Reviewed by Uri Lessing
When my son turned one, my wife and I began trusting our only child
to a babysitter. We had a date plan: dinner, a movie, and perhaps dessert
afterwards. Our first film was Spielbergs AI, and we watched
Haley Joel Osment tortured for centuries. We decided to skip dessert and
dashed straight home to make sure our little one was all right.
My son is four now, and we have found ourselves skipping a lot of dessert.
The list of children in peril films is long and some of the
worst offenders have been films like Panic Room, Minority Report,
Man on Fire, Mystic River, Suspect Zero, Cellular,
and Exorcist: The Beginning. Some of these films are good and others
are lousy, but they all play upon the fear of a child getting kidnapped,
hurt, killed or ripped apart by jackals in an extreme case. Now we have
a film where a small boy is blown up, kidnapped and forgotten.
The Forgotten is a dreary film about a mother (Julianne Moore)
not only grieving the loss of her son, but having to put up with everyone
forgetting he existed as well. Is she insane and did she make up her son?
Is this some kind of government cover-up? Why is she being pursued by
National Security Agents? Whose baby is Scully carrying? (Oops
that last one)
When we finally encounter the supernatural culprits, the film becomes
unbearable. Not since Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has there
been such a stupid omnipotent force. Youll ask yourself, Dont
these powerful beings have better things to do with their time than yank
Julianne Moores chain?
The only positive thing to come out of The Forgotten is a really
cool special effect. Julianne Moore will be talking to someone and suddenly
they will be ripped up into the sky and disappear. Its a great little
shocker designed to jolt the audience into consciousness. They use it
four or five times, but perhaps they should have tried to work it into
every scene to ease the audiences mind-crushing boredom.
The Forgotten, unlike other conspiracy movies, is humorless. Its
also completely void of any fear, excitement or emotion of any kind. There
is a ton of speculation, dead and forgotten kids, a minute amount of detective
work and a heap of whining. Do you remember all those X-Files episodes
where halfway through you realized that they were following a mythos storyline
that you cared nothing about? The Forgotten is worse. (PG-13) Rating:
1; Posted 9/27/04
The Golden Age
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Between the late 1930s and the late 1960s, the Great White Way enjoyed
a period of unprecedented financial and artistic success. Broadway overflowed
with popular musicals as well as extraordinary dramas and comedies.
That era is the subject of a new documentary called Broadway: The Golden
Age, By the Legends Who Were There. Director Rick McKay (Illusions)
managed to score interviews with a virtual Whos Who of the American
theatre, the surviving performers, writers and composers who helped make
Broadway what it was.
McKay talks with actors Carol Burnett, Julie Harris, Uta Hagen, Ben Gazarra
and Hume Cronyn, singer/dancers Carol Channing, Robert Goulet, Shirley
McLaine, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, composers Stephen Sondheim and
Jerry Herman, lyricists (Betty Comden and Adolph Green as well as producers,
historians and even cartoonist Al Hirshfeld.
These artists reminisce about their theatrical experiences, the off-stage
atmosphere, the people who influenced them and differences between whats
happening now and what came before.
As the talking heads describe the time, anyone could walk down Broadway
and see a drama by Eugene ONeil or Tennessee Williams, a musical
by Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hammerstein or a comedy by Kauffman and
Hart. Only in retrospect can this theatrical wealth be fully appreciated.
But McKay doesnt settle on interviews alone. He intersperses the
talking heads with rare film footage, stills and newsreels, which help
bring the period to life.
Among the most interesting revelations is the universal awe in which actors
hold a single performer, Laurette Taylor. This actress, star of the Broadway
production of The Glass Menagerie, is virtually unknown today outside
of theatrical circles but is considered the greatest and most influential
actress of her time. McKay managed to obtain a screen test, Taylors
only sound film appearance and includes it in the film.
