reel reviews

The Bourne Supremacy Catwoman A Door in the Floor
Harold and Kumar Go to White CastleThe Thunderbirds

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A Door in the Floor
Reviewed by Uri Lessing

Charlie Chaplin once wrote that life is a tragedy when seen close-up but a comedy in a long shot. A Door in the Floor, the latest film based on a John Irving novel, carefully illustrates this observation. When we see something that does not fit our concept of “normal,” it can add humor to our lives. Yet, tragic events often force normality out of people’s lives and turn peoples’ existence into surreal dysfunction.

The film focuses on two parents struggling after a tremendous loss, and a young man on the edge of adulthood that is drawn into their dysfunction. Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and his wife Marion (Kim Basinger) once had a thriving, loving marriage, but the accidental deaths of their two teenage sons have obliterated it. All that is left is a hallway filled with pictures of the smiling, blissful family from before the accident.

Marion cannot lift herself from despondency and function as a mother to their four-year-old daughter, Ruth (Elle Fanning), who was born after the accident. Ted, a writer and illustrator of children’s books, attempts to pour his sorrow into his books, but has become increasingly eccentric and resentful of his wife, and uses his status and artistic ability as a catalyst for numerous affairs.

When Eddie (Jon Foster), a young student, is hired to work as an assistant to Ted, he is elated. He believes that exposure to a literary genius will help him become a great writer, but Ted’s sees Eddie as an element to help Marion out of her depression. Of course, Marion uses Eddie in a completely different manner.

Jeff Bridges is masterful as the iconoclastic Ted. Bridges’ has an uncanny ability to play people who refuse to admit their lives are a mess. He struts around like a peacock trapped in a burning house, and his performance manages to be humorous and devastating simultaneously. When Ted reveals how his sons died, we truly see the incredible skill and craft of this astounding actor.

A Door in the Floor is never mundane, and unlike other John Irving adaptations, it never gives any of its characters an easy way out of their suffering. Yet the message is not entirely hopeless. When you heal from tragedy, you never return to who you were before the event, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Misfortune eventually becomes incorporated within your identity and stays with you, much like this remarkable work of filmmaking. (R) Rating: 4; Posted 7/26/04

Reviewed by Uri Lessing

The television show, The Thunderbirds, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in 1964 was fab! Granted, it was not the kind of cool that came from great characters or a well thought out plots. The Thunderbirds evoked the same feelings one gets from looking at an elaborate model train set. No child ever watched the show because of the captivating characters, it was the eye candy: spaceships, submarines, space stations, digging machines and secret launching bays awed us more with every episode.

The show follows the Tracys, a family of six men that live on a secret island in the year 2065. They run a secret organization called International Rescue, and with their five Thunderbird vehicles save people time and time again from disasters around the world. Occasionally, they get help from the chic secret agent Lady Penelope, her chauffer Aloysius Parker and their rocket car. Together, they battle the Hood, a mind controlling bald villain with bushy eyebrows bent on world domination.

Oh, and did I mention that all the main characters are puppets? (Marionettes to be exact.)

Now we have Thunderbirds, the first film in the series to be shot with live actors. There aren’t many people who will miss the puppetry, (Anderson called it Supermarionation) but still Director Jonathan Frakes has quite a task on his hands. He must create an exciting action adventure for kids while remaining loyal to the fans of the television show.

Thunderbirds is at its strongest when it tributes the original. The look of the film is almost exactly the look of the show. Most of the Thunderbird vehicles share precise designs with the old show, and are equally impressive. The secret launching areas on the island and the design of the Tracy household also lovingly capture a 1960s perspective of the future. It is both nostalgic and exciting. In an age of trying to improve and modernize successful films and television shows from the past, it’s refreshing to see a movie that trusts the elements that made the show a success. Thunderbirds truly are go!

As a children’s adventure film, the results get a little iffier. The acting is (pardon the pun) wooden. Bill Paxton plays the part of the patriarch with two facial expressions, anxious concern and familial pride. Son, Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), was an adult in the show but has been turned into an arrogant adolescent in this film. He’s teamed up with a brainy boy (Soren Fulton) and a teenage girl with amazing mental powers (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) in order to place the film in the same genre as Spy Kids. It doesn’t work.

Two actors, however, have the time of their lives recreating their puppet counterparts. Sophia Myles is delicious as the beautiful, elegant and sophisticated Lady Penelope. Her scenes simply bubble. Sir Ben Kingsley Jr. as the evil Hood is so hammy, demented and mannered that he puts the late Vincent Price to shame. These performances pay tribute to a wonderful show, and help make Thunderbirds a simply fab movie! (PG) Rating: 3; Posted 7/26/04

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Reviewed by Uri Lessing

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” —Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 3.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle may seem as intellectual as a fart joke, but perhaps with a little academic research and some good old-fashioned sociological and philosophical deconstruction, we can find some meaning in this film.

After all both Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal share a strong commonality, (They are both movies) and Bergman’s films have been philosophically analyzed. Granted, no one in a Bergman film ever threw a raccoon out of a moving car (the director’s cut of Wild Strawberries excepted) but I’m willing to make the stretch. Here goes…

How does one improve one’s self? We could place our trust in Blaise Pascal’s notion of faith as the catalyst towards greatness, but perhaps this is too naïve. I prefer Thomas Paine’s suggestion that we must be mentally faithful to ourselves in order to improve. Perhaps watching a film where two Jewish stoners smoke pot from a shofar is being faithful to one’s self.

