Movies E thru G

Thursday Night Movie Club
Titles E through G

- thursday, 3/11/99
"8MM" (nicolas cage, james gandolfini, joaquin phoenix, peter stormare).  very disturbing but gripping tale of a good man's descent into evil when he delves too deep for his own good.  NOT a movie I'd recommend to anyone I can think of except larry!

- thursday, 1/20/05
rob bowman's "elektra" (jennifer garner, terence stamp, and (uncredited) jason isaacs).  totally lackluster comic-book adaptation. elektra is a beautiful martial arts killer for hire, but with a heart of gold.  she deliberately blows an assignment when she feels sorry for the father/daughter she is supposed to snuff, and takes them on the lam to keep them safe, with help from her blind teacher "stick".  she ends up fighting a team of ninjas and super-anti-heroes bent on their death, and hers.  maybe it all makes sense if you read the comic books, but it was just so much randomness to me.

- tuesday, 11/24/98
tony scott's "enemy of the state" (will smith, gene hackman, jon voight, lisa bonet, jason robards, jake busey, tom sizemore, gabriel byrne, and very briefly dan "bulldog" butler).  great techno-thriller with standard tony scott/jerry bruckheimer quick cutting and crazy angles - very exciting, with a good touch of paranoia as well, nice dose of humor, clever resolution, and great uncredited tom sizemore mob boss.

- thursday, 12/21/06
thursday night movie club with lar - we saw stefen fangmeier's "eragon" (some kid named edward speleers, robert carlyle, sienna guillory, john malkovich, rachel weisz's voice, and jeremy irons as obi-wan).  not good.  the first thing you have to know about this movie is that it was made for kids. particularly kids who have never seen a sword-and-sorcery movie before and can't tell a good one from a bad one.  the next thing to realize is that it is a star wars ripoff. many reviewers compare it to a low-rent version of lord of the rings. maybe the setting, but the plot was pure star wars: the orphan being raised by his uncle, the grizzled old warrior who mentors him, the evil dictator and his henchmen, and the mysterious "force" that he gets from his dragon. to mention the other similarities would give away too much of the plot.  the special effects were good (especially the dragon), as was the scenery. although peter jackson should sue them for several scenes (horse riding through the mountains and plains) that were stolen right out of "the two towers." i expected to see helm's deep in the distance.  rachel weisz supplied the voice of the dragon. normally, she has quite a sexy voice, but not here. how they managed to de-sex her tones is a mystery to me.  the movie was based on the first book of a trilogy (allah help us!), and the ending clearly set up a sequel. but i'll be very surprised if this one generates enough cash to pay for making them.

- thursday, 8/29/96
"eraser" (arnold schwartzennegar, jimmy cann, james coburn, vanessa williams), a good action-packed roller coaster ride with nifty special effects. 

- saturday, 8/17/96
john carpenter's "escape from LA" (kurt russell, stacy keach, michelle frorbes, cliff robertson, steve buscemi, peter fonda, bruce campbell, pam grier, paul bartel), good though-provoking action and lots of in-jokes, but no real roller-coaster pacing which it could have used.  i decided that carpenter needs to complete the trilogy with an "escape from cleveland" which would fall chronologically between this one and the first one.

- thursday, 8/21/97
"event horizon" (sam neil, lawrence fishbourne, kathleen quinlan, joely richardson).  a pretty lame sf-thriller that felt like a cheap monster movie transplanted to neptune for no good reason.  tons of plot holes.  excellent, almost awesome special effects and cinemetography in many cases, and good acting, but no real movie to hang them on.

- thursday, 4/11/96
"executive decision" (kurt russell, seven seagall, halle berry, oliver platt), basic die-hard-type flick.  only surprise was bumping off seagall in the middle of it!  kurt was great as always.

