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Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken

The Rating System

Kex Liked It:
It Sucked:
It Really Sucked:
It Sucked as bad as Eyes Wide Shut:

It Sucked badly enough to bring the world to the brink of apocalypse:



This Week: Whipped:

Everyone even remotely associated with this tedious festival of offensive and inane blabber should be. It took all of 35 seconds for me to realize that I was in for a seriously bad afternoon at the old cinema. That was when the first character started talking to the audience. Quick: Name one good movie you have ever seen in which some Generation X dork on the screen had to explain things directly to you, the movie viewer, which didn't ultimately threaten to suck the universe out of existance.

A movie which centers around 4 really detestable mid-20's hormone poisoned males sitting around a cafe booth and bragging about their sexual exploits is not the kind of thing that is going to hold American movie audiences spell bound. Unless, I guess you happen to be a mid-20's hormone poisoned male who thinks this is some sort of documentary, which is exactly what first-time director Peter Cohen tried to make it look like. If this really represents an example of what we can expect from him in future films, let me be among the first to go on record hoping we will be seeing a lot less of his efforts down the road.

In this movie we meet Brad (Brian Van Holt) who is apparently some sort of Wall Street investment broker. His modus for meeting and "scamming" women is to claim to be the brother of his target's friend. He always uses the pick-up line, "I'm Jen's brother," claiming that every woman has a friend named Jen. I guess we are also supposed to believe that women are so generally shallow that they never know much about their friend's families, and that all women really do have a friend named Jen, who's brother they are invariably ready to hop in the sack with on first site. I'm not sure what Brad's job really was, but he didn't strike me as the type most Wall Street firm's would even hire to clean the toilets.

Next we meet Zeke (Zorie Barber), sort of a bohemian type who has no visible means of support that we can determine. At one point in the film Brad notes that Zeke is unemployed, so apparently this movie takes place in an alternate universe where you can get by indefinitely in New York City without actually having to earn a living. Zeke hangs out in coffee houses mostly, picking up women by being "mysterious and dangerous". Somehow I have real doubt that those qualities outweigh being "employed" in New York City, but then, I haven't really checked out the young singles scene there in many years.

We also meet Jonathon (Jonathon Abrahams), who is a bit effeminate and seems to spend most of his time striking out with women and whacking off with the aid of common household toiletries. Jonathon didn't seem to have a job either, ultimately leading me to the conclusion that 67% of young white males in New York City are unemployed. Finally I am beginning to understand where all of Rush Limbaugh's army of angry young white male listeners are being bred.

This trio meets every Sunday morning at a cafe to discuss their womanizing exploits. They are always joined by their pathetic married friend Eric, who lives vicariously through the stories of the other three. Apparently, Eric used to tag along with the group, and his job was to "throw himself on the grenade." You see, apparently all women run in packs in singles bars, and they always have one unattractive friend in the group. Eric's job was to hit on the unattractive one, so the others in the group could score. Eventually, as Eric notes, he married the grenade after "pulling her pin." By the time we got around to this explanation, I was wanting to "pull the pin" and toss a grenade into the projection booth.

One Sunday, the three scammers are unusually subdued. Each claims, during the previous week to have met a very special woman who just might turn out to be "the real thing." Understand that the plot of this movie really had to dig to get worse by this point, which was fairly early in the film, but it managed to degenerate by stealing the plot of a very worn out sit-com formula. It seems, as we soon discover, that all three have fallen for the same woman.

We follow the situation over the course of seven weeks, and it sure seemed at least that long, as the trio battle each other for the affections of this special woman, Mia (Amanda Peete). Naturally, each is convinced that he is the one she truly loves, and the others are just kidding themselves. Mia's manipulations of the group nearly wrecks their friendship, and leads to all sorts of pathetic manuvering which is apparently supposed to pass for humorous situations.

It turns out that Mia is herself scamming. She spotted this trio working a plot to pick up three women in Central Park, and devised the scheme to wreck their friendship and have a little fun. Apparently, it is something she does more or less as a hobby. The moral of the story? Women can be conniving, objectifying pigs just like men. Wow, there is a revelation 4 decades into the sexual revolution.

What we have here is the material for an already overdone 30 minute sitcom that is stretched into an 82 minute feature film mostly by sprinkling, or rather dumping in 52 minutes of constant use of the deadly "F" word, or a variation thereof. In a sense, that may have been the film's most realistic attribute. Having spent considerable time around Generation X, it constantly amazes me that the particular word in question seems to be the only expletive and/or adjective most of them have ever taken the time to become familiar with.

