip on a nice Chianti. But for the full effect, I'd recommend your local theater to pay a visit to Hanibal and the creepy Tooth Fairy who calls himself the Red Dragon. And there's nothing like a 30' screen to show off the flaws of a bad rhinoplasty.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



"XXX" (PG-13)

If you love Bond movies - you'll love "XXX."

If you line up to see the opening of Bond movies - time to get in line for "XXX."

In 2000 an unknown bouncer (and struggling actor) named Vin Diesel starred in a movie called "Pitch Black." For those of us who caught that low budget "B" move, the bad guy, Vin Diesel, caught our attention, and he was sure to break into bigger Hollywood roles. For those that missed "Pitch Black," you just might want to rent it. Part II is in the works now.

After playing supporting cast roles in "Saving Private Ryan," (a must see film) and "Boiler Room," (a so-so movie), Diesel finally got the break out role of a lifetime in "The Fast and the Furious." This would propel him toward Arnold Schwarzenegger status. (Arnold has put on a few years and is in dire need a of a hit movie).

XXX puts Diesel right up there with the top Hollywood dogs, and "XXX" will put pressure on the 007 films as well. As much as I hate to believe the snow boarding, tattooed kids of today will be taking over the world soon, the reality is - they will. Vin Diesel is the future, so you might as well enjoy it.

And enjoy it you will. It's pure energy, from the pounding music to the never ending adrenaline rush scenes. Believable scenes? Not really. But if 007 makes you grin, you'll be grinning ear to ear during this one.

Diesel plays Xander Cage, a guy who makes his living doing crazy unlawful stunts, films them, then sells the video to a huge bloodthirsty audience. (Those who know who Steve-O is, you know this part is NOT far fetched. If you don't know who Steve-O is, just ask your kids.) This illegal stunt work can only lead to recruitment for Xander Cage by the NSA to save the world from . . . oh what does it matter. Like all the James Bond movies, you just go for the thrills.

This is a must see flick, in a huge movie theater with a good sound system. There is a HUGE avalanche scene that must be "felt" to be fully appreciated, so don't skimp on your choice of theaters. IMAX should be showing this film.

Only one warning for you parents out there. The Xander Cage character has tattoos all over his damn body, and every day it seems kids (of both sexes) are getting more than their share. Diesel is just the kind of role model that will invariably pressure those good-natured fence-sitting kids to go ahead and get some "tats" of their own. If I had a young impressionable kid going to this movie, I might have an adult-to-kid refresher talk about how tattoos may be cool THIS YEAR, but, blah, blah, blah.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



"Signs" (PG-13)

Mel's back at it again, with another blockbuster hit movie. It's good to see him act more like a normal guy after a few too many "Over The Top - I'm Losing My Mind" roles. Here he's a retired preacher and farmer, raising his two children alone after losing his wife to a bizarre accident. Then bizarre crop circles turn up in his cornfield.

Joaquin Phoenix plays his brother who has returned to live with Mel after the accident. Remember Joaquin Phoenix? He's the actor who played the "Wimpy Lover Of His Sister And Little Boys & Leader Of Rome" role in "Gladiator." Tough role to shake - tough typecast to break - and I thought about it the entire movie.

I was never a fan of Macaulay Culkin, and his speech impediment might have impeded my ability to listen to him talk for more than thirty seconds. His brother, Rory Culkin, shares his brother's deviated septum affliction causing him to sound like he could use a good nose blowing. Rory plays Mel's son, a kid who has a big asthma problem (you can see the script writers using that angle a while later, HUH?). Rory acts as though he been given an overdose of Ritalin throughout the movie, but this being the infamous Macaulay family, that's probably a given.

All in all this thing limps along like a TV movie, and commercials might actually help the pacing by breaking up the monotony. This isn't bad acting, and not a bad story. But you can feel the actors - acting. It's unnatural, almost stage-like, with the only thing missing between scenes is the director yelling, "Cut!"

Another bone to pick: Why do people in the movies turn on a flashlight with it facing their faces? Then they s-l-o-w-l-y turn the flashlight downward into the room in which they are curiously looking. Stop That!!! Do you do that? Nobody in the world does that! Just stop it! And how many times do you drop a flashlight when you are gripping it in the dark curiously peering through pitch blackness. Once, twice, three times? Never?

The correct answer is - Never. Unless you are directing a movie.

Director: "Now here's the part where you'll drop the flashlight, again."

Actor: "HUH??"

At least the little daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) can act. She's probably six or so, but she out-acts everyone in this movie, and will no doubt be directing next year.

The movie's not 100% about those dreaded hoaxes called crop circles. The existence or nonexistence of aliens (and God) is the real meat and potatoes of the story. But the biggest question of all for you and your family is whether you should rent the movie "Signs," or wait for HBO Release.

- Wait For HBO Release - (If you can)



"Minority Report" (PG-13)

Fifty years from now, holographic TV will be disappointing. That's just one of many things that I came away with after watching Spielberg's latest action movie, "Minority Report." It seems a lot of things won't be quite as good as one would expect 50 years hence - except I'm sure that's not what Spielberg had in mind when finishing this movie.

The film is not a flop. How could it be, given the amount of money involved and Tom Cruise as the star. It's just that Spielberg should have given it just a little more thought before releasing it.

Although you might worry that I'm giving away crucial facts after reading the following, rest assured I'm not ruining anything about this thin movie plot.

1) Real human eyeballs won't roll down a hallway like marbles when carelessly dropped unless you are watching a Saturday morning cartoon. Why doesn't Spielberg know this? Maybe in 50 years this can happen?

