Saturday, May 29, 2004

Reel To Reel:
The Day After Tomorrow

How It Rates: **
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Deadly Bad Weather, Mild Language

Preconceived Notions: Environmentalists (and Al Gore) are latching onto this disaster flick as some sort of a wake-up call.
The Bottom Line: It won't happen. It can't happen. And with director Roland Emmerich at the helm, that's a guarantee.

Disaster films live by a standard set of rules. So rather than take The Day After Tomorrow at face value, let's size it up by how it hits its marks.

1. One guy really understands what's going on, but nobody will listen to him. That guy is Jack Hall (Quaid), a paleoclimatologist who studies the weather, particularly disastrous weather, of the past. When temperatures in the seas shift suddenly and the storms roll in, only his climatology computer models have a chance of figuring out what's going on. Naturally, nobody in the government wants to listen, particularly the Vice President (who bears a nice resemblance to Dick Cheney by accident or design -- you make the call). The VP disses Hall's predictions of global climate change, and he just keeps on dissing. Fortunately, the President (passing resemblance for W.) gets a clue, but only because he got it in a direct briefing from Hall. But as usual, it's too late to do anything by this time but damage control.

2. Some strained relationship must be redeemed. That relationship is between Hall and his son (Gyllenhaal). When the film begins, Hall's marriage seems to be strained too. We're not really sure how strained, but we know Hall is an absentee parent. Dad and son part ways. But before the film is over, we know that the father and child reunion is only a blizzard away.

3. Rely on TV news to underscore the peril. 20th Century Fox flexes its synergistic muscle with scenes featuring live shots from Fox stations in L.A. and Washington. And for good measure, Fox News Channel makes a cameo. Obviously, nobody will be watching CNN when the world ends. Of course, we get the obligatory, hammed up stand-ups from reporters. None of these folks saw the now-famous tape of the KSNW crew who hid under a bridge when a twister tore through Kansas. I have yet to see a film (other than Broadcast News or Up Close And Personal) that gives TV crews something close to the common-sense street smarts of the people I have worked with for 10 years plus.

4. Somebody's gotta fall in love somewhere. That love interest, shallow and forgettable, is between Jake's son and a girl in his school's Academic Decathlon team (Rossum). Together, they're stranded in the New York Public Library amid the disaster after a competition (which we never know if they win or lose, by the way). But hey, at least they're stranded together. And there's a touching scene of them in front of the fire built to keep everybody warm. Why don't they just have sex already and get some serious body heat going? After all, if the world's really ending you might as well go out with a bang [insert rim shot sound effect here].

5. Logic is flexible. Rules can be bent. For Emmerich, we have to add and underline this one. He's the guy who gave us Independence Day, a movie rife with improbabilities right down to the notion that the world could be saved with a computer virus, assuming the killer aliens are running Windows.

Here, the one real annoyance is a serious injury to Rossum's character, which is conveniently ignored until the film needs more action. This leads to a sequence on board an huge empty Russian ship which amazingly steered its way up to the public library on its own, presumably breaking through whatever cars, buildings, debris, whatever is in the way. And that leads to more drama involving wild animals, which are conveniently inserted into the film for no other reason than boarding an empty ship and looking for supplies isn't perilous enough in a blizzard. And let's not forget, Jake warned his son to stay inside or freeze, and the son warned whoever else would listen (there's rule number one again). But both father and son go out again, without even anybody raising one question.

Great liberties are also taken with the science in this film, which we will discuss in a moment, and with the time-space continuum, which somehow is manipulated to get Dad to New York, by car and by foot, in a matter of days in the middle of this superstorm.

6. The effects are the real show. And baby, we've got 'em. Ice cracking. Killer hail. Twisters tearing through Hollywood. Floods ripping through Manhattan like the Red Sea falling on Pharaoh's chariots in The Ten Commandments. Characters chased by frost. Snow drifts three times higher than your roof. That's the part where you nudge Grandpa and say, "Is that what you walked through as a kid?"

7. Somewhere in this, there's a moral. It's preached to us at the end, albeit not in an overtly partisan manner worthy of a propaganda film, but it's there for us to deduce. Gotta stop driving those SUVs. Gotta stop burning those fossil fuels. Or one day, this all could happen.

The truth is, it won't. A paleoclimatologist who saw this film with us for KOLD-TV's Reel Life Movie Reviews told us that without hesitation. If you need more proof, check out The Weather Underground's excellent analysis by meteorologist Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters.

Al Gore and the environmental left are embracing this film because nothing else seems to be working to further their agenda. We love our SUV's. And try convincing somebody who went through record cold in New England this past winter that the planet is getting warmer. The left needs this film to get people talking about living cleaner and greener, which it will surely do. It will provide plenty of ammunition, despite its fictitious science, for critics of the Bush Administration's environmental policies.