- thursday, 10/5/00
the re-release of "the exorcist" (dir: william friedkin, writer: william peter blatty; with linda blair, ellen burstyn, jason miller, max von sydow, lee j. cobb, the rev. william o'malley).  basically, it was a very well made and age-defying supernatural thriller about a young girl possessed by the devil, and the efforts expended to cure her.  not really scary, but certainly effective on its own terms.  i think its success is mostly based on the editing; the alternating between very long, slow, tedious scenes to get you nervous, with quick, jumpy, frenetic scenes to make you jump!  it took me some reflection to decide that the main character in the story was actually father karras, the shrink priest, who is the only character who really grows and follows a trajectory (in more ways than one!) during the film.  other comments:  max von sydow was really old even back then (1973) or at least made to look that way.  also, i haven't seen this much vomit and profanity since my college dorm days!!  also: there are several changes in this release as compared to the original version.  in my opinion, all of the changes are for the good, but none were really essential.  even the much maligned new final scene, between lee j. cobb (the cop) and wil o'malley (the young priest), harkened back to the earlier scene between cobb and father karras, and sort of "closed the loop" in a good way.
(for larry's review, click here.)

- thursday, 9/2/04
renny harlin's "exorcist: the beginning" (stellan skarsgard, izabella scorupco, and james d'arcy).  remember that little intro scene from the beginning of "the exorcist", showing an archeological dig and a statue of a demon, and a big blood-red setting sun?  didn't seem to have much bearing on the rest of the movie, but it sure was eerie.  well, this movie uses that as a launching point for telling the story of the early part of father merrin's career.  basically, he is sent to east africa to find a stone idol, but stumbles onto a nest of demonic possession, which tests his faith, or lack thereof, and turns him into THE exorcist.  the storytelling is pretty standard stuff in this flick, but it is fascinating to watch how harlin recreates the look and feel of the original, complete with slow zooms and pans and an almost monochromatic coloring.  two interesting things that occurred to me: for a movie set in the late 1940s, why did almost nobody smoke?  and does stellan skarsgard EVER smile?

- thursday, 9/9/99
stanley kubrik's last film, "eyes wide shut" (tom cruise, nicole kidman, sydney pollack, todd field).  although you could sense the craftsmanship in the production, I can't call it a very good movie. very slow and boring and labored and tedious, seeming to drag on for days! occasional humor that I couldn't tell if it was intentional or not (but suspect not), and of course I hated tom cruise as always. nicole was very meg-ryanish, and looked very nice naked with her glasses on, but other than that didn't add much. the cruise character kept telling everyone that he was a doctor, if it was relevant or not; I couldn't figure out if that was a running gag, or a character insight. or just my imagination searching for meaning in a tedious landscape.

- friday, 8/27/99
rented steve kloves' "the fabulous baker boys" (jeff bridges, beau bridges, michelle pfeiffer, jennifer tilly); immaculately perfect screenplay and heart tugging soundtrack, along with stylish cinematography and slice-of-life drama that doesn't quit.  all about what we do and what we want and how we get it and how we don't get it, set to a backdrop of low-rent lounge singing in seattle in the late eighties.  and oh, that "makin' whoopee" scene on the piano!  I love this movie.

- thursday, 7/31/97
john woo's "face/off" (nic cage, john travolta, harve presnell, gina gershon, joan allen).  great original concept, creative and impecable acting, awesome action.  thrilling, unpredictable suspense/mystery/action film focusing on the good and evil in all of us.

- thursday, 1/14/99
"the faculty" (directed by robert rodriguez, written by kevin williamson; starring known adults bebe neuwirth, robert patrick, daniel "seinfeld's kruger" von bargen, jon stewart, salma hayek, piper laurie, and famke janssen, and relatively unknown but very good teens jordana brewster, clea duvall, laura harris, josh hartnett, and elijah wood) which was the logical successor to "scream" (by same writer) as a self-aware and genre-referring version of the "body snatcher" type film; also logical successor to "dusk til dawn" with the special effects and settings.  good characters, the kids rang true and were all distinguishable, and the suspense was well matched by the effects.

