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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.

The Emperor's New Clothes, Full Frontal, Halloween: Resurrection, Men in Black II, One Hour Photo, Simone, Undisputed

The Emperor's New Clothes

Here in my hometown of Kansas City, there is a doctor who purports that he's been treating Elvis Presley for years and that the King is ready to emerge into the limelight once again. Reports of Presley's appearance have been frequent among ardent fans who have spotted him everywhere from doughnut shops to Graceland. In the early 40's, an elderly gentleman named Brushy Bill Roberts claimed to be the outlaw Jesse James who was supposedly killed in a poker game 50 years earlier. Often, the public hangs on to the hope that their heroes, both famous and infamous, have survived their demises and may be walking amongst us incognito. In The Emperor's New Clothes, director Alan Taylor presents an alternative to the death of one of its most well known leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte. While the film establishes a plausible and entertaining story, it too often falls back on tried and true story ideas, loses focus in the second half and then cannot decide on how it wants to end. Aided by a wonderful score by Rachel Portman and a powerful and believable lead performance by Ian Holm, Clothes is a nice period piece that just loses its way towards it feel-good resolution.

History tells us that after his defeat at Waterloo, the British exiled Napoleon to the island of St. Helena, where he then died 5 years later. But, according to Young, what if history was wrong, or at least what if things didn't exactly happen as we were led to believe? The story opens with Napoleon regaling his version of the way things happened to a curious young boy. He is shown as a bitter, vengeful man who believes that his reign is not yet over in France and that he has legions awaiting his return. He conspires, along with his staff, to have a double take his place on the island while he sneaks back into France. Since the British watch and report on his condition, he is forced to sneak out in the dark of night and pretends to be a lowly swabbie on a ship headed back to France. Upon his arrival there, he takes up with Pumpkin, the widow of one of his soldiers, who believes he is the lowly Eugene, a simple poor, former soldier. The way the plan works is that the impostor will reveal himself as a fake once Napoleon is safely back in the country, and then Bonaparte believes he will once again rise to power. Ah how the best-laid plans can go astray. While he is waiting for this to happen, he manages to organize a very strategic plan for produce sales, arousing the suspicion of a doctor (and suitor of Pumpkin). Suffice it to say all does not go as planned, and this is where the movie wanders astray. The focus becomes a romance with Pumpkin, losing focus on the impostor and falling prey to many typical movie ploys involving jealous lovers and mysterious strangers. The ending of the movie seems to come about 2 or 3 different times, before finally settling for one that seems a tad too melancholy and preachy in its search for identity and what's important in life. Had this film stuck to its historical possibilities, it would have worked much better.

There are memorable scenes including the aforementioned militarily planned marketing strategy, and a haunting visage in a sanitarium with several faux Bonapartes wandering around. These show a deeper vision that the film fails to explore towards its conclusion. Still, there is more to like about this movie than dislike. Rachel Portman has composed a score that is beautiful and befitting of an empirical effort. Also, Holm takes the Herculean task of playing yet another diminutive caricature and carries this film boldly. As Napoleon and Eugene he tackles the dual roles with his usual meticulous and detailed nature. Never mind that everyone in France sounds British, Holm and company give solid performances in a film that deserves a slightly better fate than it gets.

Ultimately, The Emperor's New Clothes is an effective but slightly flawed look at an alternative to one of history's most infamous figures. Natural curiosity usually generates the hypothesis and scenarios that encompass these types of stories. We love to wonder "what if" using what we know, combined with what we can imagine. Taylor has posed an interesting idea here, but gets too tangled up in wrapping things up in a nice, neat, audience friendly package, so the film stumbles a tad. But thanks to Portman's music, Holm's performance and some genuinely thoughtful and humorous moments, this film is a pleasant surprise amidst a summer of disappointments.

Full Frontal

Deep down, we are really all the same. Strip away the money, the jobs, the social status and the other material things that differentiate us, and we all basically seek the same thing; to be happy. In Full Frontal, Steven Soderbergh's unique follow-up to his dual commercial successes (Traffic and Erin Brockovich) Soderbergh has reached back to his roots to deliver an eclectic, humorous but realistic look at one aspect of society that most of us seem to envy. They are the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry, they are those who directly or indirectly connected to it, and they mostly seem to reside or revolve around Southern California. Soderbergh digs his acerbic claws into various aspects of 7 different characters as their lives intersect during one 24-hour period. The characters are obviously connected through involvement in a faux movie called Rendezvous but as we will soon find out, have much more in common and may not be as together as most of us would like to think they are.

