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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:


Lost Souls

Last Week: Lost Souls:

Lost interest; pretty rapidly too. I'm guessing that my reaction will be pretty common, because this movie self-destructed in a lot of ways. As much as I despise creating lists, about the only way to adequately describe how this movie went wrong is just to list it out. Here are some of the major problems:

* Winona Ryder: Don't get me wrong here, I've always sort of liked Winona. But could we possibly get Rosie O'Donnell to take her out to Bunch-a-lunch or something? Thank whatever grand forces may be that she didn't get naked in this movie. Her lover would have taken one look and asked, "Where is the white meat?" In this movie she plays the role of a pious Catholic who endured an exorcism as a child after her parents died in a murder suicide. I guess maybe they went crazy living with that smart-ass ghost.

* Ben Chaplin: He wandered through this film looking like he needed a laxative. Maybe it was just the pained expression of a young actor realizing he is doing some serious damage to his career. It is hard to blame him, because he is probably right.

* John Hurt: Okay, he is another fine actor, as far as I can tell. He must be, because he is probably pulling down about 8 figures per film, but when have we ever seen him really act? Yes, I loved him in The Elephant Man, but anyone can act miserable and pathetic buried under 50 pounds of latex. In almost every other movie Hurt has appeared in, he spends most of the movie comatose. Where do I get a gig like that? All he has to do is appear to be asleep for 20 minutes during a film, then act like he is in pain when something pops out of him. Nothing popped out of him in this movie, but we did spend about 20 minutes watching him act comatose, yet again.

*Cinematography: I've always believed that a reviewer has reached the height of pathetic hiney smooching when he/she starts complimenting a film's cinematography. If any reviewer in America starts handing out plaudits to this one, I vote that we, the movie going public, march on his/her house and torch it. The producers of this film shelled out some pretty long green to assemble an impressive cast, then apparently pried loose about $5.19 to get the prints developed at K-Mart. I know: some film student is going to email me claiming that the cheap-ass, yellow tinted appearance of this film was done to create atmosphere. Or maybe it is just the result of the print sitting on the shelf for two years because they were worried that this bomb was going to detonate and take a lot of careers down with it. Another legitimate concern, by my thinking.

*Fly Tying: The loyal Kexkateers are probably wondering what fly tying has to do with this movie, so I will oblige by telling you: If you go see this movie, and I recommend otherwise, you are going to be subjected to a scene in which we get to watch Chaplin tying a fly for about 3 minutes to the accompanyment of a bad Neil Young song. In a movie that was billed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, that just doesn't qualify as intense plot advancement. Hell, I don't even want to see that on one of those cable fishing shows.

What is really disappointing about this movie is that the previews make it look both scary and intense. It is neither. The closest this film came to generating a moment of real tension was when Winona Ryder was nearly attacked by rogue sewer water: Like that doesn't happen to almost everyone in New York City daily. In fact, almost everything that happens in this movie occurs off screen, and rather than witnessing any of the key events, we have to rely on a minor character to relay it to us second hand in the dialogue. That causes the entire film to bog down into a rather laborious blabfest, and listening to a doorman describe the suicide of Chaplin's neighbor just doesn't qualify as high drama.

* The production staff: Maybe if these guys had submitted to demonic possession, they could have put together a movie worth watching.

I have a confession to make though. I missed about the first 5 minutes of this movie waiting at the concession line. Century Theaters struck once again by treating me to a demonstration of the work skills of the slowest, most unmotivated concessions staff in the history of the universe. I only had to shell out 18 bucks to witness that exhibition, which was about twice what I had to cough up to see the movie. Its been weeks since I last reminded Century that their concessions operation is pathetically slow and overpriced, and its one of those things I don't want to neglect reminding them about with reasonable frequency.

