Daddy-O's 2000 Movie Reviews

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A Christmas Carol
I've ingested more than my share of the innumerable adaptations of this Dickens classic; I've read the original a couple of times, I've seen Captain Picard's one-man version on Broadway, and I've even portrayed old Jacob Marley's ghost myself. And of all the renditions I know, my very favorite is the obscure half-hour animated adaptation made for ABC in 1972, directed by Richard Williams and produced by Chuck Jones. The animation is top notch, like Victorian woodcuts brought to life, and since it's also one of the shortest versions I know of, it provides the fastest way to get your Scrooge fix during these increasingly-hectic holiday seasons. In just 22 fast-paced minutes, they whisk us through one of the most accurate adaptations of the story I've ever seen, even squeezing in a few oft-omitted details, such as Ignorance and Want, the hideous children hiding beneath the Present Christmas Ghost's robe. (Honorable mention goes to Mr. Magoo's Xmas Carol, for the RazzleBerry Dressing song.)

The Longest Day
 If you (like me) were too squeamish to see "Saving Private Ryan", but would still like to know what it was like to hit that beach on D-Day, here's a different Oscar-winning all-star blockbuster to consider. Instead of Tom Hanks, it's got John Wayne! It's in glorious B&W so the blood doesn't show and instead of gritty you-are-there style camera work it's got grand vistas filled with extras. But it's gripping and fascinating and full of neat details, and the action of the film spans a single (very long) day, a film format I particularly enjoy.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
This surreal masterpiece is the source of many important concepts: Golden Tickets, a factory that doesn't look anything like a factory, a corporate executive who wears a purple sportscoat, gum that transforms a small girl into a blueberry... the list just goes on and on. But you'll still have to read the book to find out about the Square Candies That Look Round. (And as long as you're reading, don't miss the incredibly weird sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, as yet untainted by Hollywood.)

Babylon 5: In The Beginning
I've never really watched any of this epic sci-fi series until now, but I've had enough low-intensity exposure to be attracted to this "How It All Began" style movie. And it was just what I wanted, carefully explaining the backstory and all the alien races involved. Since this film was made near the end of the production of the series, it wasn't burdened, as the series itself apparently was, by the need to keep important facts secret during the first couple of seasons. This allowed for a nice straightforward narrative, but I suppose if you ever plan to watch the whole series from the beginning, you probably shouldn't start by watching "In The Beginning".

Half Baked
At times insightful and hilarious, at others just plain stupid, this comedy about entrepreneurial pot-smokers in NYC features a series of cameos by famous stoners who, as assorted customers, provide a glimpse into the wide range of personality types who share this particular indulgence. Look for Jon Stewart as the "Everything's Better on Weed" smoker, Janeane Garofalo as the "I'm Only Creative When I Smoke" smoker, Willie Nelson as the "You Should Have Been There In The Sixties" smoker, and Steven Wright as the Guy On The Couch (who signs his notes, "Guy On The Couch").

When Harry Met Sally
This hilarious piece of commentary on modern courtship in America is a classic, but I'd never actually seen it until now. I kind of felt like I had though, because I've had so many scenes from this movie quoted and described to me over the years. And now I finally understand why people always say "Baby Fishmouth! Baby Fishmouth!" when playing Pictionary! At one point, Carrie Fisher unwittingly quotes a magazine author's own quip to him, obviously a proud moment for any writer; but I'll be proud when I see one of my games played by the characters of a romantic comedy (or any other type of movie for that matter).

The Trouble With Harry
...is that he's dead. A quaint, darkly humorous, and easily overlooked Alfred Hitchcock gem about a series of shenanigans involving a corpse named Harry in the woods near a small New England town. Features a very young Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.

Don't Drink the Water
A funny and engaging Cold War-era farce (made in 1969). Jackie Gleason plays an ugly American tourist who blunders off a hijacked plane in Communist Bulgaria (to take souvineer snapshots) and ends up, with wife and daughter, being mistaken for spies and thus having to take refuge, perhaps permanently, in the local US Embassy.

Frontline: Drug Wars
This 4-hour PBS documentary makes it plainer than ever that our modern rerun of Prohibition is every bit as destructive and horrible as the original... but it stops short of suggesting actual solutions, beyond the need for a radical change. Even so, the drug war cannot withstand journalism like this. (I wish Jim Lehrer had seen it while thinking up questions for the second presidential debate, which once again was completely drug-policy-discussion free...)