Originally, the liberal use of harsh language threatened to get this movie slammed with a box-office deadly NC-17 rating. Some degree of editing managed to get it scaled back the "R" which probably won't do all that much to save it. No amount of editing could turn this movie into anything more than an annoying waste of an hour and a half hour of my life, short of setting Godzilla loose and watching him chomp down all these detestable characters. That is pretty much what I was thinking about 30 minutes into the film, consequently if any of the characters said anything profound, I probably missed it. But even movie goers capable of paying closer attention probably would have too. One of the characters could have recited Lincoln's Gettysburgh address during the course of this movie and it would have been so lost amongst the truckloads of banality and vulgarites that it would have gone completely without note.

The good news is that I watched, or rather suffered through this movie with a grand total of 5 other people, who all walked out looking at least as miserable as I felt. Granted, I attended the first showing which tends to draw smaller audiences, but I'm guessing its not going to do well at the box office. Not that it will take much for this movie to end up in the black. It didn't strike me that all that much was spent on costumes or sets, and since you can teach a chimp to type f*u*c*k* and even tack on the odd "ing" 95% of the script was already written.

Previous Week: Bandits:

Some technical difficulties postponed the posting of this review this week. I apologize. My original intent was to review a recent art-house release last Thursday night, but I got home late and the plans changed. That sent me to plan B which was to review Rush Hour 2 the summer's most requested movie as suggested by emails from the Kexkateers.

I went to see it, but about 2 minutes into the film, there was a scene which showed an explosion in a big building, which turned out to be the American embassy. That is the kind of imagery I am going to the movies to avoid these days, so any possibility of paying enough attention to the movie to review it evaporated immediately.

The fact that Rush Hour 2 is still in the theaters demonstrates to me that the folks at New Line Cinema are a bunch of money grubbing weenies. The proper approach here probably would have been to have pulled this film for a few months, perhaps until after the first of the year. It would have shown a measure of sympathy for the sensabilities of the audience, and probably made financial sense. Renewed interest with rerelease might have pumped up the box office take later.

By the way, I've received more than enough emails requesting review of movies like Debbie Does_______ (fill in the city) or Bodacious Ta Tas. There is no way I am going to put my neck on the line sitting in a dark theater where the guy behind me might turn out to be Paul Reubens. And don't even think about sending me a request to review Zoolander.

The only critic in America that liked Zoolander was Joel Seigel. Can you say "Stiller family bitch?" Even Roger Ebert roundly panned that movie. Roundly is an appropriate word too. Have you guys seen Ebert lately? I really doubt that they let the man sit in the balconey anymore. If he gets any larger, they will have to divide him into time zones. I'm not sure if his hair is turning white or he is developing polar ice caps.

This week's film is Bandits. Now there is a problem which surfaces here that simply must be resolved. I think we just might need to start giving I.Q. tests to everyone who wants to buy a movie ticket before they are allowed to do so. Maybe we just need to give everyone an I.Q. test at age 10 to determine if they will be allowed to keep living. But I am sooooo tired of these damned movies where someone thinks they are pulling a wild, surprise ending on the audience.

Actually, I was less annoyed with the movie than I was the throng of the great unwashed I viewed it with. Boy were they unwashed. And this group of bottom feeders actually applauded bankrobbers at the end of the movie. APPLAUDED!

Look folks, bankrobbers are bad guys. They steal from hardworking people and little old ladies. Sometimes they walk in and threaten innocent people with guns. Sometimes they do it from the comfort of corporate boardrooms. Sometimes they get away with it thanks to clever or lucky escape plans. Sometimes they get away with it by having names like Neil Bush, and a father who is Vice President of the U.S. at the time. But in either event, they do not deserve applause. They deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison with their hands tied around their ankles and a sign that says "over one billion served" hanging off their butt.

Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) and Terri Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) are convicts in the Oregon State Pennitentary. Why there are there was not established. As close as I can figure, collective society put them away because Terri is an annoying hypochondriac and Joe is an obnoxious asshole. They escape by driving a cement truck out of prison, because apparently the corrections system in Oregon is clueless enough to let that happen.

They go on a bankrobbing spree, in which their modus operandi is to kidnap the bank manager the night before, stay at his/her home, then rob the bank before it opens the next morning.