However, my movie going experience this weekend wasn't entirely a waste, which is precisely why the review is getting up a few hours later than usual. After the movie, we popped into the mall and picked up the first two videos of the anime Pet Shop Of Horrors series. Kex is fast becoming a real fan of anime, a world I hadn't explored much until a few weeks ago, the Pet Shop series is seriously cool. You'll all be able to learn more about it by following the new anime link I'll be posting here soon, if it is not already up by the time you see this review. Save your cash to rent or buy that instead. Or, send your 20 bucks to Winona Ryder so she can buy a pizza or something...the poor lady is going to blow away.

Previously Shrek: (see review for rating)

thIs waS a LovEly, unPretenTious liTtle HilaRiOUs animated Game style movie that Has everyone Talking. it seems to HavE audiENces all over The world ravIng about its humoRous and tEnDer quAlities. for MaNy too sEe it is apparently to love it, anD MOVIE goers have flocked to it in droves.

Last Week: The Tuxedo:

One morning last September (2001) the cast and crew of The Tuxedo was preparing to gather and ascend to the top of the World Trade Center in New York City to film a scene for the movie. Unfortunately, or so it seemed at the moment, the scripts and notes for the scene in question did not arrive in time from the California studio, and the filming had to be postponed until the next day.

As fate would have it, the World Trade Center was not there the next day. The lives of almost everyone associated with the movie, including Jackie Chan, were saved as the result of an annoying delay. Fate does work in mysterious ways, or at least it sometimes appears to.

But after watching this movie, I was left to wonder if the truth in the story didn't lay the other way around. Maybe the script did make it to the WTC, but it was the cast and crew that were late and did not meet it. That would at least explain why this movie had no intelligent plot whatsoever. Its not like Jackie Chan films are ever pearls to challenge the intellect, but a better storyline could have been written on the short bus.

Maybe we shouldn't expect a lot out of a movie named after a formal suit of clothes; tuxedo. The short popular name for tuxedo is tux which rhymes with sucks. Maybe that isn't a coincidence either. Not only was the plot of this movie pretty dumb, but worse still, it was a comedy that just wasn't funny.

Jackie Chan stars in this film portraying Jimmy Tong, a daring taxi driver, who attracts the attention of some secret arm of the U.S. Government Justice Department. His driving skills lead them to recruit him to be the driver for one of their top agents, a billionaire James Bond style operative played by Jason Isaacs.

A group of bad guys manage to plant a homing device on the back of Tong's car, which permits it to be chased by a bomb ferrying skateboard. Tong and the agent escape before the car is blown to pieces (apparently along with the script for the remainder of the movie) but the agent is seriously injured. He spends the rest of the movie in a coma, permitting him a measure of good fortune the rest of the cast and all of the audience surely envy.

The agent owns a tuxedo that permits him all sorts of remarkable capabilities. Before slipping into a coma (and to Isaacs good luck, out of the film) he consigns the tux to Jimmy. Consequently, Jimmy, who was something of a well meaning klutz before, now becomes a potent operative searching for the bad guys who injured his boss. Unfortunately, its never clear whether or not the evil doers he ends up chasing were really associated with the would be assassins. Then again, nothing in this movie is all that clear.

Jimmy is joined in his quest by a smart but whiny government agent played by Jennifer Love Hewitt. They find themselves in the midst of a plot to foil the efforts of and evil corporate head with a bizzare plot to make a vast fortune. He is plotting to release some sort of bacteria into the nation's water supply which will cause people to dehydrate when they drink water. Since he sells bottled water, he figures to make a fortune since his product will be the only remaining safe supply. It seems that this movie takes place in some alternate universe where the 6000 or so other companies that produce bottled water don't exist. Further, its not apparent how he is going to insure that his own product is safe, since he has to get it from somewhere.

We are also left to wonder why, after a few initial deaths, the nation's water supply couldn't be returned to a reasonably safe status by simple boiling before use. But that wasn't even the most confounding question that the pathetic plot of this movie inspired.

