Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Have you ever noticed that some of the most startling films are made
in the most unusual ways? Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
is a movie that no studio in their right mind would have green-lighted.
I can just see Jerry Bruckheimers reaction.
So let me get this straight. There are really going to be no sets;
only blue-screens, its rated PG, so theres no blood or major
violence, youve never directed any other film, and the movie takes
place in the past, but the technology is greater than the stuff we have
today? Son, have you seen Wild, Wild West? Dont let the door
hit you in the tuchas.
Instead, Kerry Conran took his ten-year-old idea to Jon Avnet who funded
the film out of pocket. They then took the completed, untouched film to
different studios and showed them the finished product.
Of course, they all wanted the rights to Sky Captain and the World
of Tomorrow and its easy to see why.
The film takes place in the 1940s of film and radio serials. While the
film is in color, the sparkling bright whites give the film a soft shiny
power that belongs purely to black and white films. New York City (and
the world) is under attack by an unseen scientist and his robot army.
Its up to Joe Sky Captain Sullivan (Jude Law) and Lois
Lane-esque reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) to save the day.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a work of pure fun that
captivates its audience. Film critic, Danny Peary wrote that Raiders
of the Lost Ark was like a compilation of the greatest action scenes
in other films. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has the same
feel to it. Every chase, fight and rescue bubbles with such creativity
and cleverness, you will find yourself eagerly awaiting the next daring
Theres even a ton of wonderful movie references thrown in for the
film fanatics. The film takes the audience to the Shangra La of Lost
Horizons, the undersea world of the silent 20,000 Leagues Under
the Sea, and then straight to King Kongs Skull Island.
Theres even a cameo performance by a great actor who has been dead
for 15 years!
While Van Helsing struggled under its own weight, Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow soars like one of the many flying
machines beautifully brought to the screen. Prepare for take-off! (PG)
Rating: 4; Posted 9/17/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
The opening sequence of John Sayles new comic drama involves a
dimwitted Colorado politician named Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) who
is filming a campaign commercial with the aid of his shady advisor, Chuck
Raven (Richard Dreyfuss).
Any similarities to George W. Bush and Karl Rove are purely intentional.
With Silver City, Sayles (Lone Star, The Secret of Roan
Inish) offers us a political mystery as an excuse to lampoon the Bush
administration on the eve of the presidential election. As a biting disparagement
of our hapless leader, Silver City hits its target. Unfortunately,
the film is one of Sayles weakest and its message lands
with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Danny Huston (21 Grams) leads the cast as Danny OBrien, a
private investigator and former journalist who is hired by Pilagers
campaign to uncover the identity of a corpse that Pilager accidentally
fished out of a lake while filming his commercial. The resulting info
that OBrien uncovers exposes a cesspool of crime, corruption and
environmental malfeasance that leads right back to Pilager, his family
and his influential backers.
During his investigation, OBrien encounters a number of colorful
characters, including Pilagers eccentric sister (Daryl Hannah),
a neo-Nazi talk show host (Miguel Ferrer), some liberal underground journalists
(Tim Roth, Thora Birch), a crusty sheriff (James Gammon) and a scary industrialist
(Kris Kristofferson). Even OBriens former lover (Maria Bello),
a TV journalist, seems to be in bed (literally) with an influential member
of the Pilager campaign (Billy Zane). When he begins to report on the
cycle of corruption that hes unearthed, he realizes that his own
life is in danger.
As a screenwriter, Sayles is still among the very best in the business,
and much of the dialogue in Silver City is priceless. Still, there
are a couple of major flaws at the core of the film that prevent it from
having the political impact that he obviously had hoped for.
The biggest problem lies with Huston. As an actor, he completely lacks
charisma (surprising, coming from the son of the legendary John Huston
and brother of Angelica.) Without question, the film would have been much
more successful had Sayles given this pivotal role to Roth instead.
The other hindrance lies in the overly obvious sermonizing that Sayles
indulges in. (Instead of showing one dead fish to illustrate a polluted
lake, he insists on showing us thousands.)
But native Kansas Citian Cooper (an Oscar winner for Adaptation)
is brilliant in his role, nailing the Bush persona and vocal cadence.
His performance alone is enough to make Silver City timely, cautionary
viewing. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 9/17/04
Reviewed by Deborah Young
The funny thing about Bernie Mac is the dissed everyman
aura he wears like a tattered sports jacket. Hes funny in the tradition
of Rodney Dangerfield, who complains incessantly about getting no respect.