Their efforts are complicated when they meet a frustrated housewife who is mentally unbalanced. Both fall in love with her anyway. She sees her ideal man in the combination of the two of them: sensitive and smart (Terri) and also strong, rugged and handsome (Joe) and who robs banks for a living. Pardon the clang in the ideallic chord here, but one of these things is not like the others.

If the ending of this movie surprises you, you probably aren't very observant, or think that stupid plot points are included in movies for no reason. Okay, sometimes that IS true. But the worst offense of Bandits is that it is easily an half hour too long. Maybe it was about 2 hours too long. Or maybe I just saw so damned many trailers for this movie over the last two months that I actually started to believe that Billy Bob Thornton really still has hair.

LAST WEEK: One Hour Photo:

This movie was absolutely, positively the most hair raising, frightening movie experience of my life. It scared the living crap out of me. Make no mistake about it, I shuddered in abject fear for 3 hours after I walked out of the theater. How anyone could sit through this movie without emerging from the theater white-haired terrified is beyond my comprehension, not that I noticed that anyone did.

The subject matter was enough to give you the willies all by itself. I'll admit right upfront that I can get pretty nervous just driving by one of those big box Wally Word type discount stores. But now along comes writer/director Mark Romenek presenting us with the notion that some of the folks that endure the terrors of actually having to work in one of those places may be easing the pity of their existance by living vicariously through we, the unwitting customers.

Just stop and think about that one for a moment, gentle readers. That wrinkly, salt and pepper haired nicotine bag that just rang up my sale may actually be passing some sort of secret mental judgement upon whether or not the blue boxer-briefs I just purchased will somehow enhance my almost unclothed appearance. I can barely continue to type, my hands are shaking so badly. And if I happen to go in a purchase a little bottle of Vaseline, for whatever perfectly legitimate purpose, I certainly don't want her speculating on any potential illicite purposes for her own perverted entertainment.

In One Hour Photo, Robin Williams stars as the manager of a One Hour Photo booth in one of those sterile caverans of bargain hunter Valhalla. I sort of think that the vast majority of people who work in places like Target or K-Mart are actually pretty solid and sane people with reasonably decent lives. But Williams character, Sy, isn't one of those. He is a pathetic, middle-aged specimen of wasted flesh who enriches his life by creating a fantasy existance within the photos he develops.

Sy develops a very specific fixation on one family, the Yorkins. The family consists of a young father, Will (Michael Vartan), who owns a business and seems successful, but is hiding a very shattering secret life. His wife Nina (Connie Nielsen) shows the world a happy exterior, but is falling apart internally over the growing estrangement with her husband. Either that or she is wildly depressed about her hair, which invariably looks like it was styled in a blender.

The Yorkins have a nine year-old son, Jakob (Dylan Smith), for whom Sy develops a special affection. Sy has watched young Jakob grow from babyhood. Consequently Sy imagines himself almost as an uncle to the boy. His obsession causes him to go out of his way to watch young Jakob's soccer practices, and even give him special gifts when the Yorkins make regular trips to the discount store to get film developed.

But Sy's eccentric behavior attracts the attention of the store manager, who mysteriously has little tolerance for Sy's apparent genuine concern for doing quality work, or actually caring about his customers. True, we know from early on that Sy actually cares a little too much, but it seems strange that Sy wouldn't be regarded as a treasure in a store like that. Compared to the indifferent attitudes I generally experience from the generation Y work force is such places, its puzzling how little they appear to value Sy and his committment to quality.

The store manager eventually dismisses Sy, which is one of two significant blows to his existance. At the same time, he discovers through photos he processes that Will Yorkin is conducting an affair. Sy's idealistic view of his fantasy adopted family is smashed, and he hatches a bizzare plot to strike back against the flawed world.

Robin Williams turns in a performance that simply can not be ignored early next year when Oscar nominations are announced. If my hands weren't shaking almost too badly to continue typing before, you can't even imagine the difficulty I am encountering now rereading the previous sentence. Yes, after the last Robin Williams movie I reviewed, some of my readers may well remember that I stated that I'd rather be tossed into the polar bear cage naked and soaked in seal fat than see another Williams movie. The last Williams movie I passed on reviewing I implied that the choice between reviewing a Williams movie and spending time in a Nazi concentration camp might not be an easy one. Now here I am, actually lobbying for Williams to get a Best Actor nomination. I'll bet they are having a blast snow sledding in hell right now.