The bacteria is going to be spread by utilizing water bugs which will carry it to the country's resevoirs. However, Hewitt's character points out that the bugs are South American, and consequently will expire quickly from the colder climate. But even the writers of the film couldn't answer their own obstacle, and rather than attempt to answer the objection, the plot of the film marched on as if the plotpoint had never been raised in the first place.

At 58, Jackie Chan is becoming a little long in the tooth to portray a passable action character. He is really more of a special effect than a potent box-office draw these days. Its also getting a little stomache turning to watch him constantly wooing leading ladies half, or less, his age. Perhaps Chan needs to admit to himself and the world that nobody believes he can still take on a small army of men a couple of years his junior. I'm sure he could probably reinvent himself as a reasonably good comic actor in films of a somewhat different genre. But the first thing he needs to do is to make sure he never gets involved with the same group of writers responsible for The Tuxedo. And while we are at it, was the footage of an elk peeing at the movie's opening really necessary? What did it accomplish, aside from drawing a few snickers from the arrested adolescent males three rows down.

One quick footnote. I want some email from all the Nebraska Cornhusker fans out there...NOW! Late last November, after the C.U. Buffaloes blasted them to the win the Big 12 North Championship, I made a lot of sport of the Huskers in my review of The Black Knight. (See archives) I got a lot of unhappy email from Big Red country, and I added a footnote instructing them to quit whining because they were likely to get their head handed to them with some frequency this season. What has happened since? Last week, as I write, Penn State blasted N.U., and that embarrassing defeat was followed up by and even more damaging pasteing by Iowa State this week. For the record, I think the last time Iowa State beat Nebraska in football, the Titanic was setting sail. Yup, once again, you read it here first folks. And for all you Cornhusker fans, bend over and take it like a man folks...the worst is yet to come.

Last Week: Luther:

This movie reminded me of the general education classes I had to endure back in college. It took nearly two years to get through. *rimshot* Okay, I know that there was a reason I had to experience those classes. They made me a more well rounded person, and my alma matter got to extort a most of two years worth of tuition out of all of us while sanding off those rough edges.

Still, I'm not absolutely sure that the benefits were all that personally valuable. Oh sure, to this day I could probably make a pretty good argument on either side of the debate as to whether or not Henry and the British forces should have indiscriminately slaughtered their prisoners at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. But take a wild guess as to how many times raising that subject ever got me laid at a party.

Somewhere along the line, I remember reading a book about Martin Luther in a Western Civilization class. It was not, to be sure, my first introduction to the great reformer. I just remember the book in question because it was drier than a summation of the Parlimentary notes under the reign of Charles I from 1629-1640. Oops. For those whose memory isn't so good these days, old Charlie got pissed off at Parliment after they had a pretty good spat in 1629, so he just didn't bother to call another Parliment for 11 years. Not that reading what went on would have been much more interesting if they had actually met once or twice.

Ralph Fiennes stars as Luther, the man who stood up to the Catholic church and objected to their abuses back in the 16th century. This movie gives us insights into the corruptions that dominated the church, and what motivated Luther to rise up against it. We gather that two factors were involved.

First, the church had become revoltingly greedy, selling salvation as a means of self support. On a journey to Rome as a young man, Luther experienced how the church promised the ability to save the soul of any dead relative from purgatory just by dropping some cash in a box and climbing some stairs and praying. Luther figured out that in reality, that would probably be about as beneficial to the process of salvation as tossing billions of tax dollars at Halliburton is furthering the process of creating democracy in Iraq. Some ideas are just stupid and worthless, and benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and downtrodden.

Second, if we are to believe the movie, Luther was a bit, uh, touched? Out there? Nuts? Something like that. This guy spent part of his time cowering in his chambers, where he heard voices and practised a form of violent self-abuse that stopped just short of ramming his head into the stone walls. Whether or not that is true is probably debatable, but genious is frequently accompanied by manifestations of serious depression.

Thus Luther began to preach against the church's excesses, much to the delight of the German peasantry. If you are a poor, dirty peasant, which doctrine is going to be more appealing to you? Salvation and a better existance in the hereafter by giving what little you have to the rich? Or love of God and good deeds? Doesn't take much of an imagination to figure out why Luther struck a chord among the great unwashed.