The Flim-Flam Man
George C. Scott plays an aging con-man who partners up with a young protégé for a series of swindles and car chases through rural North Carolina. Back in the seventies, this film was on TV every year or so, and my family always tuned in, if for no other reason than to see that amazing chase scene with the red convertible again; but my favorite part is a few scenes later, after they've stolen Doodle's truck, when they escape along the railroad tracks at the end of a dead-end road. Great stuff! Great music, too. 

Almost Famous
Rather like That Thing You Do!, this is an evocative and nostalgic story of a non-existent rock band, which in this case is seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old journalist writing his first story for Rolling Stone magazine. But Stillwater ain't no Wonders... maybe what this film needed was a better hit single.

Koyaanisqatsi
This is one of my all time favorite movies. No characters, no dialogue, no story, just 87 minutes of incredible images, mostly filmed in high-speed time-lapse photography, all set to some of the best Phillip Glass music ever. It's like something you might have seen in a World's Fair pavilion, or a movie length version of Madonna's "Ray of Light" video (but without Madonna). The name (which is forever linked in my mind with the bizarre phrase "Coy Honest Nazi", which I saw once in someone else's review as a "rhymes with" pronunciation tip for the film's title) is a Hopi Indian word variously defined as "life out of balance" and "a way of life that calls for another way of living". Koyaanisqatsi had a profound impact on my worldview, my philosophy on life, and my understanding of humanity in the twentieth century.

He Said, She Said
This charming little romantic comedy from 1991, about arguing opinion columnists who fall in love, tells its story in flashbacks and from two different points of view: his during the first half, and hers during the second. (It therefore makes for a confusing half-watch...) It has added local charm, having been filmed in Baltimore; and in fact, since it was, Alison got to be an extra in this movie! Blink and you'll miss her, but she's seen walking down the street (with some guy who looks kind of like Eeyore) right when Elizabeth Perkins is saying to Kevin Bacon, "Your Uncle Olaf is a cheap literary invention, he doesn't even exist!"

Space Cowboys
Four aging movie stars play a team of aging test pilots who finally get their chance at a space mission, thanks to blackmail (and a very contrived script). As fictional space program stories go, it's pretty good, but I don't think that's saying much. Sure, there were some parts I enjoyed, but there were also a lot of things that bugged me, particularly the ending. [more]

Saving Grace
When an inner city youth with no other financial prospects turns to selling marijuana, it's an everyday crime story no one wants to hear; but when an upper-crusty English widow, with nothing but bills left behind by her husband, decides to leverage her orchid-growing expertise into a new career, it's a comedy which I hope a lot of people will go see. I have some complaints about the ending, but overall this film is smart, well-written, well-acted, and above all, funny.

Next Year
OK, so it's a video by the Foo Fighters, not a movie, so what? Do you have any idea how busy I've been this week? Anyway, in their latest video, the Foo Fighters (Do they fight foo, or do they fight with foo? I can never remember...) take a trip to the moon, a feat accomplished by digitally inserting their singing mugs into a beautiful 3 minute montage of stock footage. It's great stuff, and the song's decent too. (The girls laughed at my NASA fanboy geekiness when I pointed out various technical inaccuracies in the video, but one does have to wonder how 4 guys could go to the moon in spacecraft design to hold 3...)

Dial H for Hitchcock
This documentary about Alfred Hitchcock and his films is great, but in good conscience I can only recommend it to those who've already seen the lion's share of Hitch's masterpieces. If you have, this retrospective of his work if fabulous - you get to see all the best scenes from all the best movies in a two hour thrill ride of cinematic nostalgia, with a lot of fascinating biographical information along the way; but if not, it's a giant spoiler-fest. Avoid it until you've done your homework.

Spellbound
Gregory Peck stars as an amnesia victim accused of murder, and Ingrid Bergman is his psychoanalyst, who helps him recover his missing memories via dream analysis. Actually, it's rather dull by Hitchcock standards, but the dream sequences, designed by Salvador Dali, are extremely cool. It's a shame they weren't done in color.

X-Men
I have to confess, I've never read any of the X-Men comics and didn't really know who any of these characters even were, other than Wolverine, who I recognized but had never understood. But even without having seen the originals, this seemed like an excellent adaptation to me.

Toys
Maybe I'd have a better appreciation for this movie if I'd seen it in a theater instead of just half-watching it on Comedy Central (or if I were a kid) but somehow, I doubt it. Obviously I love toys and appreciate the film's (heavy-handed) anti-war message, and of course I love surreal stuff, so on the face of it, you'd think I'd like this. But it's just really stupid. It's trying to be a Willy Wonka-sort of a thing, except with a toy manufacturer instead of a chocolate factory, but while that story was charming, this film is idiotic.

