Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Rotten Scoundrel

A brief update while I try to thrash out, under a looming deadline, my piece on the Cleveland International Film Festival...

My Rotten Tomatoes profile is up and ready for the world at large to see. You can find one-stop shopping links to my writing on this blog, at, and The Film Journal.

Links for everything aren't there yet--that's something for me to add to my task list--so be patient.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Guess Who

GUESS WHO (Kevin Rodney Sullivan, 2005)

In 1967’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER Sidney Poitier’s white fiancé brought him home to meet her parents. The scenario gets a race reversal in the new comedy GUESS WHO. Theresa, played by Zoe Saldana, is eager to introduce her boyfriend Simon to mom and dad, but she’s neglected to mention that he’s white. Ashton Kutcher stars as Simon. Bernie Mac is Theresa’s father Percy. As if meeting his future in-laws under these conditions isn’t nerve wracking enough, Simon just quit his job but hasn’t told anyone.

While GUESS WHO gets some mileage out of its black and white issues, it’s more focused on being the interracial romantic comedy answer to MEET THE PARENTS. Bernie Mac is an intimidating but less extreme version of Robert De Niro’s overprotective dad while Kutcher is a blander Greg Focker. Just like Greg, Simon feels compelled to tell a preposterous lie and perpetuate it. Another scene riffs on the tension between future father and son-in-law while listening to the radio in the car. Mac’s standoffish screen personality lets him have a lot of fun tightening the screws on Simon; however, Kutcher feels too restrained, a quality that keeps GUESS WHO from breaking free of its conventions. Racial discomfort flavors scenes rather than dominating them. It also provides the funniest moments, as when Percy mistakes Simon for his daughter’s cabdriver and challenges him to tell offensive jokes about black people. Simon and Theresa’s relationship isn’t controversial, which highlights progress that society has made, but GUESS WHO would have been funnier if it mined the eggshell-walking the characters practice in trying not to offend.

Grade: C+

(Review first aired on the March 29, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Gunner Palace

GUNNER PALACE (Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, 2004)

The documentary GUNNER PALACE shows us the daily lives of soldiers fighting the war in Iraq after major combat has ended. The film follows the unit stationed at the newly renamed Gunner Palace, one of Uday Hussein’s extravagant party palaces.

GUNNER PALACE contains a lot of important footage of what U.S. troops face every day and how they endure their deployments. Needless to say, it’s a highly stressful situation where a bag cast aside in the street might be a bomb or a regular patrol might be the last thing they ever do. Much of GUNNER PALACE is spent documenting the routine work of soldiers and how they blow off steam. Although this embedded view is revealing, watching the unformed footage becomes tedious. Co-director Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s point may be to depict the monotony that exists in this dangerous work, but too often the film plays like a rough assemblage of random scenes. Whether one supported the war in Iraq or not, GUNNER PALACE’S most vital element is giving a voice to the men and women serving. Many are conflicted and believe their efforts are irrelevant, but they strive to succeed in their assigned duties nevertheless. I think those for and against the war hope they do too.

Grade: C

(Review first aired on the March 29, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Ice Princess

ICE PRINCESS (Tim Fywell, 2005)

In ICE PRINCESS Casey Carlyle needs a great idea for a physics project, one that demonstrates her knowledge and conveys her personality. Michelle Trachtenberg stars as Casey, a bright girl who loves skating but is more assured in the classroom than on the ice. For her scholarship project she incorporates her passion for physics and ice skating. The more time Casey spends at the rink, the more she wants to try being a competitive figure skater, much to the objections of Joan Cusack as her academic-minded mother.

The usual fare for tween girls—think the Hilary Duff and Amanda Bynes movies—center on a love story and humor predicated on the idea that nothing is funnier than the protagonist falling down. ICE PRINCESS isn’t the greatest achievement in the history of film, but it’s a nice change of pace from its cinematic sisters. Plus, it has a legitimate excuse to have a klutzy main character, although this film doesn’t dwell on that or the humdrum romance. Instead ICE PRINCESS deals with real issues for real teenagers. Casey is torn between pursuing a dream of going to Harvard and devoting time to skating. The mothers struggle with their visions of their daughters’ futures versus what their girls want. It’s formulaic stuff, but the film treats the conflicts seriously and possesses a sweet demeanor.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the March 29, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous


As FBI agent Gracie Hart, Sandra Bullock returns for a second round of glamour and crime fighting in MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS. Gracie’s fame and popularity make undercover fieldwork impossible, so she is made over into the public relations face of the agency. Instead of wiling away time on stakeouts, she’s chatting up Regis and giving self-defense and beauty tips. Gracie defies orders to stay out of investigative work when her best friend, the current Miss United States, and the pageant’s emcee are abducted.