Besides Taylor, Kim Stanley and Marlon Brando stand out as having a profound
impact on their peers. The film includes scenes from Stanleys performance
in Bus Stop and Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Another highlight involves the truth behind the legend of the understudy.
McLaine and her co-stars describe how she became an overnight sensation
in Pajama Game when the star, Carol Haney, injured her knee. A similar
situation occurred when Gretchen Wyler filled in for the lead in the Cole
Porter musical, Silk Stockings.
For theatre buffs, Broadway: The Golden Age is a must see. For
everyone else, its an informative and entertaining look at one
brief, shining moment, the likes of which we may never see again.
(Unrated) Rating: 4; Posted 9/24/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
If this movie seems awfully familiar, youre not having a case
of déjà vu. Just a few months ago, another film was released
with almost exactly the same premise.
It aint easy being the daughter of the president of the United States.
When youre a teenager, youre yearning for a normal
life that includes dating, parties and going off to college. Cutting the
apron strings is hard for anyone, but its especially difficult when
those strings are reinforced by the Secret Service.
Back in January, Mandy Moore starred in Chasing Liberty, the tale
of a first daughter who fell in love with a normal guy who
was surreptitiously protecting her as a member of the Secret Service.
This time around, the role goes to Katie Holmes (TVs Dawsons
Katie plays Samantha Mackinzie, daughter of President John Mackinzie (Batmans
Michael Keaton) and wife Melanie (Margaret Colin from Unfaithful).
Shes chosen to attend school at Redmond College in California...as
far from Pennsylvania Avenue as she can get.
Naturally, this poor little rich girl cant fit in, thanks to her
assembly of bodyguards and the ubiquitous press who hound her in the middle
of a heated presidential campaign. Even her headstrong dorm roommate Mia
(R&B singer Amerie) has trouble adapting to all the attention.
Sams dormitory resident advisor, James Lamson (Marc Blucas from
TVs Buffy the Vampire Slayer), helps to rescue her from her
gilded cage. He sneaks her out, shows her a good time, and a romance begins
to blossom. But things cant be that simple and James ultimately
reveals his true motives.
Although the script is by-the-numbers director Forest Whitaker (Hope
Floats) demonstrates an able grasp of this kind of romantic comedy.
The presence of Keaton, sorely absent from the big screen in recent years,
is also a welcome factor.
But mostly, First Daughter rests on the shoulders of Holmes and
she is more than up to the task. The young actress is truly an old soul,
and that inner maturity helps give the role a bit of gravity. As she has
ably demonstrated with her eclectic choice of big screen material (Pieces
of April, Go, The Singing Detective, Wonder Boys,
The Ice Storm) Holmes is more interested in good parts than in
This more commercial venture doesnt tax her acting chops but could
secure her box office bank-ability. (Her next project is the big budget
studio tent pole, Batman Begins.)
If nothing else, First Daughter could serve one noble purpose.
It could help us forget Chasing Liberty. (PG) Rating: 2.5; Posted
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
What weve come to expect from eccentric filmmaker John Waters is
quirky, over-the-top adventures in bad taste. What we dont expect
is to be bored.
A Dirty Shame, sad to say, is not just a wallow in sleaze. Its
also a one-joke movie that aims to shock but becomes mind-numbingly dull
after the first reel.
Waters, who has given us such classic schlock as Pink Flamingos
and Mondo Trasho as well as more mainstream offerings like Hairspray
and Cry Baby, returns to his vulgar roots in an all-out effort
to offend as well as to teach us a lesson in tolerance. Yes, there is
a method to his crassness.
Tracey Ullman (Small Time Crooks) stars as Sylvia Stickles, the
sexually repressed wife of Vaughn, played by Chris Isaak (TVs The
Chris Isaak Show.) Together, they run the Pinewood Park and Pay, a
convenience store in a working class Baltimore neighborhood.
Their daughter Caprice (Hellboys Selma Blair) is also known
as Ursula Udders, a stripper with enormous surgically enhanced breasts.
Shes under house arrest for public indecency.