Strangers on a Train
When I reviewed Psycho, I asked myself to list my 5 favorite Hitchcock movies. The first few were easy: Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest... and Strangers on a Train. I haven't settled on #5 yet, but like those first 3, Strangers on a Train stands out (in my mind, anyway) as being head and shoulders above the others, one of the best not just of Hitchcock's films, but of all-time. That climax at the amusement park is intense! Makes a great double feature with "Throw Mama from the Train".

Daydream Believers
I think it's wonderfully surreal: 4 guys are chosen to portray 4 guys who are chosen to portray 4 guys who are in a rock band that is the focus of a TV show that is the focus of a made-for-tv movie. Yes, it's another VH-1 rockudrama, this one devoted to the creation, and self-destruction, of the Monkees. And again, if you weren't a fan of the original, the recreation probably won't mean much to you. But I was amused. And I even learned a few things. For instance, did you know that when their show won the outstanding comedy series Emmy in 1967, the Monkees beat out Get Smart, Bewitched, The Andy Griffith Show, and Hogan's Heroes?

Vertigo
For many years, Vertigo topped my ever-under-revision list of top ten favorite movies, and it's certainly at the top of my list of 5 favorite Hitchcock movies. But it's vital that you know nothing about the storyline going into it... a lot of why this film has been such a favorite of mine is the memory of the impact it had on me the first time I saw it, when I knew basically nothing about it except that it was Hitchcock's lost masterpiece, re-released at last. I was absolutely blown away by it. It's a different movie altogether the second time through - and similarly, not the same at all if you know what happens in advance. And it's even been recently restored! You owe it to yourself to see Vertigo sometime, if you haven't.

Psycho
To properly appreciate the infamous shower scene (which regrettably spawned the entire mad-slasher genre) you have to understand that Janet Leigh was *the* big name talent that everyone believed was the star of the picture. I wish I could have been there to experience the shock that went through unsuspecting audiences when this movie first opened in 1960. But don't let your advance knowledge of the shower scene ruin the movie for you... and don't assume that scene is representative of the whole film. Psycho is one of Hitchcock's best thrillers, and it's got plenty of great twists that you probably haven't had ruined for you yet. I wouldn't list it among my 5 favorite Hitchcock movies, but it's a masterpiece nonetheless. (Of course, having said that, I now have to decide which ones are my 5 favorite Hitchcocks...)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
I think film #4 in the sequence is the most interesting of the generally dreadfully batch of sequels to the 1968 sci-fi masterpiece, and it's also the first one I ever saw. (I was 9 at the time, seeing it in a movie theater as part of some other kid's birthday party adventures.) It's a rather grim vision of a near future world that seeks to serve as the missing link to the far future world depicted in the original film. "Conquest of" depicts a Police State-style USA, supposedly in 1991, in which an alien virus has rendered extinct all cats and dogs, causing household-pet-craving humans to train and keep primates instead. This somehow helps the chimps evolve, and as they learn to follow simple commands, they also learn to hate humans. This oppression eventually leads to a violent revolt by the slave-chimps, under the leadership of Caesar, the delightfully paradoxical son of a couple of smart apes from the future (who traveled back to the 70's in the 3rd movie ("Escape from")). [The third movie is probably the next-least-crappy of the series, if you can excuse the ludicrous setup, in which the apes have somehow transformed a wrecked American space capsule into a time machine.] I remember finding Conquest of the Planet of the Apes quite frightening in 1972 (not to mention fairly bewildering, having seen none of the previous installments), and even upon recent viewings I find this to be a distributing film. (The climactic battle scenes between riot police and mobs of rampaging apes were apparently inspired by footage of the Watts riots.) But nonetheless, it's the best (or at least, like I said before, the most interesting) of the sequels (and the most amusingly dated now, too). Above all, avoid the extremely bad 5th movie ("Battle for"), as well as the really quite bad 2nd movie ("Beneath the").

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Another must-see for any serious quotemaster, this is my favorite of the Monty Python films (with the possible exception of the short film that precedes the Meaning of Life), and even if you have heard all the jokes a million times, it's still fun watching this film, if nothing else for the cinematography. The locations they filmed in are lush and beautiful.

Battlefield Earth
Well, another of my favorite books has been destroyed by Hollywood. What was an intricately detailed and carefully plotted masterwork of epic storytelling has been compressed and simplified into a haphazard and confusing mess that bears little resemblance to the original. Setting aside John Travolta, the main problem was one of scope... even though they only tried to do the first third of the book's 1000+ pages, there's just too much story to successfully reduce into a 2 hour film. It should have been a 12 hour made-for-TV mini-series, or better still, an actual weekly series with a planned run of 3-5 years. Instead it's so rushed and abridged that vital elements of the story were left untold, most of my favorite scenes were skipped or totally changed, and really stupid new stuff was added, intended to connect together the tattered remains of the original work but instead just wrecking it all the more. It totally sucked. I was profoundly disappointed (although not the least bit surprised). My advice: avoid the movie, but read the book.

