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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I got stuck in Newark on my way to Spain. But, lucky for you all, I found a table in the food court near an outlet, and ended up using the time to post reviews of several movies that I have seen in the last few weeks – mostly free on airplanes, thank God. None of them have been worth the price of admission….but, lest I crush all suspense…


Let the bad color of money not be seen by one-hit wonder young directors.
It unhinges them,

Never let M. Night enter a studio lot again, or at least for a while.
He needs to wait.

Heed this critic’s warning bell. Or else beasty annoyance is coming.

The one film I did pay for in the last few weeks, The Village, was not only NOT worth the $6 matinee price, but should have come with a personally signed apology from M. Night “Did I actually claim to be a young Hitchcock?” Shmalayan.

Good grief, how LAME is this movie!!???!! About ten minutes into the piece, I started murmuring to myself, “Well, that was lame.” The overwhelming lameness was so extraordinarily lame, that I thought for a second that I had missed the story’s inciting incident, in between reflexive winces, but then after going back over it, I realized that there was no inciting incident. Or, actually, the inciting incident comes in where the mid-point of the movie usually falls, proving that there is actually only an hour of movie here, with the first hour being self-indulgent set-ups. But, (using the lamely stilted language in The Village), “Behold, how I do go to and fro, not making for much sense.” So, let me start again. [ahem…]


I felt such a strong sense of sympathy for the panoply of stars who had to recite the inane dialogue in this project. This shows how truly bad the film is because I never really harbor a lot of sympathy for movie stars. The film is so bad, that young Night passed on his usual self-indulgent cameo. (Or at least, I didn’t see him.) He probably couldn’t stomach subjecting himself to the same torture he was inflicting on William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and the red-headed daughter of Ron Howard, whose name escapes me.

Just like Signs, Shmalayan’s Village is a place where there are simply too many story problems for the audience to get into the illusion. (These were the things in Signs like, “How is it that creatures that have solved the space time continuum, can’t handle doorknobs?”, or, “Hey, don’t they have dew in those cornfields in the morning?” or, “Why would someone who has trapped an alien in his pantry, rather spend fifteen minutes musing over personal foibles instead of flailing and screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!? I HAVE A LIFE-SUCKING ALIEN NEAR MY CANNED CORN!”, or, “These aliens wanting to settle on earth, is like humans wanting to settle a planet that is 70% hyrdo-chloric acid.”….etc. etc.) A few problems with the Village people include:

- Tell me the U.S. government would just happen to not notice that a whole town has just sprung up in the middle of a Nat’l Park. Somehow, those quaint little campfires have a habit of acting like smoke signals.
- Why would red-headed people, like Ron Howard’s daughter, not be burned in ritualistic offering? Or at least made to dye their hair?
- Why isn’t the Bill Hurt character able to marry the Sigourney Weaver one?
- Phew! Good thing the mental patient found the suit just in time to go and scare the one person who he likes in the whole village.
- So, who the hell was skinning the flocks?
- Where is the metal coming from to make knives and stuff?
And the biggies…
- So, this is the first sin that anybody has committed in twenty years?
- How could you end the movie now? It just got started?!!!!!! @#$!!

This film could have been another take on the whole “what happens to people in utopias” genre. Instead, it left all of the deep questions unanswered in its quest for a clever twist.

There are many more things I could say about the lameness of the story, plot, dialogue and characterizations, but I will forego them to make a comment on the disappointing Mr. Shmalayan.

When I first came to Hollywood, Fr. Ellwood “Bud” Kieser gave me a piece of advice about “the one thing necessary to not losing your soul in this town.” He said, “Never believe your own hype.” Shmalayan has been feasting like a fool on his hype, and now, three movies later (Unbroken, Signs, The Village) he has revealed to any discerning eye, that there just isn’t any there there in his filmmaking. He is not a genius. He is just maniacally arrogant, and the end of the insanity is on his horizon.

The story errors that have been submarining his films are the kinds of problems that would normally be resolved in the collaborative process between the writer, director and producer. But when those three roles are played by one person, there is no one to ask questions, and, if need be, veto the idiocy. The only time this kind of scheme works is when there is a genius calling the shots – like a Hitchcock…but even he worked with writers to flesh out his story ideas.

The main reason Night’s projects are failing as suspense stories, comes down to a little piece of brilliance that Hitchcock understood, but which Shmalayan may never get the chance to figure out. Aliens and completely impossible scenarios are not ultimately terrifying to people. It’s the little stuff – a stranger on a train, a bird on a wire, an unhappy marriage next door, a momma’s boy in a lonely motel, a piece of rope – that make people scared. Because all of these are part of every day life. Hitchcock had the ability to change the way we see the little things – to make us see a threat in them.