I'll even toss in a nice plug for Romenek here, both for his writing and directing skills. The oppressive, sterile enviroment of the department store lends this film not only a touch of the uneasy realism I occassionally feel in such places, but definitely enhanced the tension filled tone of the movie. I'm not sure how Romenek went about achieving that, but I'm guessing that a little, or maybe a LOT of first hand experience inside of such places may have been involved. And I speak not here of his observations as a customer. Considering that Romenek's last professional credit was for Static back in 1985, its obvious that he's had to put food on the table somehow since then.

As usual, not too many movies have earned high praise this summer, and its pretty rare to find anything in early September that will win accolades from this quarter. September is generally the month where celluloid dogs are released and sent to die, even on the Indy circuit. But One Hour Photo is not only worth a look, it SHOULD have earned a major distribution contract and won a respectable release date in the late fall/Holiday time frame. This film is a pretty good example of how Hollywood has become so adept at passing over quality in favor of crap these days.

Last Week: Matchstick Men:

There is a certain obvious quality to casting Nicholas Cage in a movie about con men. Cage has been conning people into believing he can actually act for a couple of decades now. I guess sooner or later, maybe the public will figure it out. Then again, maybe not.

The biggest con related to this whole project is how Director/Producer Ridley Scott is going to bilk several million Americans out of 8 bucks a piece to watch this piece of trash, In my estimation, Scott owes the public a big refund for most of his projects, but this is quite possibly his most aggressive raid on our wallets.

Nicholas Cage portrays a neurotic con "artist" named Roy. We've covered this ground before, but any movie in which I'm supposed to sympathize with a criminal isn't going to draw accolades on this page. I'm not going to shower empathy on any character who rips off other unsuspecting people for a living. I don't care if some of them are naive or greedy. Its wrong, period.

We are supposed to feel some sort of connection with Cage in this movie because he has a guilty concious about what he does for a living. It haunts him in the form of annoying facial ticks and an obsessive cleaning and neatness compulsion. I don't care. I want to see him in prison cowering in the corner in terror as cockroaches fritter around the cell.

Roy's life is transformed when a daughter that he has never seen appears in his life. We learn that Roy was married at one time, but his wife tossed him out on his ass because he was an abusive boozer. Oh great. I like him even better now. By this point, Scott might as well have been making a feel good movie about Al Queda.

All of the sudden, Roy's laundry list of neuroses begin to fade, and he discovers that he likes being a father. He also very much loves his daughter (Allison Lohman), whom he discovers has a very natural affinity for the world of con games. He learns that quite early on, when she coaxes him into teaching her how to run a scam. When he obliges, I started hoping a piano would fall out of the window of a building, like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

As tempting as it all might be, I'm not going to further divulge the plot of this movie. To do so would utterly destroy the story, not that it isn't tempting to do so. To have an inkling about what is really going on will make this movie even more miserable to sit through. Actually I sort of figured things out early on, so the experience was plenty painful enough.

Suffice it to say that ultimately Roy has an opportunity to learn the error of his ways and end up going straight. That wasn't enough for me. If Scott wanted to sate my appetite to see Roy get his comeuppance, he'd have ended the movie with Roy in jail. I almost said, "sitting in jail," but that wouldn't express what I wanted. I'd have liked to see Roy getting a treatment typical of pretty boys in the big house, with old Roy permanently bent at the waist and a line around the block.

And if Ridley Scott really wanted to delight me, he could have portrayed Roy in situ right next to Neil Bush. But then we'd have known without a doubt how fictional this movie is. I always wonder what cellar they are keeping old Neil locked in these days. But its obvious the rest of the Bush family has learned well from following the example of young Neil's confidence games.

For all the critical praise Matchstick Men is getting, I can't see this movie enjoying much success in its theatrical run. It'll open well, then be done in by the very nature of the story. Meanwhile, Ridley Scott continues to glorify topics like stealing cars, stripping and running confidence games. If you see a movie coming out that he directs in the future, I'd suggest diverting your teens into a different theater.

Last Week: Friday Night Lights:

H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights is one of the finest books I've ever read. Maybe some day, someone will make a good movie out of it.

Actually, that is unlikely. It might lend itself to an interesting mini series, but nobody is making those much anymore. Once again, the dangers of reading a book prior to seeing a movie become all too apparent. In most cases, you are going to be at least somewhat disappointed.