Soderbergh utilizes the never-ending spectrum of a mirror in a mirror (infinitely) to tell his multi-layered but never confusing tale. Full Frontal takes place in roughly a 24-hour period in, around and even above, Los Angeles. We are first introduced to each of the characters, who are linked through a movie called Rendezvous that stars Blair Underwood as a celebrity and Julia Roberts as a reporter. But then we are shown their lives behind the scenes. Along with them, we are shown the co-writer of the movie, Enrico Colatoni (TV's Just Shoot Me) who runs a performance art theater currently playing The Sound and The Fuhrer, regaling Hitler's (a side-splitting, mustache-obsessed Nicky Katt) conversations with his therapist. Hang on, things get bumpier from here. David Hyde-Pierce is the other co-writer and he is married to Catherine Keener, who is a bored HR director who develops new ways to interrogate employees. Keener's sister, Mary McCormack, is a love-starved masseuse who is planning a "rendezvous" with an online love interest (see above theater manager). It all comes full circle; all runs parallel, concurrently, yet revelatory and insightful as it progresses along. There are a few cameos, some funny, others giving you that sense of a-ha! We ride along as Soderbergh keeps twisting, folding, revealing and pulling the curtain back several times, but always sensibly. The multiple realities bring into question the ever-blurring line between what is real and what is false or created solely for entertainment purposes. With the success of reality-based television recently, several movies, from 15 Minutes to Series 7, have taken this perspective. But Soderbergh uses his deft touch and ability to show us layered characters at odds with something, to effectively lambaste, yet pay tribute to the medium, which has given him life.

As far as performances go, what really standout are the cameos, more than the leads. The most delightful one is Terrence Stamp (Soderbergh's The Limey) recreating his character and showing an intersection of lives and such ala Kevin Smith or Stephen King. Brad Pitt, whom Pierce's magazine has an almost unhealthy obsession with, seems to be reveling in his brief appearances and delights in skewering his own Hollywood-created, tabloid fodder. Keener seems to live for this kind of role and doesn't disappoint this time either. Each role seems expressly written for her, exposing differing sides of her abilities. The way she expresses her displeasure for her job and life by firing an inflatable globe at soon-to-be fired employees, then quizzing them on African countries, is pure delight and could only be pulled off by her. Underwood, McCormack and Pierce also show new aspects of their repertoire, especially McCormack who truly seems like a lonely soul amidst a city full of empty ones. Almost stealing the show though is Katt, as Colantoni's mustache-obsessed Hitler with issues. The way he carries on a normal conversation as break dancing SS soldiers practice behind him is truly unimaginable and hilarious. Shot on an 18-day schedule, with the oddest list of requirements for each cast member, Frontal lets the performers relax and have fun, not knowing when the camera is on them. This exposes and shows us the true side of a world that seems a lot more glamorous than it actually is.

Ultimately, Full Frontal is a scathingly humorous homage to the self-servient, self-absorbed idols that we all envy. It is a true movie lover's movie, with small nods to the previous works of Soderbergh and some of the other cast members. There seems to be a theme this year of movies about the exploration and search for happiness, as we see others who seem to be. Frontal, along with 13 Conversations About One Thing and Sidewalks of New York all take differing approaches but seem to have the same thing at heart. While the humor may go over some heads, and the prevailing attitude may seem egotistical in nature and delivery, the film's intentions are truly noble and fun-loving, while being painfully honest at the same time. Soderbergh returns to his roots, filming portions on digital film, and others on regular film, and shows that he hasn't lost the voyeur/auteur touches that Sex, Lies and Videotape showed 13 years ago. I've often said that there is a fine line between egotism and self-confidence. With Full Frontal, Soderbergh shows that his ego over his commercial success has not tainted his perspective, but his confidence in what he has learned on his way there shines through like a flashlight in society's eyes.

Halloween: Resurrection

I'll get the compliments out of the way first, since there won't be very many. Ever since the birth of the horror/slasher movie sequels (which ironically, the original Halloween started), one of the challenges for writers and directors who bothered to put thought into it was how to keep regenerating their heroes without reality taking too much of a hit. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees became simple, because they just made them superhuman monsters. But Michael Myers has always seemed to retain a human side to him, well as much as possible in these kinds of films. In the beginning of Halloween: Resurrection, we are given an explanation as to how Myers could have survived the end of Halloween: H20, 4 years ago. Before I criticized, I went back and watched that film (which is much better than this one) and can now laud my kudos upon the makers. The scenario presented is possible, maybe not plausible, but hey, Silence of The Lambs pulled it off, so why can't they. In Halloween: Resurrection, director Rick Rosenthal tries to breathe new blood into things by mixing in the Internet and society's fascination with reality and shock entertainment. The end result rarely works, save an online chase scene involving web cams and palm pilots and a character that can quote serial killer stats like they were baseball cards. But the majority of the film still falls victim to the typical horror movie ploys. There are sex-starved teens, token and stereotypical characters and gruesome violence, all wrapped around a semi-interesting story.