- friday, 6/23/06
rented: thomas bezucha's "the family stone" (dermot mulroney, sarah jessica parker, diane keaton, craig t. nelson, rachel mcadams, luke wilson, and claire danes).  horrible, horrible movie.  a family full of whiney, hand-wringing, self-righteous, liberal pinheads torture a poor career girl who is engaged to one of their sons and visiting for the holidays.  I knew I was in for trouble in the opening scene when one of them was carrying an NPR tote bag.  each family member was more smug and annoying than the next, with one exception:  in most movies, I can't stand luke wilson (or his useless brother), but in this one, he was a breath of non-hand-wringing, non-kvetching, non-angst-ridden fresh air with a simple folksy don't-give-a-fuck counterpoint to his tedious relations.  at least someone dies at the end.

- thursday, 1/6/00
disney's "fantasia 2000", mostly new animated music videos.  somehow not as magnificent as the original, but the donald duck/noah's ark episode and the final forest nymph sequence really stuck with me.  the one repeat, mickey mouse in "the sorcerer's apprentice", seemed really dated.  and the host sequences (steve martin, james earl jones, etc.) were really annoying and completely unnecessary.

- thursday, 3/21/96
the coen brothers' "fargo" (steve buscemi, frances mcdormand, peter stormare, william h. macy, harve presnell), a great, dark, quirky, black-thriller-comedy that pretty much defies categorization except as a "coen brothers" flick!

- tuesday, 7/3/01
rob cohen's "the fast and the furious" (vin diesel, paul walker, ted levine, jordana brewster, michelle rodriguez). basically a summer action flick, it had a throw-back feel to a fifties-era robert mitchum hot rod movie; kinda fun but nothing too momentous. a cop infiltrates a hot-rodding gang that hijacks trucks of booty, falls in love with the gang leader's sister, and saves the day in the end.  vin diesel was pretty cool, but paul walker (the good guy) was very forgettable.  lotsa good car chases and races and explosions, though.

- sunday, 12/6/98
rented "the fifth element" (dir: luc besson; bruce willis, milla jovovich, gary oldman, ian holm, john neville, brion james, chris tucker, tom "tiny" lister jr.).  choppy nonsensical story and uneven pacing, but great effects, imagery, and imaginative concepts - the phrase "eye-popping" comes to mind.  would have been twice as good without chris tucker!

- friday, 10/22/99
david fincher's "fight club" (edward norton, brad pitt, meat loaf, helena bonham carter, jared leto). excellent, creative, keeps-ya-guessing parable about rejecting modern, consumerist lifestyle and getting back to basics (hey, ikea boy!), but maybe going TOO far. great cynical voice-over narration by norton is worth the price of admission all by itself (I am jack's raging bile duct)!  my movie of the year for 1999.

- thursday, 4/13/00
james wong's "final destination" (devon sawa, ali larter, kerr smith, kristen cloke, tony todd) excellent "twilight zone" type movie made by several x-files production veterans; buncha teenagers narrowly escape certain death on a plane flight, then wonder if they were "meant to die" all along.  metaphysical discussions and survivalist scrambling ensue, along with rube goldberg type death traps which both frighten and amuse!  the great tony todd is underutilized as the undertaker who helps them all make sense of it.  nice violent deaths and tension maintained throughout, plus in-jokes of many characters named after obscure horror film directors like val lewton, alex browning, et al.  also: the least likely film EVER to be shown on an airline!!

- thursday, 2/13/03
david r. ellis's "final destination 2" (ali larter, a. j. cook, michael landes, and tony todd).  silly, grisly fun.  basically, a remake of the first one:  a bunch of people narrowly avoid a horrendous traffic accident, and then death comes after them, one by one.  lots of intricate, improbable, but funny coincidences bump people off in unlikely but amusing ways, and the filmmakers don't hesitate to show them in all their gruesome glory.

