Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Movie reviews:

JERSEY GIRL: Kevin Smith's films have been hit-or-miss for me. I thought CLERKS was a funny movie, a good first attempt, a sign of things to come. Then MALLRATS came and I thought he was a one-hit wonder. Then CHASING AMY, his best film came out, and restored my faith. The DOGMA came out and I thought that was a picture much too big for him, and he choked on putting so many stars in to give screen time. Then JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK was released, and it's a nice, silly film with some good laughs to be had, but how much had he grown as a filmmaker? It was with some worry that I was going into the first PG-13 Smith film, because what gave his earlier attempts some great moments was Smith's ability as a writer to say some outrageous and memorable R-rated things. However, within the confines of a PG-13 movie, Smith DOES offer some racy comments and racy moments, and it's a very funny movie. What Smith has done is take out the "fucks" in his script and has crafted his adult situations into a more family-friendly package, which may make it, in some ways, MORE outrageous than his R-rated films because while this is certainly a story of a single father and his daughter and it's filled with tender moments, it has a razor edge that balances it out. Ben Affleck, who I know has talent somewhere in there, turns in his best performance ever (yes, better than CHASING AMY) and so does Liv Tyler as his new love interest. Come to think of it, Jennifer Lopez, in her limited role as mother-to-be-then-die turns in her best performance since OUT OF SIGHT. If I had a complaint, it would be George Carlin's character. Although he is written with the caring and wisdom that a man of his age should own, he is constantly spouting out the same lines and becomes repetitive. Raquel Castro makes a great debut as Affleck's daughter, Jason Biggs is quite good in a different kind of role, always-welcome Stephen Root has a tiny but funny role, and there's a few cameo appearances. My favorite moment involves the viewing of the play "Sweeney Todd." One of the early best of the year candidates.

I have seen a few other movies from the past couple of weeks that I didn't get around to writing about.

AGENT CODY BANKS and AGENT CODY BANKS 2: Alright, I knew that I was going to have to watch ACB 2 one night, being a projection manager and having to screen prints for flaws, so I rented the original ACB, which I didn't see the 1st time around, and I have no idea how I squirmed my way out of that. Anyway, the first ACB is actually pretty good, plugging in "Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz as a teen spy (I refuse to adopt the term "tween" into my vocabulary, I find the term inordinately annoying and grating) who has to get close to teen hottie Hilary Duff in order to discover what her father is doing for this evil organization. What is semi-clever about it is that as a spy, his job directly conflicts with his personal demons (and the word "demon" is a little harsh for a PG spy-fantasy film) and therefore creates an interesting conflict. Angie Harmon, who I'm sure is approached for sex by Jason Sehorn on a daily basis, is stunningly gorgeous and plays a CIA handler with some depth. A couple of cool action scenes, albeit cliche. Later, I watch ACB 2. It's the exact opposite of clever. Anthony Anderson, that omnipresent black character actor, substitutes for Angie Harmon, which is like going to bed with Elisha Cuthbert and waking up with an attention-starved seal. Spy Banks must infiltrate a London school for talented kid musicians; the weakness this time is that he can't play an instrument, which really doesn't play into the story too often. There are a couple of scenes, almost THE SIXTH MAN or FLUBBER-like, where something fishy is obviously going on, but everyone takes it as normal and arouse no suspicion whatsoever. It's not very good, and it's boring and tiring, everything you would believe a movie called AGENT CODY BANKS 2 would offer.

THE BATTLE OF SHAKER HEIGHTS: Project Greenlight alum is exactly the disjointed film that HBO's great reality series portrayed. With a supposedly funny script by Erica Beeney and a duo of directors, Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle who won the directorial portion by showing how funny they were, you thought that this might be an answer to the previous years Greenlight winner, writer/director Pete Jones' STOLEN SUMMER, a film I have not seen but I'm sure the critical appraisal is correct. However, Efram and Kyle decide to direct the film, along with a cast of not-first-choices, as a drama with funny moments instead of a comedy with dramatic moments. From Greenlight, you know that the first obstacle is Miramax, who give the winners a million dollars to make a film. This severely undercuts who you can get to play in the film, how much time you have to work on scenes, down to the last detail. The next is Kyle and Ethan's woeful indecisions that further reduced their chances of making anything great. For a small example, in the role of the father, they had a chance at Gary Cole (Lumberg in OFFICE SPACE) or Christopher MacDonald (Shooter from HAPPY GILMORE) and because of their indecisions it led to the actors going to other projects. They settled on William Sadler (Heywood from SHAWSHANK) who is mostly known for intense dramatic roles (although he can turn in a lighthearted performance, just not in this film). Efram and Kyle make the film as a drama with funny moments the whole time, and Miramax has wanted a teen comedy all along. Somewhere there was miscommunication, or someone's ego got involved (probably Efram's, who was portrayed as such a prick on Greenlight), and when they cut the film together, Miramax was like, "Where's the comedy?" So they were forced to go back and cut the film emphasizing comedy, but you can't emphasize in post-production what you didn't really shoot in production. Thankfully, if there was one redeeming quality to this is the emergence of Shia LaBeouf (lead character in last year's sleeper hit HOLES) playing the film's driving force Kelly. This guy is a great actor, not even an adult yet (or so he claims, another Greenlight "hmmm" moment), and his performance is so whimsical it brings a lot to the picture. Ultimately, that picture fails because of the behind-the-camera problems. It's such an episodic film, like they directed the film one week, took a break for a month, lost all of their notes, and started shooting again later. As such, the film's important scenes are hard to appreciate in full context and it leaves the viewer into a passive watch. In other words, you're not involved or invested as you should be.


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