Naturally, the church wasn't all that happy about the populist movement Luther was leading. It was cutting into their profits, and without the opportunity to milk the peasants, their shiny new cathedrals weren't going to get built. Thus, they began to threaten Luther with meeting the Inquisition.

Back in those days, that was a pretty unpleasant prospect, to say the least. It wasn't like they would drag you up in front of Nother Superior, and permit her to slap your knuckles silly with one of those nasty wooden rulers. Well, they might have, but that was just the preliminaries. In those days, the Inquistion tortured you within an inch of your life until you confessed that you were the spawn of Satan if not the red devil himself. After they dragged that out of you, they proceeded to torture you the other inch, and another half or so just for fun, if you get my drift. And they were pretty good at it.

But Luther heard some higher calling, and continued to defy the teaching and abuses of the church. He even went so far as to nail a list of them on the door of the local church, which really riled the high cardinals in Rome. He did have his protectors. The local prince, played magnificently by Sir Peter Ustinov, was at least secretly amused by Luther's antics, and openly used him as a tool to defy the power of Rome.

Luther's teachings catch on among the populace, and the other German princes as well. Eventually Protestantism is born, and the Catholic church sees the error of at least some of its ways, and reforms itself somewhat. That sets the stage for about 4 centuries of often violent bickering within Christianity, instead of with everyone else. And of course, we all live happily ever after.

So, what is the press obsessed with these days? Hmmm, they've figured out that the guy in the White House, and a lot of his cronies are lying sacks of shit. Remember, you read it here first, folks. Meanwhile, they front runner in the race to become Govenor of California after they toss the duly elected guy out is one step shy of being a rapist, and a Nazi sympathizer to boot. You read that here first least the Nazi part. K.A.W. is a lot better than your Western Civ classes, isn't it? *snicker*

Just to toss out something else real know what I am really happy about these days? I'm happy about that show on Bravo, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Actually I haven't watched it. At least not more than the last 5 minutes or so, just before the reruns of West Wing. But I'm pretty happy that a show like that is on the air. I don't think it really contributes anything important to American culture, but it has to be giving the religious right the same kind of hissy Luther gave to Rome in his day. I'm happy about that.

Last Week: Ray:

If Jamie Fox doesn't earn a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ray Charles in the film Ray, the collective movie going public ought to grab the pitch forks and torches and hunt down every member of the Academy of Notion Picture Arts and Sciences, and force them to watch Its Pat for the rest of their collective lives.

I know. My early Oscar endorsements have been the kiss of death before, and I hope I'm not magnificently jinxing Jamie Fox this week. But hellfire folks, this performance isn't just the best of 2004. Its among the best ever.

All told, Ray isn't, on its own, a particularly magnificent movie. In fact, its pretty mediocre. But Fox makes it come alive, to the extent that you leave the theater almost shocked that nearly three hours of your life have whizzed by. The performance is that good.

Okay, I hate to interrupt this gushing review, but I'm pissed off about something. Well, I'm pissed off about a few things, a lot of them centered on the upcoming election, but this one really chapped by butt.

As some of you may be aware, There is a hotly contested U.S. Senate race going on here in Colorado. The particpants are District Attorney Ken Salazar (D) and Pete Coors (R). When I got home tonight, there was a message on our voice mail from the Coors people. They were accusing Salazar of campaign scare tactics, stating that a Salazar ad accused Coors of wanting to give guns to convicted wife beaters and felons.

I happen to know for a fact that the Salazar campaign has never put out any such message. But then, Pete Coors, whose family has become enormously wealthy brewing Coors beer, is a lying S.O.B. anyway. If a disgusting, weasely liar were all he were, I'd probably be able to stomach his antics.