- thursday, 2/16/06
james wong's "final destination 3" (nobody famous, except tony todd's voice).  this was okay, but not up to the standards of the first two.  the deaths were just as grisly and interesting (especially the two topless bimbos in the tanning salon!), but it just wasn't as funny.  it followed the same premise as the first two:  a freak accident claims the lives of a bunch of teenagers.  but, due to a premonition, several of them avoid the situation and cheat death. BUT... death will not be cheated! and comes after them, one by one. they all die, in strange and amusing ways.  in this case, the initial accident was a spectacular roller-coaster tragedy.  another negative: the great tony todd, rather than playing an undertaker as in the first two, merely provides the voice of "the devil" inviting people in to the roller coaster ride.

- friday, 7/27/01
hironobu sakaguchi's "final fantasy: the spirits within". this could be a first; the first all animated but realistic looking movie ever made. that is, computer generated characters that were meant to look like live action people or "virtual actors". they actually achieved this goal pretty well, especially in the billowing of the star chick's hair and other tiny details.  if only the story had been interesting, they'd have had something. i was also a little put off by the familiar voices coming out of non-familiar-looking people. i'm used to that with obviously animated characters, but not with these realistic looking ones. basic plot: the earth has been taken over by "phantoms" from outer space, and human space jockeys and scientists fight to overthrow them with guns and new-age "gaia" bullshit. voice talents included donald sutherland, ming-na, alec baldwin, steve buscemi, james woods, ving rhames, and peri gilpin. yes, peri gilpin.

- thursday, 6/12/03
andrew stanton's "finding nemo" (voices of albert brooks, ellen degeneres, alexander gould, willem dafoe, brad garrett, austin pendleton, stephen root). now this was a fun movie! great visuals, pacing and directing worthy of indiana jones, and characters that you really feel for. as chuck jones said, it's easier to humanize animals than to humanize humans, and here is another great example. neurotic clownfish marlin loses his son nemo in the deep ocean, and stops at nothing to find him. an endless supply of sly and subtle movie references punctuates the action. I especially like how they take actors who would normally annoy the hell out of you (brooks, degeneres) and utilize them in such a way that they work perfectly.

- thursday, 3/2/06
richard loncraine's "firewall" (harrison ford, paul bettany, virginia madsen, robert patrick, robert forster, alan arkin).  good, but not great.  ford plays a bank security expert, and some bad guys kidnap his family and make him transfer 100 million bucks to their offshore account. at first he tries to resist, but they catch on to all his tricks.  then he gives in. then, of course, he resists again, with better luck.  I kind of expected the whole thing to be more technological, both the setup and the conclusion, but it wasn't. more of the car-chase and fist-fight type conclusion you might get in an episode of "mannix" than a techno-thriller.  but it was well done and worth a bargain price or a rental.  two final notes: harrison ford played the aging banker pretty well, but if he is going to do another Indiana Jones flick, he better do it soon. and second: I've never seen such blatant product placement will all the Dell computers!!

- thursday, 11/2/06
clint eastwood's "flags of our fathers" (ryan phillippe, paul walker, robert patrick, harve presnell, david "sledgehammer!" rasche, john polito) (yes, basically a buch of nobodies).  very moving story of the soldiers who raised the famous flag at iwo jima, and how the DoD then recruited them to lead a pledge drive back home to get people to buy war bonds.  the reluctant "heroes" were conflicted, because they wanted to help the money-raising cause, but at the same time, felt guilt at leaving their buddies back at the front.  lovely palette used in the cinematography, almost monochromatic.  and the lack of any real "stars" gave the film a more intimate feel, somehow.  also, good use of chicago locations, including The Drake, the steps at Union Station, and Soldier Field.  only downside is clint's continued dependence on narration to tell a tale, when a more skilled director might have been able to "show" us the story, rather than "tell" us.  but it was still very moving.