MISS CONGENIALITY’S hook was forcing a slovenly tomboy to undergo a complete transformation. I didn’t think the film was funny, but Bullock excels at playing the regular gal and kept MISS CONGENIALITY afloat on the strength of her likeability. For the sequel Bullock’s as likeable as ever, but she can only do so much when working from a mundane script that relies heavily on repeating gags from its predecessor. Having Gracie confidently adopt the posture of a glamour girl in MISS CONGENIALITY 2 is untrue to her character and eliminates Gracie’s discomfort in her appearance, which was the source of the first film’s humor. The only time the sequel puts Gracie in that position is when she dresses as a man in drag, and it results in one of the film’s better scenes. Undue time is given to the convoluted kidnapping plot, stretching a thin idea to an interminable 115 minutes.

Grade: D+

(Review first aired on the March 29, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Monday, March 28, 2005

In Da Club

Good news, good news!

I have been accepted into the Online Film Critics Society. The most notable thing this will mean is that my reviews and features, strewn across three websites, will be linked on Rotten Tomatoes. In celebration I'll dig into my personal archives and, in upcoming weeks, post some NOW PLAYING reviews that have never seen the web.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Weekend review

Some thoughts on the holiday weekend...

I was not the most enthusiastic supporter of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, but curiosity and the Easter weekend got the better of me when it came to the THE PASSION RECUT. Rather, curiosity would have got the better of me if I could have seen it. The film wasn't playing anywhere in Columbus come Good Friday, which is a surprise considering that the area isn't exactly short on screens and that this was the one weekend where resurrecting the year-old film made sense.

For THE PASSION RECUT Mel Gibson trimmed six minutes of violence in order to make the film more palatable for those folks put off by the gore. (Doesn't this editorial decision undermine last year's arguments supporting the depiction of graphic violence as the key to understanding Christ's sacrifice?) I'm skeptical that removing six minutes would have softened THE PASSION sufficiently for those with gentler constitutions. The scourging sequence aside--which is where I understand the majority of the cuts were made--this is still a very violent film, but not having seen the recut version, I can't say if the edits made any difference.

Outlasting THE PASSION RECUT locally is ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR. I make mention of it because it's remarkable that this martial arts film is now playing for a fourth week here despite less than ideal conditions. ONG-BAK opened with little advance warning--no press screenings or local reviews the first week--and has not warranted much in the way of local promotion or advertising. It's playing on one screen at a 30-screen multiplex, which is not exactly the place where you'd expect to find a Thai import. I don't have access to the box office numbers, but apparently it has done well enough to merit a longer run than some aggressively promoted arthouse films. If ONG-BAK isn't performing up to snuff, why would the AMC brass keep it when they could cast it aside to play the latest blockbuster on four screens instead of three? ONG-BAK is a real hoot that demands to be seen with an audience reacting to the crazy stunts Tony Jaa performs, so I'm glad that this underdog film has found some success.

Strange musical synchronicity: "Black Betty", a folk song popularized by 70s rockers Ram Jam, popped up in two of this weekend's releases. MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS uses Spiderbait's cover of the song during a fight in a casino. GUESS WHO employs "Black Betty"--also Spiderbait's version?--when Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher race go-karts. Since GUESS WHO touches upon discomfort regarding interracial relationships, the song may be ill-placed in this film, especially considering the one-time controversy over it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Bride & Prejudice

BRIDE & PREJUDICE (Gurinder Chadha, 2004)

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM director Gurinder Chadha adapts Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by way of Bollywood in BRIDE & PREJUDICE. Set in India, the film follows the Bakshi daughters and their suitors. Mrs. Bakshi desires to arrange marriages to rich Westerners for her daughters, but the girls, particularly Lalita, are more interested in wedding for love rather than practicality. Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai plays the bookish, headstrong Lalita, who clashes with the wealthy American Will Darcy, played by Martin Henderson. Lalita and Will might fall in love if they weren’t so stubborn.