The '70s
The follow-up to NBC's mini-series about the Sixties is very nearly as good as the original, but I was disappointed by the total lack of storyline continuity with the first series. I recognize the need to focus on characters who are just starting in life as the decade begins, but I'd still like to have seen some sort of connection to the characters in the first series. I was also shocked at the total omission of the most significant event of the seventies: Star Wars. (And yet, they still found time to include the Pet Rock. Figures.) But I'm just picking nits, it was really very good.

Harvey
The classic story of an easy going eccentric and his friend Harvey (a giant invisible rabbit) is still a charming and very funny comedy. It's understandably one of Jimmy Stewart's most memorable roles, but I was struck by how much of this movie he's *not* in. It's kind of like Harvey himself. His presence is felt throughout the scenes he's not seen in. It's also a great reminder of how an easy-going attitude can make the world a nicer place. I found it interesting to learn, in the comments following the recent showing on American Movie Classics, that the director's work, like my own, rarely involved villains.

Fail-Safe
I had one of those "goink" moments (as my colleague Dr Cool puts it) where my suspension of disbelief was totally shattered, basically ruining the movie for me (when they put the pilot's son on the line and the pilot refuses to listen). Even so, this gripping cold war drama (nicely re-created in *live* B&W on CBS last week, with Richard Dreyfus as the President) is a must see for all students of the Sociology of Nuclear War (you know, I actually took that class in college).

Mission to Mars
I have very mixed feelings about this movie. Being not just a space cadet but also an aficionado of all things Martian, I really wanted to like it, and in a lot of ways, I did. But there was also plenty to complain about: I felt totally gypped by the fast forward between the last night on Earth and the already-on-Mars first expedition. I wanted to see that dramatic first landing, that big first footstep. I guess they didn't want to spend too much time on the first expedition, since as usual it was doomed (important safety tip: if you ever get offered a free trip to mars, make sure it's not the first expedition, it's always doomed (unless it's in a Brittany Spears video... have you seen her new one? She's dancing on Mars in a skin-tight red jumpsuit, and her long hair looks spectacular!).). But why then did they call this Mission to Mars? It should have been Rescue Mission to Mars. Anyway, towards the end it becomes more 2001 than Apollo 13, when they find alien artifacts at Cydonia (just like "Into The Unknown") and after that, it becomes either inspirational and exciting or trite and corny, depending on your mood and attitude. Ultimately, this was for me a classic example of how setting, audience reaction, and personal expectations can affect your opinion of a film.

The Iron Giant
OK, so it's 1957 and a 100 foot tall robot lands in the woods behind your house. You befriend the robot, but of course the Army just wants to destroy it, so where can you hide him? Out at the junkyard where the beatnik artist lives, of course! This thoroughly entertaining animated film is full to the top with Great Stuff, and the complete lack of sappy musical numbers was an unexpected plus.

Rear Window
This 1954 Jimmy Stewart classic is Hitchcock's second or third best film, and it's another great film to half-watch in the middle of the night. Jimmy plays an injured photographer who stays up late spying on his neighbors, and thinks he sees Raymond Burr murdering his wife in the apartment across the courtyard. Makes an excellent double feature with Vertigo.

NewsRadio
OK, so it's a syndicated TV show, not a movie, so what, I'm busy and it's the only thing I've seen this week. I've always enjoyed the late Phil Hartman's work, and since there's not much else on at 2 AM, I've heeded Number 12's urging and begun tuning in for these reruns. It's good stuff. It wasn't until halfway into the second episode that I recognized not one but two actors from their roles in From the Earth to the Moon (a series of tapes I've half-watched to death). So for me, it's like Alan Bean and Chris Kraft retired from the Apollo program to take jobs running a radio station. (Oh, and they both became a lot dumber.)

The Beach Boys
an american family
Although I prefer Beatles to Beach Boys, I wanted to tune in for this made-for-TV two-parter, to learn the story behind the music. Now I know that, as with Sgt. Pepper, marijuana helped fuel the creation of what was (arguably) their greatest album, Pet Sounds. And again I have to wonder why something that seems to inspire such beauty is so vilified by our culture. The film (which for Wonder Years fans features Kevin Arnold's mom as Brian Wilson's mom) definitely increased my interest in their music; but it made me even more interested in a group I'd never heard of before: Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew.

