Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Well, they meant well.
That comment, made by a viewer upon leaving an advanced screening of The
Stepford Wives, is a succinct example of damning with faint praise.
Its quite apt, too.
The Stepford Wives is a remake (make that send-up)
of the 1975 thriller based upon Ira Levins popular novel. The original
was a chilling commentary on the male reaction to the then-prevalent womens
rights movement, specifically the touted Equal Rights Amendment.
This treatment is a post-feminist satire, a half-hearted attempt to point
out where the movement went wrong.
Like the original, The Stepford Wives tells the story of a family
that moves from New York City to suburban Connecticut. Nicole Kidman (Dogtown)
stars as Joanna, a ball-breaking executive who has been fired from her
job as a high-powered network television bigwig. With Joanna near a breakdown,
her husband Walter, played by Matthew Broderick (Election) talks
her into the move to Stepford.
There, Joanna is taken aback by the women who live there. Theyre
all beautiful, slim, great cooks and immaculate housewives. All except
for those whove just moved there. Joanna discusses the zombie-like
qualities of the Stepford women with newfound friends Bobbie (Bette Midler),
a successful writer and Roger (Peter Bart), the feminine partner of Stepfords
only gay couple.
Naturally, it doesnt take long before these three discover that
the men in Stepford are up to no good. The head of the mens association
(Christopher Walken) and his Betty Crocker clone of a wife (Glen Close),
obviously know more than theyre willing to tell.
Director Frank Oz (Bowfinger) and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey,
In and Out) attempt to mine this territory for laughs while adding
a little social commentary on where society has progressed, or regressed,
since 1975. The problem is, theyre not really sure what they believe.
But the main trouble lies in the films utter lack of consistent
tone. Here is one movie that just cant seem to decide what it wants
to be. Is it an all-out comedy? Is it a thriller? It simply isnt
funny enough to be the former and far too broad to be the latter.
Rudnick (who also writes a popular column in Premier magazine under
the pseudonym Libby Gelman-Waxner) does manage to get in a few amusing
licks at network TV and hints what it the movie could have been had he
gone all with way with his gay spin.
In the end, The Stepford Wives has about as much heart as a robot.
(PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted 6/18/04
the World In 80 Days
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Around the World in 80 Days is a masterpiece. This taut story
follows the adventures of Phileas Fogg as he travels by boat, train and
elephant to win a bet. The story not is not only gripping, but it is also
a wonderful adventure. The characters are also delightful and smart as
they plan, improvise, discover and investigate. Around the World in 80
Days nurtures inner fantasies about exploring the world, encountering
new cultures, exotic forms of transportation and the spirit of freedom.
Yes, Around the World in 80 Days is a superb book.
Which is why it so offensive that such a terrible movie adaptation was
It is difficult to understand why the producers of Around the World
in 80 Days where only interested in the concept of the book. My guess
is that Cliffs Notes were involved. All the magic of Jules
Verne is tossed away in favor of creating a loud obnoxious Jackie Chan
Its ironic that this film is less about traveling and more about
beating the crap out of people all over the world. Phileas Fogg (Steve
Coogan), Lau Xing (Jackie Chan), a covert relic-recovering sidekick (dont
ask), and Monique (Cecile De France) fight ninjas in France, battle sword
wielding bodyguards in Istanbul, engage in Kung Fu warfare in China and
battle a needle-nailed dominatrix on the unfinished head of the Statue
of Liberty in America. I heard from a reliable source that the Koala wielding
spiked Aborigine robots from Australia were cut for time. Look for them
on the DVD.
All spirit of exploration has been painstakingly replaced with unconvincing
CGI and unpersuasive sets. While Vernes book is all about the thrill
of travel, this film rarely allows us to see the main characters going
anywhere. Cutesy overblown computer animated segments show us where they
are going. We do not encounter new cultures or interesting people, but
instead encounter celebrities in one embarrassing cameo after another.
Jules Verne really outdid himself with Around the World in 80 Days.
After your done reading this review, go to the local bookstore and pick
it up. Its not even a little dated, and is considerably more thrilling
than this latest bloated summer yawner. (PG) Rating: 1 ; Posted 6/18/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Can a confused, cross-eyed, pint-sized, neglected South American child
be a compelling focus for a major motion picture? If his name is Valentin,
the answer is, probably so.