On her way to work one day, Sylvia suffers a head injury and she becomes
a sex addict. In case you didnt get the message, Waters superimposes
the word W-H-O-R-E a la Jean Luc Godard.
A local tow truck driver named Ray-Ray (Jackass Johnny Knoxville)
comes to Sylvias aid, recognizing that she is his final disciple.
Ray-Ray, you see, is the messiah for a band of head-injury sex addicts.
Theyve been awaiting their final member so that they can achieve
the ultimate orgasm through a sex act that hasnt been invented yet.
The local neuters are aghast at the sexual insurgency that
has taken over their neighborhood. One by one, the neighbors are transformed
into sex addicts through head injuries. The next thing you know, the area
looks like a scene from Dawn of the Dead, with sexual zombies
running amok. Even the shrubbery becomes sex objects.
The film begins with an amusing shot reminiscent of the work of Douglas
Sirk as the camera pans the trees to land on the Stickles household. Waters
then begins his all out assault, hitting us with as many sexual colloquialisms
as he can muster. Its funny for a few minutes, but it quickly becomes
Waters regulars make their requite appearances, including Mink Stole as
a neuter, Rikki Lake as herself and Patty Hearst as the leader of a former
sex addict support group. The rest of the brave cast can best be described
Many sins can be forgiven in the name of humor. Monotony isnt one
of them. (NC-17) Rating: 1.5; Posted 9/24/04
in a Small Town
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Sometimes the back-story of a film is just as interesting as the film
itself. In the case of Springtime in a Small Town, a little knowledge
about its origins increases ones appreciation of it.
A new Mandarin language entry from Chinese filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang
(September), Springtime in a Small Town is a remake of a
1948 film by Fei Mu. Fei was dismissed as a rightist by the Communist
government and his work was lost until long after the Cultural
In recent years, Feis reputation has been restored and his films
re-released. Tians own story is similar. Because of blacklisting,
he hasnt made a picture since the highly acclaimed The Blue Kite,
which was filmed in 1991.
Reading between the lines, one can easily see this movie as Tians
homage to Fei as well as an extremely subtle commentary on the Chinese
mindset during the crucial years after World War II.
The deceptively simple tale, based on a short story by Li Tianji, takes
place in 1946 in a rural area of southern China less than a year after
the Japanese invaders withdrew. Dai Liyan (Wu Jun) is the only male survivor
of the Dai family, a formerly wealthy and important clan.
The Dai home is largely in ruins, greatly damaged by frequent bombing.
Dai and his wife Yuwen (Ju Jingfan), 15-year-old sister Xiu (Lu Sisi)
and a single elderly servant Lau Huang (Ye Xiaokeng) make do in the compounds
Emasculated, estranged from his unhappy wife and lacking direction, Dai
is suffering from a psychosomatic illness with symptoms similar to tuberculosis.
Dais old college friend Zhang Zichen (Zin Baiqing) drops in for
a surprise visit. A dashing gent who is now a doctor, Zhang begins to
shake things up in the Dai household.
As fate would have it, Yuwen was Zhangs first love and the passion
between them is rekindled by his visit. Although Dai wants to arrange
a marriage between Zhang and is young sister Xiu, Zhang and Yuwen only
have eyes for one another. The sexual tension between them threatens to
wreck the lives of everyone involved.
On the surface, the movie plays like a simple chamber drama with soapy
overtones. It can also be interpreted, however, as a sly analysis of the
feelings of uncertainty and helplessness felt by the Chinese people at
the end of the war and their fears about the future under Communist rule.
In any event, its a period piece that ably reflects the time, filtered
through modern sensibilities. (PG) Rating: 3.5; Posted 9/24/04
of the Dead
Reviewed by Deborah Young
More than one or two laughs could be heard at the screening of Shaun
of the Dead. The audience laughed throughout the movie.
