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Movie Reviews

by Jerry Salisbury

Click on a movie's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

About a Boy, Bandits, Big Trouble, Changing Lanes, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Death to Smoochy, Frailty, High Crimes, Insomnia, Life as a House,Minority Report, Murder By Numbers, No Man's Land, O, Panic Room, Scooby-Doo, Spider-Man, Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of The Clones , The Sum of All Fears, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Windtalkers

About a Boy

How do you make a movie that is at any point, biting, sharp witted, cynical, yet heartfelt, touching and worthy of emotional reflection? Easy, you combine the comic talents behind the crude, but relatable American Pie with the new crier for the romantic plight of the everyman and add in a role tailor made for the best actor at playing smarmy, yet charming. About A Boy is a conglomeration of all these and establishes author Nick Hornby as a new icon in the desperate plight of the single man, while giving Hugh Grant his best film role to date. Mixed with the emotional brutality and no shame honesty of the Weitzs, this film is one that will repulse women, yet help them to understand why men do the things we do. It won't justify them, but may aid in some way to bringing the sexes closer together. Call it a chick flick for guys.

Will Freeman has a life that most males would envy; yet he doesn't seem to be completely happy with it. He lives a life divided into 30-minute units (haircut, 2 units, bath, 3 units, etc) while searching for his next female conquest. He lives out of a trust fund comprised of royalties from his father, who wrote one famous song. One day, he discovers the joy of dating single mothers and sets out to make that his next mission. In the midst of this, he creates a son and meets Marcus, a 12-year old with a troubled mother. What results from the meeting comprises the rest of the movie. Will and Marcus bond and each helps the other discover something about themselves. The joy of the movie is in this journey that the Weitz's with their not so subtle, but definitely sensitive touch, take us on, using the insightful, honest observances of Hornby. The film becomes not as much about the actions, as the revelations and developments that the characters make. It doesn't always take the conventional path, but the heart and emotions definitely shine through and help those who've been through similar things to relate. Mostly men, who may have silently thought and felt the things that Will does, but been afraid to say them. In Grant and Will, we have found our new icon, the internally sensitive, externally insensitive, conflicted beacon for a new generation.

Never has a role been more tailor made for Grant than this one was. With his playful, disarming good looks and his smug attitude, this was a role he was born to play and he revels in it. Paired with newcomer Nicholas Hoult as Marcus, they make a perfect team. Each helps the other discover a side that they never knew existed, but always sought to find. Toni Collette, as Marcus's mother and Rachel Weisz, as a love interest, provide soul and character to their roles as well. They give their characters strength, yet vulnerability that embodies everything this movie is about.

Ultimately, About A Boy is a multidimensional emotional trek through what it's like to be a member of the male species. On the surface, it comes across like its main character, shallow, insensitive yet desperate. But the film plays on these feelings and explores them deeper by delving into the soul searching that men go through when their emotions begin to conflict or interfere with their lifestyle. It reflects both the crude masculine pleasures and the deeper conflicts that occur with in our soul. By balancing these things, the film creates a charm and appeal rarely seen in films these days. The delicate words and acerbic delivery give this movie an unexpectedly realistic insight that in the end helps the film work. Life can be filled with moments of happiness, sadness, ironic turns, humorous times and unexpected smiles. About A Boy is just one slice of this search and thanks to Grant, Hornby and The Weitz's; we get a chance to revel in their visions.


For all of its predictability and silliness, there is a truly charming and touching undertone to Bandits. Barry Levinson's modern-day adaptation of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has a likeable quality, due to it's the appeal of its characters, the performers playing them, and a few things that it wants or tries to do with the story. Unfortunately, it misses occasionally, resorting back to some typical, sometimes improbable or ridiculous traits at times, but these are overshadowed by the touching, occasionally ironic, details that Levinson gives to his characters, and his tale, and the ending, that while not wholly original or unique, effectively conveys the spirit of the film and its characters.