Chadha dresses BRIDE & PREJUDICE in bright colors and accentuates it with lively songs that foster a joyous, party-like atmosphere true to the film’s Bollywood side. In suggesting that Indian men who move to the West return to the homeland for subservient brides, Chadha honors Jane Austen’s writing, which frequently examined marriage as financial transactions rather than matters of the heart. The lighthearted surface and cultural subtext are integrated well, but the story is too busy and the characters too broadly drawn to make an impact. Rai, who has been dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world”, shows glimmers of what makes her an international sensation, but her charms are more evident in another Austen adaptation, the Bollywood film I HAVE FOUND IT (KANDUKONDAIN KANDUKONDAIN). Chadha doesn’t know how best to use Rai and compounds the problem by pairing her with Henderson, who comes off as the least charismatic romantic lead possible. There’s much to like about BRIDE & PREJUDICE—the cheerful spirit and the relevant update of the source material—but the end result looks and feels like a cut-rate version of the Bollywood and Hollywood sensibilities.

Grade: C

(Review first aired on the March 15, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Born Into Brothels

BORN INTO BROTHELS (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004)

In the Oscar-winning BORN INTO BROTHELS documentarians Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman venture into Calcutta’s red light district to help the children of prostitutes. Society turns a blind eye to these kids because of who their parents are. Without intervention it is very likely that they too will end up in the sex or drug trades. Briski gives the children cameras and teaches them photography. She sells the children’s photos to fund private educations that will lift them out of their dire circumstances.

Fictional films such as François Truffaut’s SMALL CHANGE or Charles Laughton’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER speak of the resiliency of children under the most trying conditions. BORN INTO BROTHELS depicts the real thing with power and sorrow. Many of these kids seem relatively happy and well adjusted despite living in extreme poverty, filth, and degradation. Their bravery is inspiring, but the future that awaits many of them is depressing. Briski’s valiant efforts to improve their lives meet bureaucratic and familial opposition that leaves the children doomed to repeat a cycle that has existed for generations. BORN INTO BROTHELS simmers with righteous anger, but it never boils over. Briski and Kauffman are cognizant of the odds against their hard work. Even if they can save just one child, they feel it is worth the time and the heartache. Seeing these children is all we need to understand the passion the filmmakers have for rescuing them.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the March 15, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Be Cool

BE COOL (F. Gary Gray, 2005)

Ten years after playing a shylock turned movie executive in GET SHORTY, John Travolta returns as Chili Palmer in BE COOL. Chili is tiring of the movie business and decides he wants to try his hand in the music industry. He finds a star in the making in Linda Moon, an R&B diva played by Christina Milian, but she already has an onerous multi-year contract that can’t be broken. Chili takes on her cause anyway, which invites rival music execs to send hit men after him.

The harder you try to be cool, the more you fail. BE COOL attempts to look effortless in seeming hip, but the wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes about sequels, Hollywood, and the music world come off as familiar and self-congratulatory. Many of the actors preen for the camera, sometimes in amusing ways, but the same jokes get flogged repeatedly. Vince Vaughn’s wannabe hip-hopper and The Rock’s gay bodyguard with dreams of acting stardom get some funny moments--The Rock’s performance of a “monologue” from BRING IT ON is one of the better bits--but how many times do they need to mention that The Rock does that thing with his eyebrow or have Vaughn spit out a string of phony sounding slang? F. Gary Gray’s film has too many characters and convoluted storylines to build to a satisfying conclusion. The lax pacing and inessential scenes give this the feel of a film that could have used another trip or two through the editing room. The satire of the music business isn’t exactly razor-tongued. Here’s a film that’s too inside to take some hard swings at its own. With appearances from Steven Tyler and Aerosmith, Outkast’s André 3000, and The Black Eyed Peas, BE COOL is more of an affectionate ribbing than a full-blast send-up of the industry.

Grade: D+

(Review first aired on the March 15, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

The Pacifier

THE PACIFIER (Adam Shankman, 2005)

As Navy S.E.A.L. Shane Wolfe, Vin Diesel is assigned to protect five children in THE PACIFIER. Shane couldn’t successfully guard their father, a scientist whose latest invention led to his murder, but he’s determined to keep the kids safe from the bad guys. As he quickly discovers, Shane’s biggest problem may be managing a household of kids ranging from teenager to infant than keeping evildoers at bay.

