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Saturday, April 22, 2006

80's Flashback - Twilight Zone - The Movie

ROD SERLING'S phenomenally successful television series, ''The Twilight Zone,'' which had a five-year network run beginning in 1959 and which seems to have been in reruns ever since, has now passed through its own twilight zone and become a flabby, mini-minded behemoth called ''Twilight Zone - the Movie.''

Twilight Zone - The Movie
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The film is composed of a prologue, written for the movie, plus four separate stories, each of them either based directly on a script from the television series or suggested by one. A lot of money and several lives might have been saved if the producers had just rereleased the original programs.

Of the four stories, the last, directed by George Miller, is tops, meaning that it's pretty good. This tale, based on ''Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,'' is about a tense airplane passenger who, during a night flight in a thunderstorm, looks out his window and becomes convinced that some sort of creature is dismantling the outboard engine.

Mr. Miller, the Australian director who demonstrated his talent for spectacular action with ''The Road Warrior,'' does what he can with this limited material, and John Lithgow is both legitimate and comic as the hysterical passenger.

The film's third segment, based on a tale called ''It's a Good Life,'' contains a number of wildly eerie possibilities that are never satisfactorily developed. Kathleen Quinlan plays an innocent young woman who finds herself drawn into a macabre household whose inhabitants behave like Tom, Jerry, Bugs Bunny and other cartoon characters that are forever playing on the screens of the house's dozens of television sets. The master of the house is a sweetlooking, arbitrarily vicious little boy, Anthony, played by Jeremy Licht.

Joe Dante, the director, never finds a style for the piece, which should somehow combine the comic, the scary and the satirical. Trivia experts might note that Billy Mumy, who played Anthony in the original teleplay, has a small role as an adult in this film version.

Twilight Zone - The Movie
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Except for the central performance by Scatman Crothers, the film's second segment, based on the episode called ''Kick the Can,'' is inept in every way. Of all unlikely people, Steven Spielberg directed this rather ugly, sentimental comedy set in an old-people's home.

John Landis, currently represented by the stylish ''Trading Places,'' is responsible for the film's first segment, a muddled antibigotry lesson about a fellow who hates blacks, Jews and Orientals. Through a series of ''Twilight Zone'' twists of fate, the fellow finds himself being persecuted as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, lynched as a black by Ku Klux Klansmen in the South and shot at as a Vietnamese by American soldiers in Vietnam.

It was while making this segment that Vic Morrow, who gives a good performance as the bigot, and two Vietnamese children were killed in a production accident.

Mr. Landis also directed the film's prologue, which features Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks. It's funny and extremely short.

''Twilight Zone - the Movie,'' which has been rated PG (''parental guidance suggested''), contains some unrefined language.

Twilight Zone - The Movie
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Beyond Twilight
TWILIGHT ZONE - THE MOVIE, created by Rod Serling; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis; released by Warner Bros. At RKO Twin, Broadway and 45th Street; Sutton, Third Avenue and 57th Street; 34th Street Showplace, near Second Avenue; New York Twin, Second Avenue and 66th Street and other theaters. Running time: 102 minutes. This film is rated PG.

Written and directed by John Landis; director of photography, Stevan Larner; film editor, Malcolm Campbell.
Passenger . . . . . Dan Aykroyd
Driver . . . . . Albert Brooks
Bill . . . . . Vic Morrow
Larry . . . . . Doug McGrath
Ray . . . . . Charles Hallahan
Bar Patron . . . . . Steven Williams
French Mother . . . . . Annette Claudier
Vietnamese . . . . . Joseph Hieu, Albert Leong
Charming G.I. . . . . . Stephen Bishop

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson and Josh Rogan; story by Mr. Johnson; director of photography, Allen Daviau; film editor, Michael Kahn.
Mr. Bloom . . . . . Scatman Crothers
Mr. Conroy . . . . . Bill Quinn
Mr. Weinstein . . . . . Martin Garner
Mrs. Weinstein . . . . . Selma Diamond
Mrs. Dempsey . . . . . Helen Shaw
Mr. Agee . . . . . Murray Matheson
Mr. Mute . . . . . Peter Brocco
Miss Cox . . . . . Priscilla Pointer

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on a story by Jerome Bixby; director of photography, John Hora; film editor, Tina Hirsch.
Helen Foley . . . . . Kathleen Quinlan
Anthony . . . . . Jeremy Licht
Uncle Walt . . . . . Kevin McCarthy
Mother . . . . . Patricia Barry
Father . . . . . William Schallert
Ethel . . . . . Nancy Cartwright

