Daddy-O's 2001 Movie Reviews


The Tick
I've long been a fan of the off-beat adventures of the Tick and his fellow eccentric superheroes, and I've decided that I like the new live-action series even more than the cartoons. To make up for the fact that, without animation, they can't as easily depict some of the wackier villains and their outrageous antics, the new series has been focusing more on the mundane aspects of life in the City where superheroes are common. They don't so much fight crime as sit around in the coffeeshop talking about fighting crime (and about superhero licenses, publicity, relationships, and getting stains out of spandex costumes). In other words, it's like Seinfeld with superheroes.

Zany British historian James Burke takes us on a journey around the world and through 12,000 years of human history, as he examines the invention of 8 everyday devices (the telephone, the computer, the television, plastics, etc) by studying the chains of connected historical events that eventually lead to those inventions. Burke not only makes history come alive in this 10 episode series, he also provides insight into the fundamental nature of change, and even challenges you to think anew about all the manufactured stuff we surround ourselves with, and now take totally for granted. Could you survive if they were all suddenly taken away from us? James Burke has done a number of similar series, but the original set of lessons, made in the late seventies, is the most compelling.

Mullholland Drive
A strange and creepy film by David Lynch that doesn't make any sense until you've seen the whole thing and can piece it all together and understand it for what it is. (Unless someone tells you what it's all about, which I'm not going to do.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Dazzling special effects and faithfulness to the original text make this a worthy adaptation of the first Harry Potter adventure. But I was sad to note that my favorite minor character, Peeves the Poltergeist, didn't make it into the film.

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
The last words of a dying man send a wacky assortment of strangers on a crazed quest for a suitcase filled with cash buried in a certain park under a "big W". An all-time classic of comedy cinema, this influential madcap farce features a long parade of cameos by comic personalities of 1963. I remember seeing parts of this movie again and again over the years, but it seems like I always tuned in late... having seen it again for the first time in years, I found the opening sequence totally unfamiliar (but quite informative).

Filmed during the actual month and year in which the story is supposed to have taken place, this striking adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel of a grim dystopian future is one of the most faithful film translations I've ever seen. It felt just like I was reading that dark, depressing book all over again. The music, by the Eurythmics, is also excellent.

Did you know that the next time a certain volcano erupts in the Canary Islands, there's a chance half the island could slide into the ocean, and that if this happens, it will create a tidal wave taller than the tallest skyscraper, which would sweep across the Atlantic and devastate the entire east coast of America, destroying things as far inland as twelve miles? Neither did I, until I saw this astonishing discovery on the Discovery Channel. It could happen tomorrow, or not for a thousand years, but apparently, it's inevitable.

Biography Close-Up: Sesame Street
I often enjoy Biography's profiles of noted personalities, but I particularly enjoyed this 2-hour special on the history of Sesame Street. The behind-the-scenes material from the early days of the show was absolutely fascinating, and I especially loved the scenes of early muppets in conference rooms, talking about what to name this new show they were working on. Also, as a kid who started watching it when it debuted, I can remember when Oscar was orange (not green), and since I also remember not being believed when I told my younger peers this fact, it was great seeing early footage that vindicated my claims.

Surviving Gilligan's Island
This delightfully informal documentary movie-thing features the surviving cast members [minus the stuffy Ginger actress] reminiscing about the show, with recreations of behind-the-scenes events starring some pretty serviceable modern substitutes (in particular, the guy playing the guy who played the Skipper got his voice exactly right). Great fun, at least for anyone who grew up watching a lot of Gilligan.

My favorite new show on Comedy Central is Insomniac, in which comedian Dave Attell stays up all night, each time in a different city, just wandering around (with a cameraman) looking for spontaneous fun in the wee small hours on the night. He meets quite a parade of wacky late night characters, and shows us what various places around town are like when most of the world is sleeping. As one who routinely stays up until dawn, this is my kind of show.

This new Star Trek series, set 100 years before the adventures on Kirk's starship Enterprise, is actually looking pretty promising! In particular, I'm excited about the ongoing "temporal cold war" plotline they established in the two-hour first episode. With generations of well documented future history at their disposal, an on-going time travel adventure could turn this series into something truly great. We shall see.

The Amazing Race
I've gotten hooked on two very similar new reality game shows: Lost, and The Amazing Race. Both shows send two person teams (each followed by a cameraman or two) on a globe-trotting race that ends in NYC, with a big cash prize going to whoever gets there first. I'm really enjoying them both, but so far, I'd have to say I prefer The Amazing Race. For one thing, it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite adventure stories, Around the World in 80 Days. It's also got some elements of Survivor: the prize is a million bucks, and the last team to arrive at each episode's final checkpoint is eliminated from the game. Lost has a less contrived setup -- players are stranded somewhere remote, and need simply to return home first -- but what ultimately makes TAR more appealing is the nature of the two person teams. In Lost, all are strangers, paired off when they're dropped off. In TAR, the eleven couples are all pre-existing, and include just about every type of two-person relationship you can imagine. Oddly enough, in both cases the contestants I find myself cheering for the most are the gay men. (Go Team Guido!)

Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back
I've enjoyed seeing Jay and Silent Bob as recurring characters, but they just don't cut it as the protagonists of an entire movie. This film has some very funny scenes, but it's also exceedingly dumb and incredibly crude. Even so, there's absolutely no nudity in this film, which was surprising given how heavily-laden with adult content this film is otherwise.

La Jetée (The Jetty)
As is often the case with remakes, I liked this poignant French short from 1962 even more than the masterpiece it led to, 12 Monkeys. While comparatively spartan, containing only the barebones of the latter movie's complex time travel plotline, the original version seems a lot tighter and more powerful. The narrated slide show format, in B&W with subtitles, is also quite striking and compelling. The title refers to the arrival platform at an airport, where a violent incident has just occurred.

The film version of the classic broadway musical is entertaining in its way, but it's totally unlike the original broadway musical. I wish they'd remake this film, with a return to the original script (if you could call it that). On the other hand, I hope if they ever make a movie out of "Cats" that they do what they did with this film adaptation, which is to add an actual plot.

I'd say that seeing this footage of the wreck of the Titanic in an IMAX theater is about as close as you can get to the experience of actually going down there to look at it yourself (and it's a lot less time-consuming).

The Downer Channel
This new NBC series is hilarious! It's also painful at times, since it deals with the every day bummers and downers of life that we all have to deal with sometimes. Plus it's exhilarating, since it's fast-paced sketch comedy served up in 30-second segments, each like a highly compressed TV-series unto itself. My favorite show on this show is the one starring Steven Wright as Walter, but I think the biggest talent on this show is behind the camera, executive producer Steve Martin.

Forbidden Planet
This influential fifties sci-fi classic summarizes like a "Star Trek" episode: a starship arrives at a strange, distant planet and a team (consisting of the captain, first officer, and doctor) leave the ship to investigate the planet's dangerous mysteries. It also has the feel of a "Lost in Space" episode... this crew's spaceship is a flying saucer, and this film's Robby the Robot looks and acts much like the one that was always warning Will Robinson about impending danger. "Twilight Zone" fans will find these and other gizmos from this film familiar, since many Zone episodes recycled "Forbidden Planet" props. Fans of the comedy stylings of Leslie Neilsen will get a kick out of seeing him as a young man in a serious role, namely the starship's captain, but my favorite character is Cookie, the food officer, who gets all the best lines. Even the special effects still look pretty good today, and the music, which was performed on a Theramin, is appropriately bizarre and otherworldly. Finally, this film is to Shakespeare's "The Tempest" what "West Side Story" is to "Romeo and Juliet", and we all know how much better that story got with a little modernizing...

The Return of the King
A few years after their success with the Hobbit, and after a different studio had interpreted the first part of the Lord of the Rings, Rankin/Bass adapted the final book of Tolkein's trilogy for network TV. Unfortunately, picking up in the middle of such a complicated story and attempting to reduce it down as they did was a disaster. And instead of just using Tolkein's lyrics for their songs, they put in completely new songs (including the infamous "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way").

The Hobbit
The Hobbit is my favorite of JRR Tolkein's books, and I've always loved this animated version of the story, produced by the Rankin/Bass animation team in 1977. The various songs and ballads that we can read only as poems in the book are set to catchy music (or in Rash-speak, "Merry Tunes") and the animation is beautiful and stylish.

The Dish
This hilarious Australian film is a funny and moving retelling of my favorite adventure story which even manages to make telemetry work seem sexy. Having once been in the business of moving data betwixt spacecraft and scientist, I could really relate to this story of the team of engineers tasked with being certain to capture transmissions of the first moon landing on the Dish (this being a giant dish antennae). The Dish also provides a great glimpse into what it was like to have experienced the moon landing in another country.

Tomb Raider
I freely admit that in giving this film my highest rating, I am indulging in a guilty pleasure. As a gamer, a male, and a long hair fetishist, I have for years thought that Lara Croft is the greatest action hero ever imagined, and I was delighted with Angelina Jolie's realization of her in the film. The whole thing in fact is beautiful and exciting, much like the game. I think the best way to watch this movie is to imagine that it's the year 2075 and you are watching your friend play the newest Tomb Raider adventure on a PlayStation 9. "Wow, it looks so realistic!" you'd say. "The plot's still pretty lame, though." (Yeah, but it involves time travel! So how could I not love this movie?)