Like it could have been ripped from the headlines, Bandits storyline involves two bank robbers, affectionately known as the Sleepover Bandits (taken from their modus operandi of kidnapping a bank manager the night before, staying at their house, then robbing the bank before it opens the next morning, not original, but effective and entertaining because its not beaten into the ground) Joe (Bruce Willis) is obviously the more criminal and rugged of the two, as he does most of the dirty work and intimidating, while Terry (the versatile and amazing Billy Bob Thornton) is not only the brains and sensitive side of the duo, but is also hypochondriac and avid reader (of some rather useless information). Terry has a tendency to adopt symptoms, based only upon hearing about them, or reading about them. During one of their getaway, Terry encounters an unhappy housewife (Cate Blanchett) who, after hitting him with her car, decides that their life is much more interesting and fun than their own. What follows, of course, is the romantic angle of things, developed intelligently, but not overdone, as they progress towards their goal to escape to Mexico to open a bar. Along for the ride as well, is Willis's less than intelligent, impulsive cousin, who becomes inexplicably obsessed with a recurring hitchhiker. The story is actually told in retrospect, through the eyes of a crime show television host (gravelly voiced comedian Bobby Slayton) who is forced to do an interview with them, after they break into his house. The movie becomes mostly a retrospective look at how they came to be in their present predicament, which as the movie opens, is trapped inside a bank (called the Alamo). I've really only touched upon the surface of things, as Levinson playfully explores the chemistry between the people and the repercussions or benefits of their actions. Levinson does Bandits in the playful but honest spirit of Butch Cassidy and The Sting, by showing those that we consider as society's malcontents, in a more favorable light than most would. I feel that criminals, and movies like this, touch upon a darker side of our human spirit, that which desires to be reckless, to rebel against authority and life's rules, and to live free, or die trying. This is pulled off, in no small part, due to the screenplay and performances, which lend a believable credence to it all.

Willis is at his best playing the smart-aleck tough guy, who may or may not have the heart of gold, while Thornton has a range and repertoire that never ceases to amaze me. Blanchett adds another perspective to her already chameleon-like resume of characters, playing someone just slightly removed from her Pushing Tin character, but much more enjoyable to watch. Levinson has such a magic touch with his movies, eliciting great performances, from the simplest of premises.

Ultimately, Bandits is a playful little piece of Americana that works much more than it doesn't, at being humorous, insightful, and relevant all without exceeding any boundaries. The portrayal of bank robbers, as modern-day Robin Hoods (using the insured money justification) is questionable in motive, but can be sometimes entertaining when you think about the fact that most criminals are or at least were, normal people with feelings, likes, dislikes, quirks, habits, hobbies and dreams. It just so happens that they believed their path to all of this justified them running afoul of the law. Bandits portrays the criminals in this light, but sometimes sugar coats the fact that these are people who break the law, which is sometimes reflective of a society and culture that does the same. By using the media, and the retrospective storytelling style, Levinson attempts, and sometimes succeeds, in capturing this aspect of glorification and deification of criminals that is so prevalent these days. Unfortunately, by falling back on the same ground as his predecessors, he robs this movie of a little bit of the magic and impact that the performers gave to the film. Bandits is probably the most likeable, believable movie about bank robbers that you may see, not memorable, but still worthy of a bit of attention.

Big Trouble

I have to shamelessly admit, I have not laughed this hard in a movie theater in a very long time. Big Trouble is an example of what happens if you strip away all of the unnecessary clutter that most films throw in for whatever reason. It focuses on one story, the odd assortment of characters and interactions and the resulting mayhem that ensues, and wastes no time on anything else. The humor is rapid fire and laced with pop culture and eccentric references (from Martha Stewart, to televised aerobic contests, to Fritos corn chips, to rabid, but intellectually challenged sports fans) The film wastes little time on anything that would complicate a plot that keeps unfolding and refolding and starting over, similar to a frustrated traveler battling with a roadmap. It is hilarious with both sight gags (a vengeful, toad) and smart, sharp and observant dialogue (most provided by the unofficial voice of sensibility, Dennis Farina) all wrapped up in a tight little package with an underlying message of people searching for happiness, who sometimes just need a bomb, figuratively or literally, dropped into their lives.