Directed by George Miller; screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on a story by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Allen Daviau; film editor, Howard Smith.
Valentine . . . . . John Lithgow
Sr. Stewardess . . . . . Abbe Lane
Jr. Stewardess . . . . . Donna Dixon
Co-Pilot . . . . . John Dennis Johnston
Creature . . . . . Larry Cedar
Sky Marshal . . . . . Charles Knapp
Little Girl . . . . . Christina Nigra
Mother . . . . . Lonna Schwab

* By VINCENT CANBY, N.Y. TIMES REVIEW, Published: Friday, June 24, 1983


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Friday, April 21, 2006

American Dreamz

Cast: Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Klein

American Dreamz
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Synopsis: On the eve of his reelection, the president (Dennis Quaid) decides to read a newspaper for the first time in years. His new knowledge of current events sends him hiding in his room for weeks, so his chief of staff (Willem Dafoe) books him as a guest judge on American Dreamz, a TV talent contest hosted by Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant). This prompts a terrorist plot surrounding the telecast that may derail the career of would-be pop star Sally (Mandy Moore).

Review: What is the American dream, exactly? Does anybody know? Must it involve instant TV celebrity and a spread in InStyle? Why is our storied national drive intrinsically linked to either sleep or fantasy? And the big question: Does the conviction that we're all entitled to live it ultimately help or harm us?

"American Dreamz," Paul Weitz's good-natured satire of pop, politics and our bloated sense of entitlement (arguably our biggest export) lampoons the great American disconnect from reality by locating the place where all these things intersect. Ultimately, the movie's heart, or at least its sense of boundaries, belongs to Hollywood, so it's not surprising that it ends up being harder on its crazed celebrity dreamers than on the inept commander in chief who tries to curry popular favor by jumping on their bandwagon.

Hugh Grant plays Martin Tweed, the slick, self-loathing host of a top-rated talent show called "American Dreamz." A barb-tongued meanie (when his girlfriend leaves him in the opening scene, he blurts, "You make me want to be a better person. And — I'm not a better person!"), Martin is the ideal purveyor of cynically engineered pop fantasies, wobbling precariously at the top of the entertainment heap. A few seasons in, his show has become an international juggernaut, prompting the chief of staff (Willem Dafoe) of the newly re-elected, low-approval-rated President Staton (Dennis Quaid) to offer the president as a guest judge on its finale.

As far as Martin is concerned, the president stands to gain more from the appearance than he does. What he does need, desperately, is human interest. The show's appeal depends on a carefully calibrated mix of pathos and pathological ambition, as he tells his producers (hilariously played by John Cho and Judy Greer), "and by human, I mean flawed, and by flawed, I mean freaks. Go get me some freaks."

Specifically, because not only is he not above inciting drama, he's all about it, he instructs them to find him an Arab and a Jew. ("How about an Arab who's also a Jew?" one of them chirps.) The task is made relatively easy by the worldwide popularity of the show, and a rapping rabbi is soon procured as is a starry-eyed Iraqi named Omer (Sam Golzari), who at the beginning of the movie finds himself having a hard time at a terrorist-training camp in Afghanistan, where he spends his days getting in the way and his nights perfecting his show-tune routines.

American Dreamz
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Desperate to get rid of him, his commanders ship him off to his wealthy cousins' house in Orange County, intending to call him into action never. From the moment he steps into their glossy McMansion, Omer is in heaven — even more so when he discovers that his flamboyant cousin Iqbal (Tony Yalda) has built himself a disco-era practice space in the basement, where he spends his days perfecting his audition for "American Dreamz." When the show's producers show up and find Omer trying out his moves (Iqbal is, as ever, at the mall), they know they've found their man. And when his commanders find out he's made the show, they know they've found their suicide bomber.

Grant's second coming as a rake and an egotist is the best thing to happen to his career since "Four Weddings and a Funeral." He is twice as enjoyable as the preening bad guy as he was as the bumbling good guy, and Weitz makes perfect use of the new persona. Nobody likes Martin, least of all himself — which not only makes him enormously empathetic, it adds a delightful unexpected dimension to his relationship with Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore).

Sally is Martin's Mini-Me in Carrie Underwood form. A small-town girl from Padookie, Ohio, Sally since childhood has been plotting her path to stardom with the help of her passive-aggressive stage mother (Jennifer Coolidge). If the role is a familiar one, Moore infuses it with a rage-fueled intensity that transforms it into something revelatory. Like Martin, Sally is a deeply unhappy individual who channels all her anger into her singular ambition. She thinks nothing of dispensing with her loyal, loving and dim-bulbed boyfriend, William Williams (Chris Klein), when he gets in her way, then roping him back in when he reveals himself as a useful PR tool. Klein is reliably pathetic as the hapless innocent, a role he has perfected and perhaps exhausted. But Moore brings a surprising dimension to Sally, whose onstage lightness masks a serious dark streak.