The films biggest joke seemed to be that the characters were so
incredibly nonchalant and oblivious most of the time. Like in the scene
in which Shaun walks to the store. On his way, he encounters several zombies.
One lumbers toward him with outstretched arms, but Shaun mistakes the
zombie (who wants a bite of him) for a panhandler and simply waves him
away. In one scene, Shaun and Ed see a man and woman huddled together
outside a pub. The pair appears to be kissing. Shaun and Ed laugh it up
about what they think is a public display of affection. But as the two
men walk away, the camera shows he audience that the woman is in reality
eating the man.
Shaun of the Dead is being billed as a romantic comedy with zombies.
It is a romantic comedy of sorts centered on an underachiever (Shaun,
played by Simon Pegg) and his immature sidekick (Ed, played by Nick Frost).
Shauns girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has grown tired of the routine
she and Shaun have established. The two of them go to a pub called the
Winchester most of the time, always accompanied by the wisecracking, wind-breaking
Ed. The two buddies, Ed and Shaun, live in the perpetual squalor of overgrown
The actors handle their roles well enough, although they seem charged
with the same task: playing straight man to the zombies, acting as though
nothing out of the ordinary is happening until it becomes painfully clear
that zombies are ravaging their town.
In addition to spoofing the horror genre, the story also attempts to slide
beneath the surface of horror-flick emotion. Its clear that were
supposed to see that Shaun loves his mother and feel for him when his
mother is in danger. Were supposed to see that Ed and Shaun have
each others back in a pinch. But those darned zombies blind and
mute us at least a little, as do the gore and guts of bodies being ripped
and flesh being eaten.
But if you like zombie films and the Brits knack for nonchalance
taken to the extreme, youll be joining the laughter with the rest
of the audience. (R) Rating: 2; Posted 9/24/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
We want it both ways. We want to fantasize about participating in the
lives of the rich and beautiful while, at the same time, maintaining a
Bright Young Things gives it to us both ways. This lively, often funny
look at the lives of high society youths in Jazz Age England lets us have
our vicarious fun while commenting on their shallow and frivolous world.
The first directorial effort from renowned British actor Stephen Fry (Peters
Friends, Wilde), Bright Young Things is based upon a popular
1930 novel, Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.
Newcomer Stephen Campbell Moore stars as Adam Symes, a struggling novelist
who, upon returning from a trip abroad, has his manuscript confiscated
by British customs officials who deem it pornographic. Adam has spent
the £100 advance given to him by his publisher, Lord Monomark (Dan
Ackroyd), and is now destitute with no book to deliver.
Adam is keen to marry his beautiful girlfriend Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer
from Lovely and Amazing), who is one of the bright, young
things. Unable to do so without substantial cash, Adam makes desperate
attempts to obtain money but experiences numerous financial near misses.
A real chance comes his way upon the unfortunate suicide of Sir Simon
Balcairn, played by James McAvoy (TVs Children of Dune).
A poor aristocrat, Balcairn was secretly reporting on the naughty activities
of the upper crust in his Mr. Chatterbox column in Monomarks
With Balcairn out of the picture, Monomark forces Adam to become the new
Mr. Chatterbox. With Ninas aid, Adam begins making up
outlandish stories about societys wicked parties...only to find
that life imitates art.
Complications arise however, and Nina is forced to choose between Adam
and a wealthy but dull industrialist, Ginger Littlejohn, played by David
Frys film is populated with a lot of great British actors in bit
parts, among them Simon Callow, Sir John Mills, Julia McKenzie and Richard
E. Grant. Most memorable are Peter OTool as Ninas eccentric
father and Jim Broadbent as a drunken major who may or may not be the
key to Adams fortune.
Fry, who also wrote the screenplay, starts his film off in a frantic
and superficial way, echoing the lives of his characters. A deep, underlying
melancholy develops, however, as fate steps in to shake up the characters
Smart and amusing, Bright Young Things marks Frys debut as
a promising filmmaker. (R) Rating: 3.5; Posted 9/24/04