But lets face it. No attack plotted by Osama Bin Laden has come close to exacting a higher death toll than can be attributed to traffic fatalities and broken familes directly related to the product that made the Coors family famous. And Pete's product advertisement is clearly aimed at younger people...providing adequate motivation for those too young to consume his product. Not that he gives crap one that a lot of them do.

There have been 4 alcohol deaths on Colorado college campuses in the short time since the fall semester began. Thanks Pete. Yeah, I want a bastard like you in the U.S. Senate. By the way, if you want to sue me, come and get me. I'd love to see you put your hand on a bible and swear before God and Country that your advertisements aren't aimed at encouraging underage drinking.

Speaking of abuse of controlled substances, the film Ray was, naturally, a warts and all biography of the beloved performer. That includes his battle against a heroine addiction that very nearly got him sent to prison on two ocassions.

The film also details Charles' tortured childhood, dealing with encroaching blindness, and his guilt over the death of his younger brother in a drowning accident. I gained a lot of new respect for Ray Charles after seeing this film. He was, to be sure, not only one of the most magnificent musical talents this country has ever produced, but he overcame a lot to achieve that level of notoriety. Even in our somewhat more enlightened (?) society today, a blind black man is playing with a pretty bad hand. Ray Charles had to overcome childhood poverty, his skin color, and a significant physical handicap. That was a pretty impressive accomplishment.

Ray isn't a particularly good family film, due to its length, and the subject matter isn't appropriate for younger children. But its a movie well worth seeing if you were, like almost everyone, a Ray fan. Or, if you just want to see one of the most magnificent acting performances in the history of celluloid, you'll probably enjoy this one too.

Last Week: The Weatherman:

What a piece of crap. The only thing I learned from this movie was how insanely long and tedious 101 minutes of your life can be. If you can find any appreciation or entertainment value in watching an insufferable prick drift through an intensely dull mid-life crisis, I guess you might find something redeeming about this film.

David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) thinks his life totally sucks. Sure, he has a really cool job as a T.V. weatherman, and pulls down a couple of hundred thousand bucks a year. He is in the running for a big network job that will quadruple his salary, make him a national celebrity and permit him to live in New York City. Anyone out there think they might want to trade lives with this guy?

Well, not so fast. You see, David thinks he has problems. His father (Michael Caine) is dying of cancer. To make matters worse, dear old dad is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and David has always felt inadequate by comparison. Further, he is seperated and his wife (Hope Davis), wants a divorce so she can marry a guy he can't stand. And to ice the cake, both of his kids are screwed up. His 12 year-old daughter is overweight, dresses inappropriately and smokes like a chimney. His 15 year-old son is in a rehab program for pot smoking.

David is such a self-absorbed asshole that he thinks everyone else's problems stem from his personal angst. To make matters worse, people are always throwing things at him. David believes that people chuck food at him because they are jealous of his income and cushy job. My suspicion is that people toss things at thim because everyone in Chicago has figured out that he is the biggest shithead since Hitler gathered his sniveling collection of refuse and burned down Europe. People would throw shit at this guy if he was a fry jockey at McDonalds.

In spite of all the personal problems David seems to think he has, I'm guessing that about 90 percent of the population would trade places with him faster than John Goodman could clean out a Baskin Robbins on 2 cent cone day. So there just isn't any particular appeal in watching this entirely unlikeable character feel sorry for himself for almost two hours.

Worse still, I can't immediately recall a movie that seemed longer than this one. It trudges on endlessly with no end in sight, and even when it does finally come to a merciful conclusion (if any aspect of this experience can be regarded as merciful), the ending is astonishingly unsatisfying. Well, I suppose that any landing you walk away from is ultimately a good one, but by the time the movie ends, David hasn't really grown any. He is just wealthier.

If there had been any sense of justice associated with this film, the writers might have at least given us an ending we could be happy about. Maybe David could have ended up dying a painful death eating a tainted hot dog shortly after winning his dream network job. We could have all been happy about that.