But it will not make a dent in our laws any more than Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine, which failed to toughen gun control policy. Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me will not run McDonald's out of business, even though it has discontinued Super Size Meals (which was a move to simply the menu, not caving in). Movies are meant to entertain us, not spur us to reform. This one widens our eyes with the storm of the millennium, but when the credits roll, it's just another disaster film.

More movie reviews on FrancisP@ge

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Reel To Reel:
Shrek 2

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: The Voices Of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Some Adult Jokes (which the kids will get anyway)

Preconceived Notions: It's said to be even better than the originial.
The Bottom Line: It is, with pitch-perfect casting.

Jeff Katzenburg, one of Shrek 2's four producers, is a Disney expatriate. And I'm sure he was giddy about sticking it to his old bosses in this sequel to the fractured fairy tale which lampoons Hollywood and Grimm in equal doses. Shrek 2 is the kind of movie people take the kids to see while secretly desiring to see it themselves.

Picking up where the animated original left off, Shrek (Myers) and Princess Fiona (Diaz) are sliding into their obligatory happliy-ever-after. But then they are called to attend a newlywed ball thrown by Fiona's parents, king (Cleese) and queen (Andrews) of Far Far Away (actually, Hollywood and Beverly Hills). Donkey (Murphy) is back for the journey, having run into relationship issues with his fire-breathing girlfriend.

The royals thought their princess married Prince Charming, and that's where the storybook ending slams shut. The first meeting with the newlyweds falls apart. We learn the king has also made backroom nuptials through a Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous) whose nephew happens to be Charming, and there's no welching on the deal. The king hires Puss 'n Boots (Banderas) to off Fiona's ugly groom.

Shrek 2's casting is on the spot, especially so with Banderas, who gets to ham up his machismo. Myers and Murphy continue to deliver what they had in the first film. Walters and Cleese -- now there's a royal couple. But much of the fun derives from the film's non-stop Hollywood allusions (including From Here To Eternity, Ghostbusters, E.T., Hawaii Five-O, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Mission: Impossible, The Wizard Of Oz, and many more). And pay close attention to the signs in Far Far Away as Shrek and Fiona's carriage rolls in. In fact, just pay close attention period, because many more jokes lurk in the CGI backgrounds.

Some of the attempts at adult humor feel forced, as if somebody decided the film didn't have enough flatuence gags. But the rest of it brims with energy, and yes, there is a happy ending. This is still a fairy tale, after all.

More movie reviews on FrancisP@ge

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Your Gay Marriage Doesn't Threaten My Straight One

First, a disclaimer: I'm single. I'm straight. But my parents are married. That's close enough for me to say to conservatives, "Get a grip."

I have yet to see any evidence, beyond the biblical, that same-sex marriages devalue marriage in general or devalue families. This is the rallying cry made again and again by family and religious organizations.

If you think about it, we don't even need gay marriages to degrade straight ones. We've done that already. We've done it through a 50 percent divorce rate. We've done it through "triple-a:" adultery, abuse, abandonment. We've gotten into committments we weren't ready for, and we refused to let somebody talk us out of them because nobody else is allowed to be judgmental when we're in love. I find it amazing the right wing forgets all of this now.

Instead of denying gay couples a legal right to marry when they are given that right, it's time to improve the marriages we already have, gay or straight. Think about this: you take a test to get a drivers license. You take the bar exam to practice law. You take tests to practice medicine and dispense prescriptions. But aside from a few medical examinations, nobody tests you on your relationship skills before you get a marriage license. It's like getting tags for your dog. No wonder we see so many marriages break up.

I'm interested to see what the divorce rate will be among gay couples, once we've had a few years to study gay marriages. Something tells me it will be lower, mainly because those who are committing to relationships now have been committed unofficially for a long time already. And then maybe the rest of us can get a few clues.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Reel To Reel:

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom
Rated: R
Red Flags: Ye Olde Graphic War Violence, Brief Sexuality

Preconceived Notions: With a massive, bloated budget, pride cometh before the fall of Troy.
The Bottom Line: It's no Greek tragedy, but it's not a triumph either.

Somewhere in the making of Troy, some Warner Brothers executive had to have looked at the $175 million budget and said, "We're spending how much on this picture? A war over a woman?" And that's the question people still ask when they hear the story of the Trojan War, the triumph of testosterone above everything else.

It all starts when things are looking good. A war-weary Greece has called a truce with Troy. It looks like everybody's going to put down their swords and shields for awhile. That's until Prince Paris of Troy (Bloom) runs off with King Menaleus' wife, Helen. Not a good diplomatic move. Menelaus wants his woman back, and he wants revenge. With the help of his brother, King Agamemnon of the Mycenaeans, he enlists the help of armies across Greece. Agamemnon enlists the help of legendary warrior Achillies (Pitt), a wildcard who fights for nobody but himself and hates Menelaus. Hector (Bana) is the best the Trojans have, and down the line we know these two are gonna tango.