Star Trek Voyager: Endgame
I lost interest in this series some time ago, but like many wayward fans I tuned in for the big two-hour series conclusion. I found it only reasonably satisfying. After successfully bringing her ship home, Captain Janeway goes back in time to instruct her former self to take a short cut at the 7 year point in their 26 year quest. There are some great scenes with Janeway and her future self, but having decided to commit such a giant violation of the temporal prime directive, why didn't she just go to the beginning of their adventure and undo the mistake that stranded them in the Delta Quadrant in the first place? Oh well, maybe the next series, set prior to the original adventures, will be better. I hear they've signed up Scott Bakula, the guy who played the time traveler on Quantum Leap, to be the proto-Kirk. He could be good; he's certainly a fine actor. But won't we always be expecting Al to show up too, as a hologram that only Sam can see and hear?

The Fifth Element
The actual storyline is bogus (just another Battle Against Ultimate Evil) but it's worth sitting through to see the vividly-realized futuristic world of 250 years from now, in which said cornball plotline is set. Think of it as being a cornball action film from the Future, which you get to see now. The film has an interesting structure, too, with each ten-minute segment having a different tone, almost like the film was made in pieces by a series of different directors. Plus, the music is great and the special effects are amazing. So who needs a plot?

Capricorn One
OJ Simpson plays an astronaut who thinks he can get away with faking the first manned mission to Mars. Made in 1978, this film is a rather interesting artifact of its time: Post-Watergate and Pre-Space Shuttle. It's also a great example of how unbelievable the moon landings would have been had they been similarly faked.

What's it like to suffer from a mental condition that destroys your short-term memory, so that you constantly find yourself completely confused about the current situation you find yourself in? And what if you're also on a mission of revenge, with only the notes you leave yourself as clues to the path you must follow? This unusually structured movie does an amazing job of imparting that experience to the viewer.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
On the face of it, this is a really bad movie, and actually, it is a really bad movie. A couple of airheads who are flunking out of high school are given a time machine by a dude from the future so they can pass a history test and thus go on to fulfill their important destinies as world-changing rock stars. So they use the time machine to bring various historical personalities to a modern school auditorium in California, where they all perform a show for the enraptured student body. OK, it's not much better than it sounds. Even so, there are a few chuckles, and more importantly, the time travel is nicely thought out, featuring excellent Future Self encounters and clever fourth dimensional solutions to common adventure story problems, like making a mental note to return, in the future, to deposit a badly needed item right when and where they need it in the present. Plus George Carlin is great as their most excellent guide from the future.

Stand By Me
It's 1959 and a group of four adolescent boys are hiking along the railroad tracks, on a coming-of-age quest to go see a dead body. Well, it's better than it sounds. My favorite line in this film is "Come on guys, let's get moving! By the time we get there, the kid won't even be dead anymore!"

This 1968 spaceflight drama is a fascinating artifact of its day, and it's kind of fun if you think of it as being a true story from an alternate reality. (It's also a fine example of how bad the real moonshots would have looked if they'd been faked by the government.) With the Russians on the brink of landing a trio of cosmonauts on the moon, NASA embarks on a desperation program called Pilgrim, designed to deposit a single astronaut on the moon, before the Russians, with enough food and supplies to sustain him for 10 months or so, until a finally-ready Apollo mission can retrieve him. (Such a plan was actually considered, at least by some.)

Tom Hanks plays a 14-year old kid in the body of a 30 year old after wishing to be "big" at a mysterious carnival sideshow. He ends up becoming Vice President in charge of Product Development at a toy manufacturer, his youthful insights into toy design having been discovered after he was hired as a computer operator. He makes it look so easy, doing it all in just a few weeks... for me, it's taken 15 years.

Triumph of the Nerds
Even if you lived through the microcomputer revolution, you'll learn a few things from Bob Cringley's entertaining 3-part documentary on the history of the home computer... and if you weren't around back then (or just weren't paying attention) you'll find the story of the early days of the Macintosh vs. Windows feud fascinating. But since the history of computers changes as fast as computers themselves, this show is as obsolete as a computer from 1996... it portrays Apple as a fading star, but this was before Steve Jobs returned, created the iMac, and revolutionized everything yet again. (Oh, yeah, and then there's the internet...) But the best material is timeless now, this being the history of the early days, i.e. Part 1: "Impressing Their Friends". It reminded me a lot of my own experiences with cutting edge micro-computer technology in the late 1970s, when my dad was one of those home computer hobbyists who built his own computer using a kit. (Some of my earliest programming experiences were accomplished using a 3K cassette-loaded Basic interpreter, which was a challenge to make useful when the remaining memory available for the program was no bigger than the length of this review, the kit computer having at that time only 4K total. (Let that sink in. 4K. Not gigabytes, not megabytes, just good old kilobytes.) Ah, what a joy it was when he upgraded the machine to a whopping 16K!)