Now, here is the punchline. This movie was originally scheduled for release last March, but its release was moved back to late October in order to give it a better shot at Oscar contention. This movie has about as much chance at taking home Oscar gold as Paris Hilton has of convincing anyone that she could actually earn a living on this planet if she hadn't been born rich and famous.

I saw one review of this movie that called it "strange and brave." Strange--there is no question. Brave--well, everyone associated with this production has to be credited with a certain degree of courage. A dog like this can bark careers right down the toilet, and its not like Nicolas Cage is exactly on a roll lately anyway.

There is one defining moment in this film, when David is reviewing weather conditions he will be broadcasting with the resident meteorologist. David objects to the uncertainties, only to be told, "Hey, its all just wind. It blows all over the place." It blows all over the place-- I can't think of a better line to sum up this film, or the experience of sitting through it.

Last Week: Freedom Writers:

This movie came pretty close to getting a smiley. Unfortunately, it couldn't overcome three problems. The first one more or less doomed it even before the credits rolled, which might be a bad form of prejudice. It was created by MTV films. That told me something important right away, purely on the basis of growing experience. I've played MTV films before.

The moment I saw that, I knew already I was in for some nasty, dumbed down hash. Sure enough, that is just about what we got. Everything was carefully spelled out in stark shades of black and white, contrasted against a real world that I, and everyone else (or just about), knows exists in myriad shades of gray.

The second problem was that the movie was just too damned long. A good 90 minutes would have been ample to tell this story, in the hands of competent screen writers. Curiously, the film had a running time pretty close to two hours and I got the unsettling feeling we were watching the Reader's Digest version. One minute in the film, we are watching seriously at risk high school students from the poor regions of L.A. with little prospect of graduating high school The next minute, all the sudden they are motivated. How did we actually get from point A to point B?

Finally, it was all just too easy and neat. In a way, I was kind of glad that there was no dramatic license exercised to show the martyrs who fell along the line, or the dropouts who couldn't buy into the system. Still, we know there had to have been at least a couple. As long as we had to sit through way too much story, at least somebody might have tried to toss in that shade of reality.

This is one of those films about the new, idealistic white school teacher who gets a job teaching underpriviliged kids and finds some unique method of communicating with them that ends up being successful. Hooray! I'm glad that kind of thing actually happens, and I wish it happened more often. My problem here is that MTV managed to make the hero teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) so saintly that I kept expecting a frigging halo to appear over her head any moment.

Meanwhile, all of the other teachers and administrators around her were ready to sprout horns and a pitchfork, so dedicated where they to the proposition that she was wasting her time trying to actually educate students. Surely, these other teachers had some measure of dedication too. Oh, yes. This is an MTV movie. There can only be one hero...and everyone else is just around to make his/her life as hellish and difficult as possible.

Then, of course there is the fact that as a teacher, Erin had to have more than one class. We never did get to see how her other students were faring. Maybe they got the short end of the stick while she devoted her energies to one group of kids. We'll never know, because this film never made any effort to tell us.

Understand, this wasn't a bad movie by any means. There were moments in it that were genuinely moving. However, we've seen it all before, and seen it often enough not to buy in with any enthusiasm. If there had been a new story here to tell, we might have been willing enough, but when you just hash the same old story over again with a different title, you can't expect an enthusiastic endorsement from this quarter. Surprise! It isn't forthcoming.

So, we end up teaching a group of underprivileged minority students that they can fight their way out of oppression by learning about the holocaust and writing. Gee, do you think there might not have been a few of these students who couldn't put pencil to paper and even create an intelligible sentence? Probably. The lessons they learned from the holocaust are relevant and valuable enough. Hell, I wish somebody would lock the Republicans in a room and give them the same lesson. But even they would have a tough time really getting the message. Most of them have degrees and they still haven't gottent the message.

I'm going to leave you tonight with an interesting quote from our old pal H.L. Menken I ran across the other day. He wrote this about 8 decades ago: As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heartís desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. Then one day, a new century dawned and the future arrived in America. Good night, and good luck.

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