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger toyed with his tough guy image in KINDGERGARTEN COP and other comedies, Diesel has fun puncturing his movie persona in THE PACIFIER. If only this film weren’t so dopey. Director Adam Shankman, who last made the very popular and very appalling BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, hasn’t met a joke that can’t be distilled into the broadest form possible. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the fish out of water element that defines THE PACIFIER, but making Diesel’s character unfamiliar with minivans is a symptom of the screenplay’s preference for dumb, unbelievable jokes. Shankman’s last film played up dubious racial and ethnic stereotypes, and it’s disconcerting to see more of the same in THE PACIFIER. While there’s nothing highly offensive in the film, reducing characters to simplistic ethnic qualities shows lack of imagination at best. THE PACIFIER is funny as an idea but not so much in execution.

Grade: D+

(Review first aired on the March 15, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Fun with traffic monitoring and search engines

For some time I've been curious how many visitors this blog gets, but until yesterday I had never done anything about it. Now I've added a StatCounter to the blog's template, which allows me to see how many visitors I get on a daily basis and how they arrived here.

The results have surprised me. In other words, I'm getting more hits, not to mention bringing in more international visitors, than I expected.

Since a lot of sites have been the referring links, my suspicion is that several visitors arrived here via the Next Blog button in the banner across the top of sites using Blogger. Of greater interest to me are those visitors finding this blog by search engine. Google searches for "hush paltrow spoiler" (third search result) and "memorable quotes from load of the rings-return of the king" (sixth result) and a Yahoo search for "howard hughes hell's angel" (fifth result) have led people here. Typos apparently helped me a lot because correcting "load" with "lord" in that search doesn't put me in the top 100 results. The same is true when searching in Yahoo for the correct title of Hughes' film. Search engines are quirky things.

Of these three searches, only one--my review of HELL'S ANGELS--delivered what the person was probably looking for in the first place. The visitor wanting spoilers for HUSH instead was led to my entry "In Defense of Gwyneth". The LORD OF THE RINGS quote seeker found my 2004 Oscar winner predictions.

I won't bore you all, however many that is, with site data like this on a regular basis, but I thought it was interesting stuff. I suppose this also should add further motivation to update regularly. (I've been lax in posting last week's NOW PLAYING reviews, for instance.)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Back from Cleveland

Festival festivities kept me more than occupied on Friday and Saturday, thus no further updates after my arrival post. I'm back after setting a personal best: seeing ten feature films in two days. The best one I saw was the German pic THE EDUKATORS. The worst was either the Czech murder mystery BOLERO or PALINDROMES, the latest Todd Solondz film. The Czech film struck me as something that any Hollywood hack could or would do, except for the plentiful helpings of gratuitous nudity that is mostly out of fashion in mainstream American productions. Solondz's film is more obviously "artful"--a word I put in scare quotes because I hesitate to apply it to this unfunny provocation--but I think it's just as devoid of quality. I'll post in-depth reactions in the days to come, but for now sleep beckons.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Live from Cleveland

Blogging on the road from the Cleveland International Film Festival...

Tower City Center has a few computer terminals for free internet usage, so I may try to post periodic updates from the festival when I get the chance. I'm going to see the Thai horror film RAHTREE: FLOWER OF THE NIGHT in less than a half hour to begin my festival experience. More to come later in the day...

NCAA Tournament: Day One

Well, that turned out pretty well. 15-1 in my predictions today, which sits me atop the pool I'm in. If Creighton hadn't mismanaged its last possession, I might have been a flawless 16-0. The next two days I'll have to hope things shake out according to my bracket since I probably won't see much basketball today or Saturday. I'm heading to the Cleveland International Film Festival in the morning and won't be back and able to post again until early Sunday.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

March Madness

My 2005 NCAA Tournament picks

I couldn't figure out how to make a screencap, so I did the next best thing and took a photo of my monitor. You'll need to click on the picture to make it large enough to read. So far I'm off to a good start, correctly predicting wins by UW-Milwaukee, Kentucky, Pacific, and Oklahoma. (These teams are marked in green.) Please, please, please Syracuse, don't screw me over like you do every year. I've advanced you to the Final Four, a risky gambit considering my history of incorrectly picking the winner in games involving you Orangemen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Eberftest Twelve

The selections for the seventh annual Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival have been announced. The twelve films are:

-After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley, 1990)

Should have seen this one coming since the latest review in Ebert's Great Movies series is for this film.