The book is a complex study of obsession in a mid-sized Texas town. It explores the communities financial struggles due to a dying petroleum industry, deep seeded racism, and an over exhuberance for high school football.

The book takes us inside the lives of the players on the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas. It also lets us explore the community that worships its players, as long as they win. Its a lot of pressure to put on young men, and in the end, most of them don't handle it all that well.

Like boys all over the country who suit up to do battle on the football fields every Friday night, many Permian boys have dreams of future glory on college teams, and even the pros. Of course, the numbers game is stacked heavily against them. Somewhere on the order of 200,000 high school seniors play football every year. In any given year, only about 2500 of them will make it onto a college team. Of those, about 100 will find employment in the NFL.

In football crazed places like Texas, young men are chewed up and spit out by a system that coddles and spoils them until the end of their high school playing days. Then, the system fails them magnificently. Used to excess privilige and attention, they are typically under educated, and incapable of handling lifes challenges when their playing days are over. For far too many, crime, drugs and alcholism become the new ways of life.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as coach Gary Gaines, the man who has to lead the high school football team in the win-at-all-costs atmosphere around Permian. Right there we get an indication where this film made its first grave, wrong turn. If you are going to cast a man as a football coach, it helps enormously if he can at least convey some sense that he knows a goal post from a can of icy hot...or at least that its a bad thing to have icy hot rubbed into your jock strap.

I can't, right off hand think of a role for which Thornton is more poorly suited....hmmm, maybe casting him as some legendary American outdoorsy, say Davy Crockett....nah. Nobody would be that moronic.

Clearly, Thornton took on this role soley because it gave him yet another opportunity to wear something on his head that he ran over with his car last week. I've seen that man wear so many bad hair pieces in movies that you'd think Hair Club For Men would start using stills of his films in their ads with captions that read "Don't let this happen to you!"

I'll admit readily that the football scenes in this film were actually pretty well done, and the movie resisted temptation sufficently to stoop to some sort of tacky revisionist Hollywood history with the suitable feel good ending. Maybe there is still hope for Tinseltown after all.

There is also something to be said for a film that gives Texas collectively the worst PR beating they've had since Santa Anna came marching in. Or at least since Dubya ran his last company into the ground, traded Sammy Sosa to the Cubs, became govenor and bankrupted the state, then left to screw the rest of the country. Had I not read the book, I might have even kind of liked this movie.

But I did, so I didn't.

This Week: Magnificent Desolation (IMAX, 3D):

In a year which has seen an impressive march of outstanding, full length documentary features, short documentaries have not been short changed. Last spring saw the release of the exceptional Aliens of the Deep, while the fall brings us a breathtaking release of a Tom Hanks production, Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon.

If you ever wondered what it was like to be there; walking on the moon as Apollo astronauts did back in the late 60's and early 70's, this film will probably get you about as close the the experience as most of us will ever get. Through a combination of actual footage, still photography, realistic 3-D backgrounds and live reenactments, this very educational and entertaining film offers us a glimpse of what it is like to stand on the surface of the moon.

We instantly acknowledge the dangers a production like this can inspire. Certainly it provides new ammo for those misguided cranks who argue to this day that the entire Apollo program was a put up job created by the cooperation of NASA engineers and Hollywood special effects wizards. How people can exist day to day propogating that sort of ignorance is beyond my personal ability to comprehend.

Ignoring that the kinds of special effects to pull something like that off didn't exist within Hollywood technological capabilities back in the 60's, you'd think that the proponents of that nonsense would at least have to acknowledge that maintaining the conspiracy of silence among that many people for so long would have been more remarkable than the conspiracy taken at face value. Anyone who has seen the tacky sci-fi of that era can't possibly make a credible case.

Then again, there is probably very little value in even trying to shed a little light of truth into the dark corners of existance inhabited by people who salute the confederate flag draped with pride on the living room wall of their double-wide, while commuting to and from the weekly Klan meeting in a beat up pickup truck. Science may still dominate their lives, as it does for all of us, but they need not make the effort of acknowledging or understanding it.

The film poses and interesting question, and challenge: Will we walk on the moon again, and when. The current President has outlined a challenge to NASA to return to the moon in about a decade, without increasing NASA's budget. Undoubtedly, he'll soon be featured on one of those salute to great men of genius beer commercials.