Or, in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin, who, in the character of the
Little Tramp, resorted to boiling and eating his shoe because he had nothing
else to eat. Or, in the tradition of the comic strip character Ziggy,
who always seems to get the short end of the stick but keeps coming back
Characters who are both pitiful and resourceful are fun to root for. So
when one of Macs cockeyed schemes goes wrong on The Bernie Mac
Show and he tilts his head to the side and gripes into the camera
about his television family, its difficult not to laugh. Its
difficult not to empathize with his good-hearted but often misguided character.
Mac carries the same slow-burn style of humor into his role as Stan Ross
in Mr. 3000. Ross is a self-centered, trash-talking baseball player
who leaves the game after getting an impressive 3,000 hits (or so he thinks).
After retiring, he builds a persona and a string of businesses based on
Then nine years later, at the age of 47, someone discovers that Ross only
got 2,997 hits. So he decides to get back into the game to get the remaining
Anyone whos ever seen one of these underdog comedies can pretty
much guess the major plot points along the way. The character has to be
a jerk. He has to learn how not to be a jerk, and along the way he has
to make a major contribution to his peers.
But not everything in this movie is predictable. There are a couple hilariously
quirky characters and several unexpected one-liners that will make many
viewers laugh aloud. A team mascot in a towering sausage suit lumbers
into a few scenes and trades insults with Stan. And theres a Japanese
player whose inability to curse properly is quite entertaining.
Mr. 3000 features cameo appearances by several celebrities including
Tom Arnold, Larry King and John Salley. Theres also the requisite
love interest, Mo (Angela Bassett). But the funniest thing about the movie
is watching Bernie Mac do his thing, scheme his schemes, take his lumps
and then rise to comic redemption. (PG-13) Rating: 3; Posted 9/17/04
Hunting of the President
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
When Hillary Clinton accused her husbands tormenters as being part
of a vast, right-wing conspiracy, many dismissed her complaint
as political rhetoric.
The documentary The Hunting of the President aims to confirm Mrs.
Clintons claim by tracing the roots of the efforts to remove Bill
Clinton from power.
The film is based upon the book The Hunting of the President:
The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton by Joe
Conason and Gene Lyons. Filmmakers Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry re-frame
the authors arguments with the aid of archive footage and the contribution
of talking head commentary.
The filmmakers begin by going back to Bill Clintons early days
as an Arkansas politico, arguing that he made a number of enemies by not
awarding locals with fat government jobs. As a result, the Arkansas
Project was born, an all-out effort aimed to discredit him.
The movie profiles a number of colorful and corrupt Arkansas characters
and effectively shows why theyd try to bring Clinton down.
Among the interviewees who make the case for conspiracy are Democratic
insiders Paul Begala and James Carville, and journalists Sidney Blumenthal,
Jeffrey Toobin and (most effectively) David Brock.
Brock, a former writer for the conservative journal American Spectator,
explains how wealthy Clinton-hater Richard Mellon Scaife (who bankrolled
the Arkansas Project and promoted Ken Starrs $80 million
witch hunt) instructed American Spectator writers to smear Clinton.
Brock later wrote a book about this called Blinded by the Right.
Much time is devoted to the Whitewater debacle (the blame placed squarely
on the shoulders of a mentally unstable Jim McDougall) and the police
state tactics used in the persecution of Susan McDougall.
The idea of a pro-left bias in the media is strongly dismissed. The film
argues that journalists investigating Whitewater were driven by a blood-in-the-water
mentality bred by the Watergate scandal. Believing that Whitewater stories
could win them Pulitzers, journalists dug relentlessly for any dirt they
Jerry Falwell has an amusing moment as he tries to distance himself from
the video The Clinton Chronicles that he tirelessly hawked on his
TV programs. Falwell now claims no responsibility for any assertions made
in that infamous video, which linked Clinton to money laundering, drug
distribution and other unsubstantiated criminal activity.
The film is hardly objective, however. Thomason (producer of the TV hit
Designing Women) is a long-time friend and financial supporter
of the Clintons, so he makes it a point to gloss over the Monica Lewinsky
affair and Clintons subsequent perjury.
Since few Republicans will see the film, it is unlikely that The Hunting
of the President will change very many minds. The choir being preached
to will simply have their opinions reinforced. (Not rated) Rating: 3;
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Somebody needs to do something about the influx of British/American
romantic comedies. Theres just too many of them, and they are made
in a cookie-cutter way.