Repo Man
Another quotemaster's favorite, this bizarre film features one of the most intensely striking setup scenes I can think of: A cop pulls over a mysterious Chevy Malibu and is vaporized when he looks at the contents of the trunk. The film then follows the adventures of several competing auto repossession agents trying to grab the car. My favorite of the many vivid characters in this film is Miller, a philosophical sort who gave us the term "Plate of Shrimp" and who thinks the more you drive, the less intelligent you become.

This film is typified by a scene in which the new National Drug Czar, played by Michael Douglas, asks his advisors to "think outside the box" about the drug problem, and to feel free to suggest anything new we might try. But no one dares say anything. The obvious answer is so unthinkable that even this film refrains from coming right out and suggesting it... nowhere in this film are the words "legalization", "decriminalization", or even "prohibition" ever uttered. But perhaps that's the best way to get the conversation started, with a problem statement that begs for discussion. I think everyone in America should see this film, but I particularly recommend it to whoever might actually become the next drug czar: See this before you accept the job.

Torn Curtain
Nowhere is Hitch's concept of the "McGuffin" more strained than in this film. This was his nickname for the secret message or stolen death star plans or whatever it is that everyone in the film is chasing after. In Torn Curtain, Paul Newman plays an American scientist who defects to the other side of the Iron Curtain with a headful of nuclear secrets, which can supposedly be used to build a "defensive weapon" that would somehow make the atomic bomb useless and obsolete. For some reason, the United States military had canceled this project, but then those peace-loving East Germans said they'd fund Paul Newman's research, leaving him no choice but to defect, to live and work in East Berlin, for the sake of peace. Uh, huh. Anyway, you can tell he's up to something, since he tried to ditch his assistant/fiancée Julie Andrews in Sweden, without telling her anything about his plan. This is one of Hitchcock's last films (made in 1966) and it's got more logic flaws than he usually permits, but there's still a lot to like in this film, particularly if you fancy Germans.

 Stairway to Heaven
Also released under the title "A Matter of Life and Death," this classic romantic fantasy is linked in my mind with the Wizard of Oz. Filmed just on the other end of WW2, it reverses that film's color scheme: real life is all in Technicolor, while the scenes that take place in Heaven are in silvery B&W. The story concerns Peter Carter, played by David Niven, a British pilot who survives a parachuteless jump from a crashing bomber (due to the incompetence of his conducting angel) and immediately thereafter falls in love. No longer so ready to die, he refuses to go when his conductor catches up with him, and is eventually granted a full jury trial in Heaven. Oddly enough, despite the religious plot devices, this is more a piece of patriotic propaganda than an advertisement for God, who appears in this film as an English judge, complete with a poofy wig (and as Peter's brain surgeon). Indeed, all of the interactions with Angels and the Great Beyond are presented as being explainable as "highly organized hallucinations" brought on by a neurological condition which Peter is suffering from. (I'd also like to point out that technically, it's not a mere stairway, it's an escalator.)

I missed out on the first season of Survivor... I didn't really become aware of it until it was nearly over, and by then it was too late to get caught up in the drama. But I was impressed enough by what I saw and heard to tune in for the start of the second season, and I'm hooked! But my question is, what kind of rewards do they give to the cameramen and crew who endure the same harsh climate in order to film and set up challenges for the survivors? (Well, I suppose they get to eat...) [Hmm, maybe I should rename this "Daddy-O's Media Reviews"...]

LA Law
I rarely watch regular broadcast TV, so I never saw this show until Kristin started watching the twice-daily reruns on A&E (it comes on after Northern Exposure, itself a remarkably good TV series). But gradually I've gotten drawn into it, and at this point, I've become completely hooked. It's partly just a good courtroom drama show, but the romantic soap operas going on in the law offices of the firm the show focuses on can become rather addictive. Which reminds me - it's 2:57, I have to stop writing now and go watch today's rerun. [Postscript: It was a good one!]

Apocalypse Now
This film is a must-see if you want to know why helicoptors are associated with Wagner's "Ride of the Valykires", or if you're curious about the famous quote, "I love the smell of naplam in the morning." On the other hand, if you don't like disturbing images, this film is a must-avoid. But if you want to know what it was really like in 'Nam, this film is probably a good place to start.

The Devil, appearing as a British fellow named George Spigot, buys Stanley Moon's soul for 7 wishes. Hilarity ensues. This 1967 classic is a must see. The best parts are the sequences in between the wish fulfillment sequences, where Peter Cook's best-realization ever of the Devil carries out non-stop acts of mischief in the background while delivering marvelous philosophical monologues. Watch for the T-shirt worn by Anger: "Make War, Not Love"; I've always thought that would make a great Gobstopper.

Fantasia 2000
In a world of bad and ill-advised sequels, here's one that shoulda been done years ago. Fantasia 2000 is a worthy successor to the original. (My favorite sequence: Rhaposdy in Blue.)



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