A manned space exploration requires an exceptional national investment, both in terms of the great financial costs, as well as the will to persevere and continue the mission when adversity strikes, as it inevitably will. The road to the stars will be paved with enormous sums of money, and human lives.

The nations willing to shoulder that burden will reap the rewards of technological advance, access to the resources that lay in waiting, and unprecedented leaps in scientific knowledge. Those that turn away from the enterprise will pay the equally steep price of watching domination of world events slip away to those nations that make the effort. The lesson of history is clear. The world is dominated by those nations that lead the way into new frontiers.

This film is incomplete in its presentation, since any realistic discussion of the future exploration of space must acknowledge the role robots will and must play in paving the path. That aspect of space exploration, past and future, was entirely ignored. Admittedly, the film was a celebration of the triumphs of Apollo, and a marching call for a new generation to take up the challenge and send humans back to the moon. So perhaps Hanks et al are to be forgiven for that oversight.

It looks more and more like the next human voices that will be transfered from the surface of the moon back to earth will be Chinese. It would be both dangerous and nationally demoralizing to simply concede the future human exploitation and exploration of the moon to them. Perhaps this film will inspire a new generation to take up the challenge again, to take humans back to the moon. Maybe it should be an international effort.But on the road to the stars, the next reasonable step is to reestablish a permanent human presense on the moon. The nation or nations that lead the 21st century will be those willing to make that effort.

Last Week: The Pursuit of Happyness (sic):

In the advertisements for this movie, we are told that it is inspired by a true story. Yeah, right. Okay, in that spirit, I would like you all to know that this review is inspired by a true story. Here it is: About 10 months ago, Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face. He mistook the poor guy's face for a bird because it evidently sprouted wings and flew around for awhile. So in the tradition of that "true" story and the one that inspired this film, I'm going to trash it.

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a certified moron. At some point in his life, he spends every nickel he has (evidently he had quite a few at some point) and buys a bunch of medical devices that no doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area wants. Then he tries to sell them. Naturally he can't, so he gets in debt up to his eyeballs which predictably causes some severe strain on his marriage.

I might note here that he evidently never bothers to pay his taxes, and he ends up shocked and indignant when the IRS seizes his assests. Stupidity hangs over this guy like bad hair on Donald Trump. He can't afford to pay his rent or his parking tickets, and barely has enough money to feed his wife and kid. Actually, I think most of the food money was coming from his wife, who was pulling double shifts to bring in a little cash while this guy was wandering around San Francisco trying to peddle useless medical devices.

Apparently it never occured to him to put together a prospectus and go ask some doctors if they actually would be inclined to buy the thing before he invested a small fortune on them. Throughout the film we are asked to believe that Gardner was a pretty smart guy who just somehow never had the right string of luck to make it. The alternative explanation: He was an idiot.

As his financial situation clearly starts circling the drain, it doesn't occur to him to go out and get some sort of real paying job or two and peddle his devices in his spare time. Instead, he starts lobbying to get into the training program for a major brokerage firm. How much does that pay? Exactly nada, which is clearly exactly what this guy needs in his life...a non-paying job.

His wife ends up leaving him, but he insists on maintaining custody of the kid. There is a brilliant move. Instead of allowing the child to go with his mother, who might offer a modicum of security and stability, he insists on keeping the child himself. The deeper we go into this movie, and boy, did we plunge into the abyss, the more we hope somebody will come along and beat the crap out of this guy with the smart stick.

It isn't that Chris Gardner doesn't end up taking a whaloping. Life beats this guy down so hard we start to wonder if Mel Gibson directed this film. The only thing that is missing is actual physical violence, and Gardner isn't half naked most of the time. Other than that, this looks exactly like a recent Mel Gibson flick.

Well, one other thing is missing; an ounce of credibility. If you don't believe me, I offer you a challenge. Try jumping over the ticket gates in a Bay Area BART station and see if you can run more than ten steps before the security patrol treats you like YOU are in a Mel Gibson movie. I promise you no success in the matter, today, or 20 years ago. Try sleeping in a BART restroom some night and see if they let you do it. You'll be out on your ass in 15 minutes flat.

Okay, so this is the story of one homeless guy who managed to lift himself by the bootstraps and ultimately make it in life. Good for him. The problem is, I can hear all the "compassionate" conservatives out there right now thundering orgasmic joys as they create a new role model and get ready to eliminate what is left of the country's welfare programs.

