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 peoples lives and turn peoples existence into surreal
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 childrens 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 Teds 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
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 thats
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 arent 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, its refreshing to see a movie that trusts the elements that
made the show a success. Thunderbirds truly are go!
As a childrens 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. Hes 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 doesnt 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
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 Bergmans
The Seventh Seal share a strong commonality, (They are both movies)
and Bergmans films have been philosophically analyzed. Granted,
no one in a Bergman film ever threw a raccoon out of a moving car (the
directors cut of Wild Strawberries excepted) but Im willing
to make the stretch. Here goes
How does one improve ones self? We could place our trust in Blaise
Pascals notion of faith as the catalyst towards greatness, but perhaps
this is too naïve. I prefer Thomas Paines 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 ones 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 Russells 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. Sternes The Life and Opinions of Tristan Shandy,
Stoppards Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Cheech
and Chongs 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
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 drivers 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
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 Bournes
newly created world, and he reverts back to his killer instinct to find
out whos 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 Bournes past life.
Director Paul Greengrass takes The Bourne Supremacy in a different
direction by giving the whole film a handheld feel. At times, its
a bit too much like watching the Zapruder film, but at its 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 youve 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,
thats another story.
Yes, the lovely Ms. Berry is Catwoman, a character inspired by
Batmans 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
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.
Its 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
Catwoman is the first English language film from visual effects
expert, Pitof. (Its best to be leery of directors who go by just
one name.) His relentless camera movement is so dizzying that youre
tempted to scream, Please hold that shot still for five seconds!
This persistent motion becomes especially disorienting during the numerous
fight scenes. Pitofs 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 Berrys visual appeal, this Catwoman belongs in
the litter box. (PG-13) Rating: 1; Posted 7/23/04