This time around, Michael is going home. It almost seems like they are trying to close everything off and give some sort of finality to it all. You see, as I stated above, Michael survived his beheading via a little Silence of The Lambs bait and switch (watch the last movie as I did, it is possible). He tracks down his sister who has now been institutionalized for the events of the previous movie. From there, we are introduced to 3 young college students (re: victims) who are chosen to take part in an online Halloween stunt by an Internet promoter (Busta Rhymes) and his sultry business partner (Tyra Banks, who must have needed the money). One is a highly energetic, image conscious airhead, one a moody, psychology major and one a cooking-obsessed token black man. They are paired together with a rebellious artist type, an oversexed male (Thomas Ian Nicholas who could easily have wandered in from his American Pie escapades) and a mysterious, gothic looking girl with an attitude. Did they miss any stereotypes? The proposition is this; they will spend Halloween night in the house where Myers killed his sister 24 years ago. The house and the teens are rigged with cameras and the whole thing will be broadcast on the Internet. This setup is mildly interesting at best, tapping into the public obsession with reality and shock entertainment. Where the story goes from here, of course, is its downfall. You see, the house isn't empty, and the teens are going to get more than they bargained for.

Rosenthal and company failed to inject the creativity of their beginning into the rest of the movie. It becomes a series of revelations, bad decisions, supposed discoveries, and of course, the 8th different way that people think they've gotten rid of Mr. Myers. I think there may have been an interesting idea here, and the last film showed that the franchise is not completely dead. Unfortunately though, the film resorts to the very tactics that have failed the predecessors, which it originally inspired. None of the performances are memorable, few of the lines are insightful or funny, and of course the violence is excessive and unnecessary. Films like Scream and The Blair Witch Project have shown that scares, humor and thrills can come from natural occurrences, sans a lot of hacking and gross-out antics. Rosenthal didn't pay attention to these films, and we become the victims for having to endure a good idea, cut to pieces by stupidity and gore.

Ultimately, Resurrection is a failed attempt to bring Myers and the Halloween legacy into the 21st Century. As in Jason X, computers and modern technology have changed the landscape but not the lack of intelligence in the characters and the script. Teenagers, apparently, are just as dumb and hormonally driven as they were 24 years ago. With the original movie, John Carpenter scared the life out of a young 10-year old. Every year after that when I went trick or treating, I was much more cautious and alert. Oddly enough, the scariest costumes were usually the simplest, i.e. a sheet with holes and glasses. Thank you John, I still have nightmares about that. Now, 8 movies later, Carpenter's franchise is beginning to show signs of aging and desperation. I tried really hard to like this movie, but by the ending, which is also by the books, I just couldn't recommend it and was slightly disappointed at the potential that was wasted.

Men in Black II

Barry Sonnenfeld really needs to learn some patience, and some new tricks while he's at it. In his effort to recapture the magic of a few summers ago, Sonnenfeld forgot to include a script with even a hint of something original outside of the makeup department. Men In Black 2 doesn't have the originality, the creativity, the laughs, the guilty fun, or even the semblance of anything entertaining beyond overgrown bugs and an alien lingerie model with worms for fingers. What we are left with is a film that is mercifully short, sporadically funny, and unevenly paced. In the search for intelligent life, this film should keep looking.

This time around, Agent J (Will Smith) is partnered with someone new as Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) has been deneuralized and is now working at a post office, oblivious of his past work. If only I could have neuralized myself and zapped all my senses of taste, maybe I would have enjoyed this movie more. But wait, unfortunately there's more. There is a new and sinister force in the universe (besides the summer sequel) and it wants to steal something that will give it great and magical powers Unfortunately it couldn't find any humor or intelligence. Agent K must be awakened and refreshed of his memory in order to recall the location of this magical light. Also, there is a female presence (Sonnenfeld didn't learn the lesson that he did in the last one, that a female presence must be a love interest as well). It must be an unwritten rule of sequels to rehash things that previously worked, expand on characters that were previously entertaining, and try to explain, justify or bring any existing mysteries full circle. Now, I have no problem with copycatting what works, as long as there were doses of originality mixed in (Lethal Weapon 2, Terminator 2) however I do take issue with making certain roles more prominent. In the film, the talking dog informant, Frank, has a meatier role. This, along with more on the worm-like creatures and Zed, the leader, becomes tedious. The reason they worked so well the first time is because we were given short doses, with each word or phrase having an impact This time, many of the jokes were either used in the preview or just fail to work. Even the pointless insertion of Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart cannot infuse this film with the original film.

Ultimately, Men In Black 2 is yet another failed attempt to cash in on a popular trend by rehashing and revamping previous successes. There is a checklist for sequels, both of do's and don'ts and this film misses most of the do's and hits the majority of the don'ts. The story is tired, confusing and poorly done, the expanded characters fail to generate the same magic as the first time around, the effects are no more spectacular than they were the first time, the humor is unchanged and all spoiled in the trailer and the only ounce of creativity went into making newer, more disgusting aliens. Sonnenfeld apparently also subscribes to the principle that a more increased presence from roles that were enlarged because apparently they think that if you enlarge something that works without putting thought behind it, it will work (The Nutty Professor/Dr Doolittle clause, all this movie was missing was Eddie Murphy) The short animated film that played prior to it, The Chubb Chubb's Are Coming, was 100 times more unique, funnier and in a short, compact dose, achieves everything that MIB 2 does not. They could take a lesson from its creators before embarking on another intergalactic scum exorcism.

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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