I could try to explain the plot here, but I would never do it the comedic justice that director Barry Sonnenfeld and company do, but I will give you an idea. The story centers around and is set into motion by, a failed hit attempt at the house of an arrogant Miami businessman (Stanley Tucci as the only person in the state of Florida who "meant" to vote for Pat Buchanan). Then there is a mysterious silver suitcase (homage to Pulp Fiction) containing something explosive that resembles a trash compactor. Mix in a homeless, Frito-obsessed man has come town in search of Cuban food, Russian arms dealers, a former writer, now advertising agent, whose son sees him as a loser, botched assassination attempts, kidnapping, local cops, FBI agents working under "Special Executive Order", two of the dumbest criminals in the history of crime, a dog who is a result of canine genetics gone really wrong, the aforementioned hallucinogen spewing toad and of course goats I have only just begun, believe me, it would almost take me as long as the movie's compact 85 minute running time to explain it all. The characters reactions to the seemingly unbelievable goings on, range from cavalier to non-existent, as if these people had resigned themselves to the fact that strange things happen everyday in life and the best thing to do is just ride them out and follow the path to see what happens and where it goes. If you happen to find a kindred soul along the way, then all the better. Based on a story by social satirist Dave Barry and given to us by the controlled, yet manic hand of Barry Sonnenfeld, Big Trouble could have easily degraded into a slapstick mess of pointless humor. Barry always finds the ironic rationality of real life and its minutia in comparison to the big picture. So trying to explain or even give you anymore of an idea about the plot would be to rob this film of its most gleeful revelatory pleasure. Instead, the end result becomes a near spoof of crime films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, handled with a playful, yet coincidental glee by Sonnenfeld and company. Granted, the subject matter, in light of recent events, may be hard to swallow or watch. The film was delayed after Sept 11th and it isn't hard to see why, since the movies climax involves airplanes, airport security and explosives. But there does come a time when the healing has to begin and we have to look and move forward in an honorary way, never forgetting, but finding our smiles again. We must get back to as close to the way things were as we can and part of this therapy is through the use of the cinema. Sonnenfeld and company must have redone the ending, as it does seem a little disjointed from the rest of the film. Still, there are way too many moments of everyday mania, that befalls most of us, combined with the oddities of things that are too strange to believe, yet too possible to discount as implausible.

The film is ripe with hilarious dialogue, some you've seen in the previews, which still work and others delivered usually by Dennis Farina or Zooey Deschanel (as the common sense, sarcastic teen daughter of Rene Russo and Stanley Tucci) who seem to be the most intelligent, observant players in this game. It is dialogue that we could easily see using, given the stimuli and circumstance that these characters are put through within the 48 hours of film time. The cast is so crowded, yet each character is clearly defined and understandable in motive, action, reaction frustration and just pure human emotion. Each fill their niche perfectly, from Jason Lee's calm cool, mantra loving demeanor to Farina's rational frustration at the absurdity of things, to Tucci's elated, egotistical glee, to Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville's pitch perfect buffoonery, to the monotone, by the book, actions of Patrick Warburton and Janeane Garofalo (whose chemistry, like all of the other duos in the film, melds perfectly) to the numerous other people and animals, who keep reappearing at the most inopportune, but believable times. Sonnenfeld shows an Altman-esque ability to develop and utilize character completely and weave them into a surprisingly easy to follow, but complex plot. Their frantic organized madness mirrors the mood and attitude that the majority of the film projects.

Ultimately, Big Trouble is one of the funniest and well-done crime movies that you'll see in a long time. It is reality, dipped in a dose of Tarantino (complete with onscreen times and the briefcase) and served up in machine gun, relentless style that never lets up once it gets going. There are long sequences of almost domino effect style humor with things cascading, falling and crashing into each other, spinning off and causing more mayhem. It is a guilty delight, for those who give it a chance. This movie's intentions, humor and general aura come from a different time and a different place, when we were all different people, but can serve as a reminder of where we can try to come back to. This is not just a film about criminals, love, or violence, but about finding that compatible soul to ride through life's madness with. A deep message, from a film that doesn't have to try to hard, or shove it down your throat, but rather ascertain with smiles, breathless laughter and relatable situations. You shouldn't have to put much thought into enjoying this movie, just sit back, absorb each of the characters as they are introduced and skip happily behind Sonnenfeld and company as they give us their view of the world, through very slanted, but highly observant glasses.