American Beauty
I was both impressed and depressed by this movie. It had a lot of good stuff to say, about such things as the destructiveness of homophobia, the positive aspects of marijuana, and the evils of gun ownership, but like Being John Malkovich, I found the characters generally unpleasant and unlikeable. In fact, the only guy I cared about at all was dead at the end, a plot-point I would have found unforgivable if we hadn't been told it would happen at the very beginning. On the whole, it's a beautiful and genuine film, but it ultimately reminded me of medicine: it's good for you, but it leaves a yucky taste in your mouth at the end.

Around the World in 80 Days
I've seen numerous adaptations of this Jules Verne classic, and while I have a special fondness for the vintage Saturday morning animated series (I wish Cartoon Network would unearth that one), I think my all-around favorite is the version that won the Oscar for Best Picture back in 1956. Although Pierce Brosnan did a fine job with the lead role in the 1989 Mini-Series, no one can beat David Niven's classic performance. (Phileas Fogg has always been one of my heroes... he's eccentric, punctual and well-organized; cool under pressure; and ready to play a game of cards in any and every imaginable circumstance.)

Independence Day
The big budget footage of 18 mile-wide flying saucers blasting our major cities was very impressive, but the storyline was as bad as any of the low-budget Cold War-era space invasion movies which inspired it. My advice is to turn off the tape after the first 3 cities are destroyed, and pretend it ended like such a story really would have: with humanity utterly obliterated.

Two Of Us
The impersonations were barely passable, but I was still a sucker for this "what if" tale produced for VH-1, depicting what might have happened one day in 1976, when Paul McCartney unexpectedly dropped by John Lennon's New York City apartment, and they spent the day hanging out together. If you're not a Beatles fan, however, you will probably be bored stiff.

The Poseidon Adventure
"The Poseidon Adventure" was the "Titanic" of 1972 (isn't it interesting how the name Titanic can now be used to summon up the image of both an epic disaster and a mega-success?) and it not only kicked off the disaster movie sub-genre of the 1970s, but it also sparked my own first attempts at writing, my first obsession with a movie's soundtrack music, and my first fascination with shipwrecks involving ocean liners. It features Leslie Nielsen (before he became a comedic star) as the captain of the SS Poseidon, which is struck by a tidal wave and capsized, at midnight on New Year's Eve. Someday I'd like to ring in the new year by actually watching it on an upside-down TV set, as described in Rich Hall's Vanishing America (the same slim volume of stories that gave us the salty snack nickname "Spap Oop" (that's doo dads upside down)).

The Langoliers
Ten airline passengers awake to find that everyone else on the plane has vanished. They land at a deserted airport, where time seems to stand still, food has no flavor, and there's a horrible grinding noise in the distance. It's based on a Stephen King story, but to me it was more like a couple of Twilight Zone episodes I can think of, mashed together and expanded into a 2-part made-for-TV movie. (For you Zone experts out there, I'm speaking of "The Odyssey of Flight 33" and "A Matter of Minutes", along with a dash of "Where is Everybody?").

Emperor of Hemp
Several years ago, I read a book called The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which profoundly changed my viewpoints concerning cannabis and hemp. I recommend it to anyone with questions about marijuana prohibition. But if you'd rather just wait for the movie to come out, your wait is over: get yourself a copy of this video. It's a fascinating documentary about Jack Herer, founder of the hemp movement and author of that landmark book. It's guaranteed to make you question the wisdom of our nation's anti-marijuana crusade. Everyone in America should see this film - our elected leaders in particular.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
A fascinating documentary about what went on behind-the-scenes, back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the original toon stars were making their classic cartoon masterpieces. Like most period dramas, it centers on fictional characters (in this case Roger and Jessica Rabbit, Eddie Valiant, and others) who are inserted into the history and seen interacting with real characters from the past, including Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, who apparently relaxed in their free time by dueling with pianos.

Galaxy Quest
What happens when an endangered race of technologically advanced (but highly gullible) aliens start watching transmissions of old episodes of an alternate-universe's version of Star Trek? They show up at an alternate-universe's notion of a science fiction convention, and pressgang the actors who played the crew into serving upon a replica the Galaxy Quest starship (which they built after a careful study of the full set of "historical documents"). Hilarity ensues. (Note to Joe Frank fans: Listen for Joe as the voice of the ship's computer!)

Fantasia
Dinosaurs and Greek mythology, dancing hippos and marching brooms, woodland sprites, the lord of darkness, and the plucky little soundtrack... if these things aren't enough to liven up classical music for you, then nothing will. On the whole, this timeless classic has aged quite well (though it is interesting to see a depiction of the twilight of the dinosaurs that was created before the popularization of the asteroid-based extinction theory).