-Baadasssss! (Mario Van Peebles, 2004)

No surprise here. Ebert championed this film last year, rightfully so, but it went relatively unseen despite pretty good reviews.

-Map of the Human Heart (Vincent Ward, 1993)

I think I've always confused this film with some other similarly titled film from the same time. There isn't a hot air ballon in this, is there?

-Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)

Considering he raved about this coming out of Sundance, this doesn't exactly come as a shock.

-Murderball (Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, 2005)

I've seen a screener of this in consideration for our Columbus festival. It's pretty terrific. The directors, the producer, and two of the biggest personalities in the film will be in attendance, which should make for an interesting dynamic.

-The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian, 1925)

The Lon Chaney film, with The Alloy Orchestra providing accompaniment. Good job predicting this one, Jarod.

-Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)

In 70mm. I was pretty enthusiastic when I saw this last July. Seeing this on the big Virginia Theatre screen makes this the essential event of the festival.

-Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)

I've heard uniformly great things about it. Glad I'll finally have the chance to check it out.

-The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin, 2003)

Awesome. One of my 2004 honorable mentions.

-The Secret of Roan Inish (John Sayles, 1994)

This year's free family matinee. I believe that this is only available in a panned-and-scanned version on DVD, so this screening should be a nice bonus.

-Taal (Subhash Ghai, 1999)

The Sunday musical that will wrap the festival. Ebert has talked about bringing in a Bollywood film. With BRIDE & PREJUDICE doing decent box office in limited release, the time may be right for this. There's no way Rog will be able to bring Aishwarya Rai with the film, is there? One can hope.

-Yesterday (Darrell Roodt, 2004)

One of this year's Best Foreign Film nominees at the Academy Awards.

My first impression is that this is a great bunch of films. I've seen four of the twelve, but I don't mind seeing any of these again. Regarding PLAYTIME, let me repeat: do not miss this if you will be attending the festival. Festival passes are sold out, but individual tickets go on sale April 1. See you there.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Festival Fever

I've been out of commission the last two weeks with some nasty bug--the one year I don't, and couldn't, get a flu shot...--and now I'm going to spend the next two months succumbing to festival fever. The most exciting news is that Columbus will have a film festival of its very own. The Deep Focus Film Festival kicks off the first weekend in May, and yours truly is thrilled to be on the programming committee. Details are scant right now, but work is underway for what should be one of the most exciting film events in town this year.

My festival binge will begin this weekend with two days at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Thanks to The Film Journal's Rick Curnutte I anticipate taking in nine or ten features as a representative of the online publication. Thanks also to Rick for hooking me up with a media pass for this year's Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival. I've attended the last four,so I was disappointed to learn that I'd dragged my feet too long in waiting to purchase a festival pass. (The last one sold an hour before I called.) I figured that there was no hurry since the films hadn't been announced. Lesson learned.

The Ebertfest films still haven't been announced--what's the hold up?--although the intrepid Jarod Musgrave has done some nifty sleuthing to turn up one of this year's titles: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with the Alloy Orchestra. (I'm guessing that this is the Lon Chaney version.)

So, things should be picking up from what has been a relatively quiet (and dismal) time in filmgoing.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Man of the House

MAN OF THE HOUSE (Stephen Herek, 2005)

Tommy Lee Jones plays a Texas Ranger assigned to protect five University of Texas cheerleaders in the comedy MAN OF THE HOUSE. The girls witnessed a murder, so to keep them out of harm’s way the crusty officer is required to pose as a cheerleading coach and move into their home.

The blog Query Letters I Love features funny but awful movie proposals that a studio executive receives, dismisses, and posts on the net for our amusement. The premise for MAN OF THE HOUSE may not be as bad as the pitch for the futuristic thriller about a guy suffering from seagull herpes, but it still sounds like a joke. To Jones’ credit, he pulls off his part. The film isn’t particularly funny or logical within its set-up--dumb cheerleader jokes and the lame crime elements can only go so far--but Jones plugs away as if he’s working with better material. Director Stephen Herek keeps the tone light and avoids mean-spiritedness. Herek hasn’t made a good movie, but MAN OF THE HOUSE is an amiable trifle that might be a guilty pleasure if it were better.