Changing Lanes

Who the hell does Roger Michell think he is to try and preach the necessity for morality and wholesomeness to me? Changing Lanes is his loosely disguised sermon on the effects of circumstance and chance, on who we are and who we think we should be. The story gets lost in all the grandstanding of the message and gets crowded with all the little side stories that he throws in to try and drive his point home. What gets lost is the story, which was paper-thin to begin with, but becomes the platform for the message of finding your true self and what is most important to you. Personally, I don't go to movies to get a lesson on how valuable life is, or how important it is to be moral and just, I go there for an escape to another world, that sometimes mirrors own on, but can also be entertaining. Michell's artistic attempt gets weighed down by his ethics and ultimately drowned by his heavy-handed direction and lack of substantive principle.

The premise was a fairly simply, if not potentially interesting one. Gavin is a successful Wall Street attorney with a cushy job, generous bosses (Sydney Pollack in a deliciously scene chewing role) and a lovely, understanding wife (Amanda Peet), on his way to file documents in a very important case involving the execution of a trust fund for a wealthy industrialist. The future of he and his firm's fate lies in the resolution of this case in their favor. Meanwhile Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) is a father, involved in a custody battle with his wife and an ongoing alcohol addiction. Their paths cross during a traffic accident on a busy expressway. Banek, on his way to the case and Gipson, on his way to the custody hearing after securing the purchase of a house (to provide stability) are thrown together by fate and now are about to have the day from hell, dealing with the consequences. Gipson, an insurance agent, wants to do things the right way and get all the information and such, despite risking being tardy for his hearing. Banek, oblivious to all of this, just wants to get back on the road (conveniently having the only drivable vehicle) and does this, wishing Gipson 'better luck next time." Somehow, you just know those words are going to come back to haunt him. And then some. What follows, is how their lives spin off of this meeting and out of control, as they deal with each other and the many hurdles that the story unnecessarily throws in their way. I would have preferred the simple chess game (ala Panic Room) of two people, in the biggest city in the country, trying to one up each other and ultimately win the battle. Instead, we are given lessons in how events like this can make us realize and sometimes solve or overcome, the things that live gives us to deal with. It is a hearty and ambitious task that Michell and company tackle and proves to be too much. The film becomes laborious in beating us over the head with the message, while tying it all together with the accident. Even the presence of a cameo from the great William Hurt cannot save the story from being too excessive in its attempt to make us think, evaluate and analyze, the big and small events and the consequences of our reactions to them.

Speaking of performances, whoever told Affleck that he could step out of playing cocky, arrogant, cutesy types, needs to be drawn and quartered, post haste. I have never been sold on Affleck's ability to carry a movie and the presence of a great actor like Jackson proves that even more. Even Sam seems to be struggling, at times with the material to convince both himself and us, of the importance of what the film wants to say. If I wanted a lecture, or a sermon, I would go to church, not to movies like this.

Ultimately, Changing Lanes is a tiring, overdone example of desperate preachiness done in place of and for lack of, a story idea that can withstand a reasonable running time. If you want an example of how to succeed in taking a simple idea which may not be able to sustain a long running time, you should see Panic Room, because Fincher is a good filmmaker and Michell, at least with this effort, is not. Instead of milking the desperation of two people playing a chess game with each other's lives, we are given a morality lesson and the revelations that each one comes to because of the events. We are hammered over the head with them so much, that it becomes tiring and frustrating almost. I foresaw a movie that played upon the tension that everyday life can create. The interactions and intersections of two people, fueled by varying levels of desperation and frustration, would have made for an interesting social study. Instead, Michell's touch, which was so delicate and perfect in Notting Hill, becomes cumbersome and grandstanding in it tone and delivery. I don't need an ethics or morality lesson about lawyers that feel bad about what they do, or a father who is just struggling to stay sober, while fighting to get his kids back. There are too many stories, too many distractions and in the end, just way too much movie, even for the short running time.

For the rest of the reviews, proceed to the next page.

Also, check out other reviews by Jerry at his own site, The Reel Rambler.

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