The Village deserves to stay hidden. Passeth.


Another disappointment this Spring was the big-budget, horse race project Hidalgo. This picture was supposed to finalize Viggo Mortensen (I hope I’m getting his name right. I have a mental block about names from the FOTR movies. Not only didn’t I ever learn what the character’s names were, but, like an infection, I can’t seem to remember the names of the stars who played them…) as a major star, but, instead, it’s failure means his career may never in fact get out of Middle Hollywood Earth.

As he grubbied himself up so memorably in LOTR, Viggo has unwashed hair for most of this movie. Again like LOTR, he mumbles and spits out every line of dialogue in Hidalgo. Many of them are so garbled as to be unintelligible. (I mention these two things because I know so many of you loved them so much in LOTR, and I wanted you to know there is more where that came from if you want it…) We never feel any sympathy for Viggo’s character, principally because tortured, mumbling angry people aren’t that fun to watch at the movies. This a problem, because he is the lead here.

All the stuff that Hollywood does so well – effects, costumes, sets – were done very well in Hidalgo. And there certainly was enough story. It basically comes down to the fact that Viggo is no young Harrison Ford.

One problem, both directorially and in the writing, that certainly harmed the piece was the failure to establish the horse’s character. The movie is, after all, named after the horse, but we don’t get enough of the horse early on to make us feel a bond with him. The writer actually has some people tell each other (things they both know, just so the audience can hear it too) stuff about Hidalgo in an effort to gain affection for the animal. But that kind of thing never does the trick. We needed one good scene to make us embrace the horse. A hundred lines like, “Hey, isn’t that the toughest, roughest, loyalist horse in the whole West?” aren’t going to make the audience believe it.

Whoa. Pass there boy.


I really like Jennifer Garner and think she will be one of the biggest stars of the next few decades. One of the critics christened her “a young, pretty Julia Roberts,” which sent Julia into married and pregnant retirement.

This new film was a vehicle to put Garner in front of the global audience as a movie star. Romantic comedies are cheap to make and generally make back their money (unless they star Kate Hudson, it seems), and so it isn’t that big of a risk for a studio to try out the actress flavor of the year through them. I just wish Garner had waited for a better script with which to start her lead actress career. It shows more ambition than good judgment that she threw her hat in with this project.

If you count out the stereo-typical characters, trite situations and flat dialogue, there really isn't much left to watch in 13 Going on 30. This is basically a female rehash of Big, minus the bits of cleverness that made that film a hit. But still, Garner has “it”, so the film is not agonizingly bad. It’s just bad.

And can I say how much I hate the idea that Thriller now qualifies as an oldie but goodie? I went to high school to that album. And I’m not that old…am I?

There were two genuinely good laughs in the piece I should mention to be fair. Both of them came from the situation, and both of them made it in to the promotional trailer. Which means you’ve seen them. But, hey, I still laughed at 13 year old on the inside Garner trying to pick up a thirteen year old boy in a restaurant.

Pass, for normal people. Probably pass, male Garner fans (lots of nauseatingly girlie stuff here). Female Garner fans, it won’t make you sick and there are a couple of smiles here.


Most high school genre movies fill me with a sense of relief that I went to a Catholic girls high school, but none so much as the much hyped Mean Girls from one of the writers of SNL. Maybe it was the nuns or the crucifixes on the walls, but we really didn’t torture one another to the harsh extremes that get played out once again in this new film. Teens torturing each other and then learning that torture is not nice seems to be the most we can ask of kids today. Not exactly the stuff that breeds heroes, is it?

Everyone is raving about the writing in this piece, basically because it has some good lines, but there isn’t much more story here than in She’s All That or Princess Diary. (Actually, my favorite teen high school movie - was a little film called Valley Girl from director Martha Coolidge. It was the debut of Nicholas Cage, and had some surprisingly smart stuff in it….oh, and I like Clueless too.)

I don’t particularly like movies where friends lie about each other and plot vengeance, so I found myself squirming more than laughing in Mean Girls. I have heard talk show hosts proclaiming that this film could be a strong warning shot to adolescent girls not to indulge in brutal cliquing…but, frankly, if your kid is so far gone that this movie seeme like a radical new moral platform to them, then you probably need a trip to the local exorcist more than the Cineplex.

Am I getting old?

Pass, dude.