The reality here is that Gardner ended up where he did, probably because of his own thick-headed refusal to actually demean himself to do some real work. Some of the country's poor get there the same way. Some just get the rug pulled out from under them in a hundred other ways. Most can't get out of the situation without a little help, and nobody can get out of it the way it was depicted in this film, which is complete bullshit.

The previews make this look like a heart-warming story well suited to the season. I found it a butt-numbing festival of ennui. They couldn't even spell the title right. Actually, there is a story behind that, but even THAT is just an excuse for blanket degradation. In one sense, this film DID make me pause for a moment to realize how fortunate I am. In another sense, I suffered the extreme misfortune of sitting through it. If you really want to pursue happiness in a movie theater this weekend, I suggest seeing whatever is playing next door.

Previously: The Dark Knight:

First of all, many thanks to those of you who have sent emails for the past few weeks expressing concerns over the lack of new reviews. As noted, all is well at Kex's Amazing World. I just took a brief and unannounced hiatus to clear my head a bit. This offering essentially kicks of the 10th year I've been doing these reviews, and I just needed a few weeks to reorganize my psyche a bit.All the movies were starting to look the same and, I suspect, a lot of the reviews were starting to look the same.

But we certainly couldn't miss the biggest movie of the summer to date, and this might turn out to be the biggest box office draw of the summer; possibly of the past few years anyway. The bet here is that it won't go all the way to #1 and may well end up short of the top 10 simply because of the lack of repeat business. Further, word of mouth will likely prevent a lot of parents from taking the kids to this movie, as well it should. Alas, that word didn't come soon enough for many of the parents that brought their young ones to the viewing I attended.

In my estimation, this is probably the most overhyped and overrated film that has come down the pipe in decades. I'll dispense with the qualities early, and there was only one. Yes, Heath Ledger was remarkable as The Joker. Maybe the unfortunate battles with his own demons was coming out too clearly up there on the screen, right before our eyes. But I have to hand it to him. It's an Oscar nomination worthy performance. The problem is, he wasn't on the screen nearly enough.

When Ledger wasn't on the screen, this film bogged down into long stretches of tedium. I criticized the last series of Batman movies for making the villians more likeable than the hero. That hasn't been the case in either of the newest two manifestations of the license. But they are more interesting.

Batman (Christian Baale) comes off a bit whiny. "Oh, poor pitiful me. I have enough money to buy most of the planet and I don't know what to do with it. I can't get laid. I guess I have to be Batman.*sigh*" Gee, Bruce Wayne, maybe you should take up stamp collecting. Just count yourself lucky that you live in a city where the police commisioner is a total wuss or they'd be running your ass into jail, top priority.

Oh, sure, Batman does usually catch the bad guy. But the collateral damage leads us to wonder why the city council doesn't just pay off the bad guy with a few million bucks and a promise to leave town. Ridding the streets of Gotham of a few street gang members and the odd drug dealer just doesn't seem worth the $100 million in property damage and half a dozen deaths that seem be left in Batman's wake every time he steps out of the Batcave.

This time around, Bruce wayne doesn't even live in stately Wayne manor. It is evidently under reinnovation (Batman must have kicked somebody's ass there too) so he has to live in a penthouse. He has appropriated an entire floor of the building to store his selected toys. Somebody is probably going to wonder about the entire gutted floor when he moves out.

New District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is bent on driving organized crime out of Gotham, and Bruce Wayne sees the aggressive new D.A. as an opportunity to give up the Batman gig. But when a new psychotic villian, the Joker shows up on the scene, Bruce has to give up on his hopes of retirement.

The film has a lot of action, but occasionally drifts off into dead end subplots. Batman struggles with the notion that in order to defeat a manifest evil, he may have to descend to their level. But hey, wasn't that the point of becoming a vigilante in the first place? Batman's effectiveness lies largely in his ability to operate a step or two outside the law; and in for the penny, in for the pound. If you are going to confront evil on its terms, you just might have to take the elevator to the bottom floor.

I can't caution parents strongly enough about the violence levels and dark qualities of this film. The fact that it didn't receive an "R" rating is a demonstration of the fact that the MPAA is a complete joke. It is completely inappropriate for preteens and I doubt that I'd be comfortable permitting anyone under 16 to see it. It is all pretty disturbing, but I would note that if you want to see one of the best, if most unsettling character portrayals you'll ever see, Heath Leger's performance is guaranteed to be memorable.

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