- saturday, 7/30/05
rented john moore's "flight of the phoenix" (dennis quaid, giovanni ribisi, miranda otto, hugh laurie).  this movie got horrible reviews, but I thought it was a worthy remake of the jimmy stewart/robert aldritch original.  a plane crash-lands in the dessert, and the survivors must rebuild a new, smaller plane out of the wreckage to fly home to safety.  good tension and personality conflicts, and moral dilemmas.  such as, is it better to play the odds, or to give people hope?  also, some spectacular wreck footage and dessert scenery.

- saturday, 6/24/06
rented: robert schwentke's "flight plan" (jodie foster, peter sarsgaard, sean bean, greta scacchi).  "panic room" at thirty thousand feet: jodie plays a propulsion engineer (and apparently an airplane design expert) whose daughter disappears during a trans-atlantic flight, but nobody believes that the daughter was ever there.  she will stop at nothing to find her.  it made for a pretty good action/drama, but then I didn't exactly try to diagram the plot for holes.  I just enjoyed the action and the frantic emotions.  it also provided an excellent example of ebert's "law of economy of characters" -- if there is a name-brand actor who doesn't appear to have enough to do, he will turn out to be the bad guy.

- friday, 3/17/06
rented, rupert wainwright's "the fog" (tom welling, maggie grace, selma blair, and other folks you've never heard of).  remake of the john carpenter classic.  a fog is drifting into a seaport town, and killing off the descendents of the town founders, because of a secret that they took to their graves.  enjoyable horror flick, but nothing special.

- friday, 2/10/06
judd apatow's "the 40 year old virgin" (steve carell, catherine keener, paul rudd, romany malco, seth rogen). I have to admit, the previews made it look really stupid. but the critical reviews, and the word of mouth from non-critics, all made it sound hilarious. so of course i assumed it would suck. but it didn't suck, and, in fact, it was hilarious. very understated; in fact, that is probably the most important adjective to describe it. the relationships between the characters was the most important, and most funny, part of the whole experience. the way they obviously cared about each other, and showed it by insulting and belittling each other, rang so very true! if that makes sense to you, you'll probably love this movie. if not, then you probably won't. the whole virginity thing was really just a "mcguffin" to move along the plot, which was really about people and friendships. at least, that was my take.

- thursday, 4/18/02
bill paxton's "frailty" (bill paxton, powers boothe, matthew mcconaughey).  a taught, grim, twilight-zone type thriller about a father with two young boys who is told by God that his destiny is to kill "demons" masquerading as people.  so he does.  grisly scenes and some clever plot twists ensue.  it could have been fascinating and squirmy, but somehow i found it all somewhat boring and felt like it didn't quite live up to its potential.  well worth a look, though.

- saturday, 2/14/98 valentine's day
rented at home, lawrence kasdan's "french kiss" (kevin kline, meg ryan, timothy hutton, jean reno). cute and fuzzy atmospheric love story with great french scenery, great music, and good lines.

- thursday, 2/1/96
"from dusk til dawn" (directed by robert rodriguez, written by quentin tarantino; starring george clooney, QT, cheech marin, harvey keitel, julliette lewis), a very gory combo platter of road movie and vampire flick, with lots of special effects and some creepy acting by QT.  also, a strange role for keitel as a preacher!

- thursday, 11/1/01
the hughes brothers' "from hell" (johnny depp, heather graham, ian holm, robbie coltrane).  johnny depp as a sherlock-holmes type london detective on the trail of Jack the Ripper.  stylish and with some nice grisly, pitiless violence, but other than that, pretty ordinary.

- thursday, 1/16/97
abel ferrara's "the funeral" (christopher walken, chris penn, benicio del toro, isabella roselini, and that other chick).  marginally interesting character study of small time thugs, masquerading as a gangster film.  good bloody scenes didn't skimp on the gore, but the whole thing was pretty unsatisfying.

- tuesday, 8/11/98
rented "the game" (dir: david ("se7en") fincher; starring michael douglas, sean penn, deborah kara unger, james rebhorn, carroll baker, peter donat, and armin mueller-stahl), a taught, fast paced thriller that kept you guessing right up to the end, with several options always available for you to believe in, but real good at keeping you unsure which one is right.