2) When you leave or are terminated from a company for any reason, your passwords/keys/ID cards - whatever - are always immediately revoked/changed so you can't come back later on your own. Why doesn't Spielberg know this? Everyone in the theater knows it! Maybe in 50 years security will become sloppy??

3) When you want to steal a brand new state of the art Lexus, just walk down to the local Lexus plant, hop into a car as it's being manufactured, and after the robots apply the paint, simply drive off. No problem. In 50 years this will be easy and no one will care. Spielberg must believe this.

I don't.

The first time you see the police using their cool jet backpacks - think back to the scene of the flying monkeys in "The Wizard Of Oz." They were low tech 1939 special effects, but for some strange reason Spielberg has trouble beating it. One policeman lands so sloppily (filming wise) that Tom Cruise kids him about it. If these things are supposed to be so hard to land and operate, why then can they suddenly fly with Olympic Jedi grace and style through open windows when they start fighting with them. And if you're wearing a jet pack, I suppose your body must suddenly take on a Superman shell that enables you to crash through floors of buildings without so much as getting a scratch.

Maybe in 50 years.

Keep in mind this is not a superhero comic remake like Spider-Man or Superman. It's just you and me in a world 50 years from now. I think Spielberg got the pages of his script mixed up with another movie.

But back to the holographic TV. I'm a gadget freak, and I fully expect to see holographic TV in my lifetime. But if it looks as poor as the version Spielberg shows us, I'll be holding on to my Sony for a while. I've seen smoky sports bars with better projection setups.

The spiders were cool. The plasma firing shotgun was cool. But both scenes are pretty short. The film is 2 hours and 30 minutes long. Perhaps more spiders? More guns?

The scene where Tom Cruise "orchestrates" the computer with his hands (see picture above) could have been totally comical, and I found myself holding back a chuckle at times. But given 50 years, I'm sure the mouse as we know it will be dead. This might be one option, though you would work up quite a non-mouse sweat after an 8 hour day at your workstation using those gloves. Got to be a better way.

At about the one hour mark, the film went into Mtv, Blair Witch shaky film mode. Everyone noticed it and it took away from the movie. I would expect more from a veteran film maker.

It's not a bad L-O-N-G film, but if it were a great film, I wouldn't have noticed how L-O-N-G it was. If you haven't seen Spider-Man, The Sum Of All Fears, or The Bourne Identity, go see those first. They were all better.

- Wait For Video/DVD



"The Bourne Identity" (PG-13)

Matt Damon hangs by his fingertips in "The Bourne Identity," a movie that will no doubt entertain you and catapult Matt Damon (Bourne) into 007 star status. He's a good choice for this film as an assassin in a relatively bloodless PG-13 movie (like 007). But blood or not, the action is still there, and whether or not you understand what's going on, the quick camera work will keep you interested.

Bourne also has Bond like abilities, except in his case he doesn't know he has these special talents until he suddenly needs them, like a martial-arts-McGyver with memory loss.

But unlike Tom Cruise, Matt probably couldn't have carried the movie himself. The casting department made a strong choice in Franka Potente, the woman who stared in the movie "Run Lola Run." She accepts Bourne's offer of $10,000 to drive him to Paris, something most people would jump at, but whether or not she'd stay a minute longer in real life might be questionable. But this being a Hollywood movie, there is never any doubt.

I realize a lot of women like the "bad boy" image of life on the wild side, and they may even enjoy latching on to it for a free (or paid) ride. But there is a big difference between dating millionaire bad-boy Dennis Rodman for excitement, and hanging around Bourne - putting your very life on the line hour by hour. I'm willing to bet there is a finite limit on the amount of adrenaline one will endure before calling it quits and walking away with the pocket full of free cash.

But having said that, I'm glad she sticks around. Makes for a very enjoyable film.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



"The Sum Of All Fears" (PG-13)

To tell you too much about the movie would be to risk giving too much away. If you've watched too many previews or newscasts about this motion picture, they've probably already spoiled it for you. So much for keeping key moments a secret.

The story has some laughable shortcomings concerning the actual workings of the US Government, as well as some timetable issues, because after all this movie is a prequel (prequels seem to be the "in" thing these days) in a list of Tom Clancy books which follows the career of a CIA analyst Jack Ryan.

But if you try to tie the other movies ("The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger") to this one, you'll come away feeling the whole series is a Hollywood sham that doesn't add up.

But if you go simply expecting two hours of popcorn eating enjoyment, this movie will more than fill the bill. Especially if it hasn't been ruined for you by all the prerelease press that gives away all the surprises.

- See it on "The Big Screen"




"Spider-Man" (PG-13)

One of the most anticipated movies of the year after the new Star Wars installment, Spider-Man finally hits the theaters after some post 911 twin-tower reediting.

Is it a great movie? Well, no it isn't. But it's good enough that although you probably wouldn't want to see it twice, you'll want to see it once. Children will come out of the theater crime fighting one another and jumping about like an atomic Spidy on a blood sugar rush, while adults will come out hopeful that the sequel will be even better than this first installment.

The casting is good with Tobey Maguire playing the meekest of leads, but Kirsten Dunst playing the love interest is a bit odd. Though not ugly, Kirsten seems to have sharp incisors left over from her role in interview with a vampire.

But it's hardly the star power we're after here, as even Willem Dafoe (spelled correctly by the way) takes second fiddle to the special effects we all paid to see. And the effects aren't half as phony in a theater as some of the trailers you've seen on TV.

All in all it's one of those rare films that works equally well for both kids and adults.

- See it on "The Big Screen"

"Panic Room" (R)

Forget what the critics said - wait for video and pick it apart for laughs.

- Wait for video/DVD

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