Grade: C-

(Review first aired on the March 1, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Inside Deep Throat

INSIDE DEEP THROAT (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, 2005)

The 1972 porn film DEEP THROAT and the cultural maelstrom it set in motion are revisited in the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT. Co-directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato talk to key players involved with the film and the controversy over it, including director Gerard Damiano, star Harry Reems, and those who fought the film in the legal system. Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, Camille Paglia, and Erica Jong are among the usual suspects who comment about sex, the media, and censorship. DEEP THROAT is said to be the most profitable film in movie history, an unverifiable claim at best, but it left an impact on the culture and the law.

Although the film’s First Amendment debate is overly familiar by now, the energy of INSIDE DEEP THROAT’S direction and editing adds the needed verve to the story behind the dirty movie. The documentary works best when exploring how DEEP THROAT came to be and what led it to become a financial success and cultural lightning rod. Because the argument tends to be one-sided, INSIDE DEEP THROAT is on less sure footing in propping up the porno as an artistic statement or valuable expression of modern sexuality. Damiano, DEEP THROAT’S director, concedes that his film isn’t any good, and the clips on view in the doc support his opinion. Not acknowledging DEEP THROAT as a political hot potato would have been unwise, but placing more emphasis on what it represents detracts from the intrigue of the participants’ stories. As an afterthought we learn that Harry Reems is now a Christian, a turn the filmmakers don’t explore. While flawed, INSIDE DEEP THROAT is a consistently entertaining look at a major battle in the culture wars still being fought today.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the March 1, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Because of Winn-Dixie

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (Wayne Wang, 2005)

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE follows ten-year-old Opal and the stray dog she names after the southern grocery store chain. Opal lives with her preacher father, played by Jeff Daniels. His job demands frequent moves, which means Opal is often friendless in their new homes. She finds a pal in Winn-Dixie. While her father and their landlord insist she can’t keep him, the dog does its best to bring people together, including introducing Opal to lonely folks around town.

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE isn’t explicitly about religion or God, but how Opal learns about the problems of others and helps them, and, in turn, solves her own issues, brings to mind the spiritual dilemmas and solutions on JOAN OF ARCADIA. In the form of various people God appears to the television show’s teenage protagonist and assigns her tasks to assist others. In leading Opal to those in need, Winn-Dixie serves the same function. The untidy answers and selfless actions in BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE stand out from the family films populated with bratty kids and clueless adults. The film has a warm spirit and finds nice performances in unexpected places. Jeff Daniels is genuine in his portrayal of a pastor still reeling from his wife’s leaving. Dave Matthews, in a rare acting appearance, does good understated work as a man with a shady past. Harland Williams pops in for a couple hilarious scenes as the town’s policeman. Director Wayne Wang wields a soft touch to ease the loneliness in BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, and because of that the film is worth a look.

Grade: B

(Review first aired on the March 1, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Son of the Mask

SON OF THE MASK (Lawrence Guterman, 2005)

Eleven years after Jim Carrey starred in THE MASK comes the connected-in-name-only follow-up SON OF THE MASK. Jamie Kennedy is featured as a wannabe cartoonist who impregnates his wife while wearing the mask of Loki, the Norse god of mischief. The inevitable baby is naturally endowed with the mask’s troublemaking powers.

As a live-action cartoon SON OF THE MASK boasts some well-rendered CGI, although rubberizing the baby looks creepy rather than funny. Nifty technical work aside, SON OF THE MASK is a colossal bore and a soulless exercise in computer effects. There’s no story to speak of, just a string of scenarios usually resulting in everything in sight getting smashed. While THE MASK showcased the ability of special effects to enhance Jim Carrey’s comic talents, SON OF THE MASK is just an excuse to display technical wizardry in ways we’ve already seen. In his one extended scene wearing the mask, Jamie Kennedy demonstrates that he’s not Jim Carrey’s equal in timing or physical comedy. Carrey’s elastic face was a perfect match for the exaggerated effects. Kennedy just musters looks varying between blank and confused. Even as a cash-in on THE MASK, and not a quick one, SON OF THE MASK can’t justify its existence.

Grade: D-

(Review first aired on the March 1, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Most Expensive CD Ever

This better be the best CD ever. (Mark Pfeiffer/March 1, 2005)

Every copy of the latest Kathleen Edwards album had this price sticker, a sell-through point which would dissuade even the most fervent fan. The picture is real. The price is not. (It rang up as $12.99, natch.)