Valentin is a sweet-natured, semi-autobiographical film from Argentinean
filmmaker Alejandro Agresti (La Cruz). In it, the filmmaker recalls
his childhood with both fond memories and heartache.
Set in an Argentinean city in the late 1960s, it concerns an eight-year-old
named Valentin (Rodrigo Noya) who has been abandoned by his parents and
lives with his loving but resentful grandmother (Carmen Marua). He lives
in a dream world, longing to be an astronaut almost as much as he longs
for his neglectful and sometimes abusive father (played by the filmmaker)
to return with a new mother so that he can finally have a family.
Valentins mother, we are told, ran off with a cabdriver. His dads
business obligations keep him away and he only returns for
visits when it is convenient or if he needs a favor.
Valentins grandmother, a lonely widow whose children have been a
disappointment to her, uses her grandson as a sounding board for her complaints.
Her only comfort is the memory of her doting husband whom she adored.
Valentin, an unusually bright and precocious youngster, finds ways to
befriend many of the adults in his life. He is also something of a master
manipulator, getting them to do things that they otherwise wouldnt
He uses his persuasive charms to get a doctor to make an unusual house
call on his ailing and unwilling grandmother. He gets the alcoholic
piano player next door to give him lessons. He also manages to get the
amiable pianist to fix his grandmothers broken down television.
But his greatest feat of manipulation comes in his efforts to procure
a family for himself. His efforts involve Leticia, one of his dads
girlfriends, played by the particularly lovely Julieta Cardinali.
Ones reaction to Valentin may largely depend on Noyas
performance. He is an extremely cute lad who is nearly impossible to dislike.
Although he is manipulative, he is never malicious. His motives are admirable,
even when they serve his own purposes.
But one aspect of Valentin is problematic. The action seems to
imply that a major, life-changing event is about to occur. That does indeed
happen, but the dramatic payoff is merely a postscript that leaves the
film with an abrupt denouement.
Still, Valentin is an innocuous little film with more than a little
charm. (PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 6/18/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
The opening scenes of The Terminal flawlessly recap what its
like to be delayed at an airport. The endless florescent lights, the sounds
of thousands of footsteps and tired conversation, the echoing tiled floors,
the river of annoyed and exhausted people, and the detached unfriendly
employees are all perfectly captured. Airports are places that breed frustration.
Enter Victor Navorski (Tom Hanks). This poor soul is about to suffer a
fate that would tear any of us to shreds. When he arrives at the airport
in New York City, he learns that there has been a massive coup in his
country, and as a result he is not allowed to return to his country or
enter the United States. The airport becomes his purgatory.
During the first half of the movie, Hanks Navorski shares many traits
with Jacques Tatis Mr. Hulot. In two of Tatis films, Mon oncle,
and Playtime, Mr. Hulot stumbles through a cold modern society. He is
not a part of this world, and belongs to the more caring, simple past.
Hulot never fits in, and yet he is never completely overtaken by despair.
He simply exists as a contrast to his environment.
Victor Navorski skillfully stands out against the airport environment.
He attempts to make a bed from old airport chairs. He earns food money
by returning luggage carts. Victor even attempts to battle the cold modernism
of the airport by strolling the terminal wearing a bathrobe and slippers.
Navorki is not the master of his environment, but we feel kinship with
him as we watch his spirit never waiver. He simply makes the best of it.
Sadly Stephen Spielberg's addiction to pathos takes over and takes over
Slowly, the sounds of the airport terminal are replaced with John Williams
sappy score that tells you just how you should feel. Navorskis quirks
are replaced with ridiculously heroic deeds and implausible nobility.
Do we really need a cruel airport autocrat (Stanley Tucci) to try to crush
Navorskis spirit? Do we really need to see Navorski become the terminals
hero? What are we supposed to make of Victor when he creates a fountain
for a stewardess (Catherine Zeta-Jones) that he has talked to for all
of 20 minutes? Does Navorskis reason for coming to America in the
first place have to be so implausible that it shatters any of the films
believability? All of these elements detach us from the film and reduce
it to fantasy.