Do we really need to see another film where a gorgeous, talented and
desired American woman is whisked away by a stammering insecure British
man with an inner monologue?
Whats wrong with our stammering insecure American men? You dont
have to fly across the Atlantic Ocean to find self-doubting gentlemen.
There are plenty right here in the heartland. Granted, most of them tend
to be nerdy, obsessive-compulsive, socially inept and film critics, but
we...errrr... they exist!
In Wimbledon, Paul Bettany is Peter, a low ranking tennis pro
with little ambition. At Wimbledon, he accidentally walks in on tennis
pro Lizzie (Kirsten Dunst) taking a shower. Sparks fly, they fall in love
and she helps him regain the will to cream the pants off of other tennis
Of course, in all transatlantic romance films, the lead always has to
have quirky family and friends, so Wimbledon marches them in front
of the screen like a parade. Theres the horny unscrupulous brother,
the father who lives in a tree house, the rabbit-hating mother and the
fast talking jerky agent. They all amount to a lot of noise and no charm
Paul Bettany is charming, and really puts in a sweet performance, but
his chemistry with Kirsten Dunst is non-existent. Their scenes together
are downright embarrassing and frustrating. Scenes of the couple talking
in bed, exchanging tennis stories and searching the night sky for comets
are boring, and slow Wimbledon down to a crawl.
Apart from Bettanys performance, another saving grace in Wimbledon
is the exciting tennis sequences. Special effects allow us to travel behind
the ball. Every match is graceful and exciting. Best of all, the skill
one needs to be a great player is marvelously displayed. This is such
an exciting sport to begin with and its a surprise that we have
not seen more sports films about tennis.
Perhaps if the film had stopped trying to copy films like Four Weddings
and a Funeral and Notting Hill while simply focusing on the
game and the tournament, Wimbledon would have had a lot more punch
in its serve. Instead, thanks to a whole lot of nonsense, Wimbledon
barely makes it over the net. (PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted 9/17/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Sometimes people long for revenge against those they perceive have wronged
them. If that revenge comes to fruition, however, the consequences bring
about serious problems of their own.
Therein lies the dilemma at the heart of Mean Creek, a new teen
drama from first-time filmmaker Jacob Aaron Estes.
Mean Creek is a well-acted ensemble film that demonstrates that
humanity may have civilized itself to some extent, but were not
far removed from the brutalities of nature.
Rory Culkin (Igby Goes Down) stars as Sam, a small and timid young
lad living in a rural northwest town. A large and often violent schoolmate
named George (Josh Peck) often bullies him.
Sams brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) comes up with a plan to get back
at Sams nasty tormenter, and they recruit a group of friends to
Under the pretense of celebrating Sams birthday, Rocky and his pals
Marty (Scott Mechlowitz) and Clyde (Ryan Kelley) plan a canoe trip up
a secluded local creek. Sam invites his cute girlfriend, Millie (Carly
Schroeder) to come along to join in on the fun. George, an obnoxious loner,
is delightfully surprised to be asked to accompany then on the excursion.
The idea, of course, is to humiliate George. Their hope is to get him
to strip down for a swim, and then take off with his clothes and leave
him to walk all the way home in the nude. As the trip progresses, however,
George demonstrates that his insufferable behavior is the result of deep-seeded
insecurities. He even shows a willingness to bury the hatchet, and Sam
wants to forgo his reprisals.
However, things dont turn out as planned and events take a dramatic
and tragic turn.
Estes intelligent script carefully delineates each character, and
none of them seems like a caricature. All of the participants have their
peccadilloes, and the baggage they carry with them helps to precipitate
the eventual tragedy.
The filmmaker carefully incorporates ongoing shots of the natural surroundings,
as if to emphasize the close proximity of humanity to its brutal roots.
In a way, Mean Creek plays itself out as a teen take on Deliverance.
The film isnt free of flaws, however. Some of the back stories
seem a bit calculated, and Estes has yet to perfect his grip on pacing.
In spite of its shortcomings, Mean Creek is an impressive debut
and a clear-eyed examination of the penalty of payback. (R) Rating: 3.5;
the #$*! Do We Know?
Reviewed by Deborah Young
Directors William Arntz, Betsy Chasses and Mark Vicente have put together
a film thats part documentary, part animation, part drama and part
dogma. It combines clips of interviews with 14 thinkers from various disciplines
(including physics, medicine and molecular biology) with a skeleton of
a story about Amanda (Marlee Matlin), a photographer whos just had
a major personal crisis.