Troy is not history any more than its source material, Homer's Illiad is. It's still an epic, though, in size, in budget, in visuals. This is the kind of film Hollywood used to make before CGI, and people were blown away by it. This is also the kind of film that lends itself nicely to riffing in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000, with corny elevated dialogue, especially Achilles screaming "Hector!" outside the walls of Troy. Part of me wanted to shout back, "Oh Hector!" like the crowd did to Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon.

Troy's major accomplishment, besides blood-and-guts warfare, is showing how the two toughest kids on the block will go to the wall and kill everybody in the name of honor and their own inflated egos. And yet these same men have some respect for civilized warfare, as a sequence late in the movie shows. They also have a desire to settle things man-to-man instead of army-to-army. But we know all's fair in love and war. For an epic, this sounds all too human.

The film runs long at more than two-and-a-half hours. But it doesn't feel long. Some cuts could have been made, but I'm not sure you would have a better picture for them. Troy wants to be an action movie and a love story at the same time. But it seems like we're only getting half of both.

More movie reviews on FrancisP@ge

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Reel To Reel:
Van Helsing

How It Rates: **
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Horror Violence

Preconceived Notions: Just what we need, another Underworld.
The Bottom Line: Lucent, loud, long, lame.

Van Helsing draws from classic source material. But alas, the filmmakers translated it onto screen as a celluloid haunted house, with shallow story and character development. The plot merely functions as a device to transport us from one CGI action scene to the next, where five will get you ten some window will be broken and somebody is going to be screaming. Pella employees will quake in their seats.

All you really need to know is that the movie centers around famous monster-hunter Van Helsing (Jackman), who's sent to Transylvania to kill Count Dracula. Maybe we should say Helsing... Van Helsing, because you can see a number of rip-offs from the James Bond series. There's a sexy sidekick, Anna Valerious (Beckinsale), who apparently moonlights as a dominatrix when she's not battling evil. And there's a "Q," too, a weapons-guru monk -- excuse me, friar -- who's along for the ride with his incendiary toys. Even Dracula reminds me of the Bond villians, always talking, talking, talking about world domination instead of just dominating. And I challenge you to spot the scene which reminded me of the movie poster of For Your Eyes Only.

Van Helsing suffers from many of the same flaws as last year's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Too much action, not enough coherence. We are presented with a host of characters we don't care enough about, except maybe Frankenstein, because he's such a loveable old monster. Just as we're starting to see some semblence of depth, another effects scene hits us over the head and we're back to page one. Even the characters seem lost in their own movie. They are talking, but I wonder if their lines are coming from a script or from their hearts. And there's a host of peasants with sickles and hammers who have nothing better to do than to hate strangers and serve as lunch for growing vampires (or nookie for the friar, but I digress).

This film could've been a lot better, a la Hellboy. But somebody down the line decided effects were the way to go. Van Helsing comes with a $160 million price tag, and you can see the money on the screen... if some flying vampire doesn't pick it up and crash through a window with it.

More movie reviews on FrancisP@ge

Friday, May 7, 2004

Reel To Reel:
Kill Bill Volume 2

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Darryl Hannah
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Violence, Language

Preconceived Notions: Saw Volume 1. Can this be any geekier?
The Bottom Line: No, not really. But there's enough to satisfy those film festish freaks.

Volume 2 of Kill Bill shows what Quentin Tarentino is capable of when he keeps his inner geek restrained. Where Volume 1 was mostly style and sampling, this one's deeper.

Yes, there is a climactic showdown between The Bride (Thurman) and Bill (Carradine). But that showdown unfolds in a manner we have not been groomed for. More satisfying for the blood-and-guts crowd will be the Bride's showdown with Hannah's one-eyed character.

We get more of the backstory we could've used in Volume 1 regarding Bride and Bill. They had a history. They had issues. They had a serious monster of a martial-arts trainer. And they still have some latent affections.

But let's get back to the sampling everybody liked from the first picture. Again, Tarentino drops references to blaxploitation, spaghetti westerns, chop-house and even 70's soul. Yet there's less imitation and more innovation.

Kill Bill would have stunk as a heavily-cut single feature. But I imagine we will eventually get a whopping four-hour version on DVD, along the same lines as The Godfather Saga or Sergio Leone's uncut version of Once Upon A Time In America. Yes, they do make novels for the screen, and this is one of them.

More movie reviews on FrancisP@ge

Signs Of Life...

I admit we've been MIA over the past month or so. Some of that is related to my recent trip to Williamsburg, along with editing work on The Video Diaries: Patriots' Paradise, the DVD chronicle of a very patriotic, uplifting journey. More on that to be chronicled soon. (Email me at cfrancis21 (at) if you want a copy! :-) ).

So don't fret. We'll be playing catch-up over the next few weeks. I hope. I believe.