There are many things to like about "American Dreamz," most notable of which is the relationship between Sally and Martin. The two meet anything but cute, and the relationship that develops — an attachment that springs from a mutual respect, horror and self-recognition — is as funny as it is weirdly affecting.

Quaid is hilarious as the nation's child-president, who picks up the newspapers for the first time in his fifth year of office and learns to his surprise that there are "three kinds of Iraqistanis," and that they not only don't like each other, they bear little resemblance to Dr. Octopus and Magneto, as he's been told. Marcia Gay Harden is eerily soothing as his happy-pill dispensing wife, and Dafoe is excellent as a sort of Karl Rove in Dick Cheney drag. Neither Weitz nor Quaid hold back in their allusions to a certain elected official who doesn't read the papers, believes that he's in office because "the Lord picked him," and may or may not have at one time worn an earpiece during a debate.

But ultimately, "American Dreamz" is an equal-opportunity lampooner, shrugging at a populace so distracted by trivia it spends its days cheerfully driving to the mall in combat-sized vehicles and practicing for its big break as bombs keep going off.

* Review by Carina Chocano, Times Staff Writer

* Official Site


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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stick It

Who's in it? Jeff Bridges, Missy Peregrym

Stick It
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What's it about? Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) is a rebellious 17 year-old who is forced to return to the regimented world of gymnastics after a run-in with the law. A judge sentences Haley to her ultimate nightmare -- attending an elite gymnastics academy run by legendary hardnosed coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges).

Haley’s rebellious spirit and quick-witted banter quickly shakes things up at the strict school – making both close friends and bitter foes along the way. Haley surprises herself as she discovers an unexpected ally in the form of her new coach, and learns respect is a two-way street. Haley, Vickerman, and a group of his elite athletes band together to confront a major championship and prove that loyalty, friendships and individual athletes matter more than rules, judges or scores.

What's it like? Say what you want about the work of Jeff Bridges, but at least he makes interesting choices. In the past decade he’s done everything from K-Pax to Seabiscuit. He’s worked for the Coens and Terry Gilliam. The guy doesn’t get a lot of credit, but over his long, varied career he’s proven himself time and again as one Hollywood’s very best actors. The guy deserves a mantle full of Oscars.

So what’s the star of Tucker: A Man and His Dream doing in a teen movie like Stick It? How can someone who played Starman, a Fabulous Baker Boy, The Dude, and Master Control killer Flynn end up coaching rebellious teen gymnasts in a movie that bears a really uncomfortable resemblance to Bring It On? Bridges’ presence in this movie is utterly confusing. Could he possibly be taking a cue from Kurt Russell, and playing the gymnastics version of Herb Brooks? His presence is almost enough to get me interested in it; or at least it was until I saw the trailers, which confirmed it as another annoying rebel teen overcomes the odds movie. This isn’t Miracle.

Instead, it’ll take a miracle for Stick It to be good, Jeff Bridges’ credibility notwithstanding. It’s written and directed by the screenwriter of Aquamarine, First Daughter, and yes, Bring it On. That’s enough to cancel out anything The Dude brings to the picture.


*Review by Josh Tyler, Cinema Blend


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Monday, April 17, 2006

Early United 93 Review

Starring: Opal Alladin, Erich Redman, Ben Sliney, Susan Blommaert, Peter Hermann

United 93
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Human font of inside information Jeffrey Wells has seen United 93 and, in his opinion, it's "a knockout, a time-stopper, a mind-blower." Not to gush, or anything. Though there's a lot of emotion in Wells' review (and an apparent condemnation of anyone who thinks the film is coming too soon as "a baby or a coward," which I personally find incredibly disrespectful), he also offers welcome practical details about how the movie is set up. For example, United 93 (the plane, not the movie) doesn't even take off until 30 minutes into the film. The time beforehand is spent with the people trying to deal with the developing crisis (primarily air traffic controllers and FAA personnel -- Ben Sliney, national operations manager for the FAA, plays himself in the film), and building tension.

If it makes you feel any better, "Not one frame of [the] film struck [Wells] as distasteful or exploitative." I wasn't even a New Yorker during 9/11, and simply reading Wells' review made me sure I don't want to see the film. Not necessarily because it's too early, but simply because the emotions are just too much. Honestly, I don't know that I'll ever be able to see it -- but then I'm just a "coward," right Jeff?

*By Martha Fischer,


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