Unlike typical dramas, What the #$*! (pronounced Bleep)
isnt led by its main human character, Amanda. Instead, its
driven by ideas. The human and animated beings in this movie exist only
as visible surrogates for theories about quantum physics, reality, religion
and human emotions.
The world of this movie is a magical one in which reality is fluid. Its
a world in which a boy by the name of Reginald (Robert Bailey Jr.) can
teach a distraught Amanda about the power of perception. He can illustrate
principles of quantum physics using nothing more than a basketball and
a swath of cement court.
What the Bleep leaps back and forth between this magical world and an
academic one where physicists, doctors and spiritual teachers sit back
and pontificate. They talk about subjects such as the power of thought
to shape the physical world and social environments. They also talk about
sex and the arrogance of some religious philosophies. While they talk,
Christopher Frankes tinkling, new-Agey score plays an upbeat accompaniment
that makes the film seem, at times, like a slick infomercial.
The occasional infomercial feel seems appropriate, because the filmmakers
are obviously selling something. Like Michael Moore in his Fahrenheit
911, theyre pedaling opinions. Unlike Moore, theyre hawking
philosophies about spirituality and the power of the human mind.
The pitch is sometimes made through voiceovers such as the one that reports
that in the summer of 2003 a group of people reduced crime in Washington,
D.C., simply by meditating. Then theres the repeated line about
thought affecting the structure of water crystals: If thought can
do that to water, imagine what our thoughts do to us.
At other times, the interview subjects make the pitch. For instance,
Ramtha, the 35,000-year-old mystic channeled by a middle-age woman known
as JZ Knight, dropped this one: We are here to infiltrate space
with ideas and mansions of thought.
However, What the Bleep is not all heaviness and light. It definitely
has its funny moments. Theres a scene at a wedding reception where
emotions and urges (in the form of animated characters) run amok and special
effects illustrate two teenage boys instincts for zeroing in on
the right women to pick up.
Bottom line: for those who like their entertainment served in a thick
gravy of complex ideas, What the Bleep is a must-see. (Not Rated)
Rating: 3; Posted 9/17/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
There are still three and a half months left in the movie year, so anything
can happen. But unless Yoko Ono decides to release another film about
a fly crawling on her backside, there wont be a worse film in 2004
than Spike Lees She Hate Me.
Being a fearless soul, Lee (Do the Right Thing) knows that youre
only as good as you dare to be bad. He dared to be bad, here...and succeeded
But She Hate Me isnt awful simply because its disjointed,
clumsy and absurd. Its awful because it is so colossally pretentious.
That makes it worse than films that are simply bad, like the moronic teen
Anthony Mackie (The Manchurian Candidate) plays Jack, a successful
vice president at a big biotech firm. When a colleague commits suicide,
Jack discovers that there is major corruption afoot that makes Enron look
like a tea party.
After taking on the role of whistleblower, Jack is fired and his bank
account frozen by the SEC. But thats just one story.
At this point in the film, Lee virtually abandons this plot thread and
begins another. Jack, you see, is the former lover of a Fatima (Kerry
Washington) who is now a committed lesbian. Fatima wants to get pregnant,
however, and thinks that Jack would be a perfect sperm donor. She brings
along her current girlfriend, Alex (Dania Ramirez), who also wants to
That begins a new entrepreneurial venture for this odd trio. Fatima begins
to procure lesbian tricks for Jack, and he gets them pregnant
for a mere $10,000 a pop! Can our hero keep up with the demands of five
lesbians a night? Can he down enough Viagra and Red Bull to meet the demand?
It thats not enough, an Italian lesbian (Monica Bellucci) enters
the picture to further complicate things, and once shes with child,
Jack has to deal with her Mafia boss papa, played by John Turturro.
But none of these plot twists seem to have anything to do with what Lee
and co-screenwriter Michael Genet are getting at. She Hate Me is
a political polemic! Throughout the film, theyre offering a scathing
attack on corporate America, greed, racism, AIDS and corruption.
Lee may indeed have something interesting to say about these subjects,
but these ideas are engulfed in a squishy blob of absurdity and stilted
dialogue. Nothing he says can be taken seriously when presented in such
a ridiculous fashion.
If Lee has lost his grip, that is indeed a sad development. If he knows
exactly what hes doing here, then that is sadder still. (R) Rating:
1; Posted 9/17/04