What begins as a clever examination of how individuals battle cold, modern
systems everyday quickly turns into a long winded, two dimensional, unsatisfying
fairytale. Unfortunately, The Terminals conclusion was as
awkward and aloof as OHare Airport in December. (PG-13) Rating:
3; Posted 6/18/04
A True Underdog Story
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Okay, okay. There is no way that a silly, sophomoric comedy like Dodgeball:
A True Underdog Story should get a positive review. Its just
the sort of lowbrow and inane Hollywood drivel that critics always complain
Though it is every bit as ridiculous as most of the other idiotic comedies
out there, there is one big difference. This one is genuinely funny.
Ben Stiller, who gives a performance so broad that it would be considered
over-the-top even for a Saturday Night Live sketch, stars as White
Goodman, an obnoxious fitness geek who is the owner of a company called
Globo Gym. (Their catchy slogan is Were better than you, and
we know it!) His rival is a small-time operator named Pete LaFleur
(Vince Vaughn), owner of a low rent club called Average Joes.
White takes advantage of Petes casual bookkeeping efforts, and sets
his sights on taking over his operation. Unless Pete can come up with
$50,000, hell face foreclosure, and White can step in.
One of the nerdy members of Petes gym suggests that they enter a
dodgeball contest that has a grand prize of $50,000. Naturally, when White
gets wind of their efforts, he enters an elite group of his own athletes
to thwart Petes team.
Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Terry Tate, Office Linebacker)
has pretty good satiric aim, targeting some of the vacuous aspects of
the fitness craze.
But his movie excels because his cast ably sells the insanity. Along with
Stiller and Vaughn, the cast includes Christine Taylor (the real Mrs.
Stiller) as Kate, a bank lawyer who winds up on Vaughns team thanks
to her impressive underhand throwing ability and disdain for White.
Rip Torn is sardonically funny as Patches OHoulihan, a wheelchair-bound
former dodgeball star who becomes coach for Petes team
of misfits. Stephen Root is especially amusing as a middle-aged nerd who
helps inspire his teammates by exploiting his underused temper.
Gary Cole and Jason Bateman add color as idiotic commentators for ESPN-8
(The Ocho) who cover the dodgeball finals in Las Vegas. Lance
Armstrong, William Shatner and Chuck Norris also show up in peculiar cameo
roles. Hank Azaria has an amusing bit as a young Patches OHoulihan
who appears in a 1950s era instructional film about the violent aspects
of the game.
Dodgeball sometimes stretches itself a bit thin, but compared to
those of its ilk, its guilty pleasure. (PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted
Battle of Algiers
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Richard Clark, the former advisor to George W. Bush who recently testified
at the 9/11 Commission hearings, said that anyone who wanted to understand
what was going on today in Iraq should watch the film The Battle of
Someone was listening. New prints of that 1965 film have been struck and
are being screened throughout the country.
The Battle of Algiers is a stark, realistic drama filmed in black-and-white
by director Gillo Pontecorvo (Burn!). Although it is a drama, it feels
very much like a documentary, giving a news-like account of the resistance
of the Algerian people to the French colonialists.
The story begins in the 1950s, when ragtag groups of Algerians began a
terror campaign against the French police forces. (The French had occupied
Algeria for 130 years prior to these uprisings.)
The film begins at the end of a torture session, where French troops have
beaten an Algerian citizen until he relents and gives them the location
of some of the resistance leaders.
Then, the action flashes back to the events that led up to this moment.
Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag) is a small-time crook who is recruited
by resistance forces to do some of the dirty work that they feel needs
to be done. This not only includes assassinating police officers, but
also getting rid of morally questionable natives like drunks, prostitutes
The action follows the desperate acts of the terrorists, as well as the
brutal reprisals of the French officials and their efforts to crush the
freedom movement, regardless of the cost. The French succeed in their
quest to put down the rebellion, but lose Algeria when the French public
tires of the bloodshed. Algeria won its independence in 1962.
What is most interesting about The Battle of Algiers is not its
status as a seminal film about grass roots resistance or even its parallels
to current events in Iraq. The unique thing is the fact that it was one
of the early films to utilize authentic locations and amateur actors in
an all-out effort to get the feel of reality. (Some of the
actors were actual members of the resistance.)
The drawbacks are the films washed-out subtitles that are extremely
hard to read, as well as the detached approach that prevents viewers from
making an emotional connection with the characters.
Still, The Battle of Algiers serves a worthy purpose. It re-emphasizes
the urgency for us learn from our history. (Not rated, but contains violent
images.) Rating: 3; Posted 6/18/04