What better way to strive for self-improvement than by rewarding oneself with a bit of amusing jest presented through the modern technological marvel of the motion picture camera? Cinematic wit often cleanses the palate of our soul while challenging our integrity.

Unquestionably, the hypothesis is witty: An expedition for fast food potentially enriches lives. Two iconoclasts, after indulging in cannabis resolve to quench their appetites with a simple outing to White Castle. Yet complications soon thwart their campaign, and their outing metamorphoses into a heroic excursion.

Bertrand Russell wrote, “Some kind of philosophy is a necessity to all but the most thoughtless...” Obviously the makers of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle were not on Russell’s mind. Yet jokes about nubile British women with explosive diarrhea do reflect a shortage of reflection from the filmmakers.

Despondently, the creators of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle placed only diminutive effort in developing stalwart characters or a solicitous chronicle. Instead the film regresses into jibs oriented toward the inebriated sector of American society.

Concocting a work that delves into the existence of mindless individuals can be fruitful. Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristan Shandy, Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke, are all superlative examples of narratives that examine the dim-witted. But Harold and Kumar... this film is dreadful! Horrible! Terrible! Aaaarrggghhh! (R) Rating: 1; Posted 7/26/04

The Bourne Supremacy
Reviewed by Uri Lessing

Do you remember when James Bond was a believable character? No, not Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton or Roger Moore. Remember when Bond was not a boring stuffed suit that drove product placement? When Sean Connery was in the driver’s seat the Bond films were sincere, and unlike future Bond films, these films were credible. The audiences fantasized about what it was like to be a spy while recognizing the challenges Bond faced.

Nowadays, Bond films have more in common in with the special advertising sections of Esquire magazine than the crude thrills of the early Bond films. Sadly, dazzling unrealistic effects, sappy love stories, improbable plots, and lethargic acting overtook the Bond franchise. The humanized spy film appeared to be dead.

But now there is Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is instantly likeable. He has a boyish face, a short frame, and a handsome physique. Make no mistake about it, though. He is a killer; with impressive survival skills that help him escape from the tightest of circumstances.

In the first film, The Bourne Identity, Bourne has amnesia, finds himself a wanted man and labors to regain his memory and avoid nameless enemies. As memories return, he realizes that he must struggle to regain his humanity as well, because in the past he was a brainwashed and impassive assassin for the CIA.

Now, in The Bourne Supremacy, an insidious operation destroys Bourne’s newly created world, and he reverts back to his killer instinct to find out who’s responsible and tests the permanence of his new-found humanity.

As his sojourn takes him to Berlin and Moscow, he is pursued by CIA agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), as well as Agent Ward Abbott (Brian Cox reprising his role from the first film.) Each scene takes us deeper into these former communist locales, where the crumbling Marxist architecture serves as an excellent metaphor for Bourne’s past life.

Director Paul Greengrass takes The Bourne Supremacy in a different direction by giving the whole film a handheld feel. At times, it’s a bit too much like watching the Zapruder film, but at it’s best it keeps the audience sharp by forcing them to search for clues and stay focused on the action.

The Bourne Supremacy is a rare film, an equally engaging sequel that excites, amazes and enthralls its audience into longing for a trilogy. (PG-13) Rating: 4; Posted 7/23/04

Reviewed by Russ Simmons

If you’ve been looking forward to seeing the voluptuous Halle Berry in a skimpy, skin-tight leather outfit, your wait is over. If you were also looking forward to an entertaining and intelligent comic book movie...well, that’s another story.
Yes, the lovely Ms. Berry is Catwoman, a character inspired by Batman’s one-time fetching feline foe. Unlike her previous incarnation as a villain, this Catwoman is a misunderstood victim whose unconventional actions are precipitated by extraordinary circumstances.

Patience Prince, you see, is a meek graphic artist working for a giant cosmetics conglomerate. Evil corporate types kill her when she overhears their plans to cover up info on “Beau-Line,” a potentially toxic face cream that the company is about to distribute.

Fortunately for Patience, a mystical cat named Midnight resurrects her by imbuing her with a feline spirit that gives her cat-like superhuman qualities! She uses these newfound powers to battle the head of the corrupt cosmetics firm.
Halle is undeniably alluring in her clingy Catwoman attire, but this movie offers little else that presents a reason to purchase a ticket.

If you take it seriously, this effects-heavy offering is downright awful. It’s weighted down with trite dialogue and silly histrionics. It took four screenwriters (Theresa Rebeck, John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris and John Rogers) to come up with the inane script, a clear case of too many chefs.

Catwoman is the first English language film from visual effects expert, Pitof. (It’s best to be leery of directors who go by just one name.) His relentless camera movement is so dizzying that you’re tempted to scream, “Please hold that shot still for five seconds!” This persistent motion becomes especially disorienting during the numerous fight scenes. Pitof’s frantic direction renders the hard work of the stunt choreographers utterly ineffective.

Sharon Stone is embarrassing as an aging model who becomes a hardened killer and butt-kicking villain. Apparently the constant use of “Beau-Line” has rendered her unable to affect any facial expression except a scowl.

Thankfully, Catwoman has many unintentionally funny moments. Aside from her encounters with the CGI-created Midnight, Patience consumes vast quantities of tuna, takes to sleeping on the roof beams in her apartment, and begins brandishing a bullwhip.

But funniest of all, she visits an eccentric professor named Ophelia (Frances Conroy) who introduces her to the joys of catnip! That scene alone may make it a candidate for status a camp classic.

Aside from Berry’s visual appeal, this Catwoman belongs in the litter box. (PG-13) Rating: 1; Posted 7/23/04

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