- thursday, 1/16/03
martin scorsese's "gangs of new york" (daniel day-lewis, leonardo di caprio, cameron diaz, brendan gleeson, liam neeson).  very original flick.  I can't remember ever before seeing a movie about street gangs in new york before and during the civil war!  this one was very violent, quite gripping, and excellent at creating a world that you've never seen before but get totally sucked into.  day-lewis was great at creating a character who was a bundle of contradictions, yet totally believable.  basically, it is the natives vs. the immigrants in a no-holds-barred battle for control of the nineteenth-century streets in a lower-manhattan slum.  my only quibble is that it really didn't need to be 165 minutes long; it kind of dragged in spots, and didn't seem to have enough story or concepts to support more than a normal-lengthed flick (this felt like a "director's cut"; for once, I think I'd like to see the "studio cut" instead!).  but that's a quibble; if you have the time, go see it!

- saturday, 5/20/00
cable tv, saw andrew niccol's "gattaca" from 1997 (ethan hawke, uma thurman, jude law, gore vidal), pure science fiction concept, as in "what would happen if" extrapolated to its logical extreme.  in this case, what if medical science can predict your abilities and life's potentials based on your genes, why the heck should anyone try to rise above their potential?  and of course the one man who does try, and the society that smacks him down.  good dry, straightforward storytelling makes the implications all the more chilling.  very scary in a "makes you think" kind of way.  a cautionary tale, it stuck with me for quite awhile.  this is the kind of cerebral movie where visuals and special effects and set designs are meaningless; it's all in the thinking and the concepts.

- friday, 2/23/07
mark steven johnson's "ghost rider" (nicolas cage, eva mendes, sam elliot, peter fonda, and wes bentley).  forget the critics; this was quite good. silly, of course, but it's a comic book, after all. and a damn fun movie, full of violence and special effects and stuff blowing up. what more can you ask for?  nic plays a daredevil motorcycle rider who makes a pact with the devil to try to save his dying father. of course the deal doesn't work out as he expects. but one side benefit is that nic can't be killed. the devil doesn't want his operative on earth damaged. naturally, this is a huge boon for his daredevil career.  one of the less beneficial effects is that at night, he turns into jack skellington on a flaming motorcycle! things get even worse when it turns out that the devil's son is running amok, and trying to take over both hell and earth. nic's assignment is to track down the son and his posse and take them out.  eva mendes is the girl nic was in love with as a youth, but after joining up with the devil, he figures romance is no longer in the cards. eventually, of course, their paths cross again.  sam elliot is the elder statesman who helps nic come to terms with his ghost riderness. as usual, he is the best part of the movie.  there is a great scene at the end where nic is giving a speech to the devil (peter fonda). it is almost the same as the famous speech by henry fonda from "grapes of wrath"! that was cute.  anyway, if you like silly action and flaming violence, and nic cage's brand of quirky acting, this is one to see.

- thursday, 10/31/02
steve beck's "ghost ship" (gabriel byrne, julianna margulies, ron eldard, desmond harrington, isaiah washington and francesca rettondini as "francesca").  great, grisly, creative opening sequence, but then it settles down into a routine haunted-house style movie as the characters get bumped off one by one, and you try to guess who will be the lone survivor.

- thurdsay, 8/30/01
john carpenter's "ghosts of mars" (natasha henstridge, ice cube, jason statham, clea duvall, pam grier, joanna cassidy).  this movie, while pretty original, still reminded me of many other movies (body snatchers, night of the living dead, the thing, etc.).  a handful of cops and criminals are thrown together in an unlikely alliance against a band of possessed, body-piercing, bloodthirsty zombies, all in an abandoned mining town on mars in the future.  part mystery, part horror, part science fiction, part western, it was rollicking fun eye candy with some good bits, violence, and humor, but unfortunately never really achieved a critical mass to keep you enthralled.

- thursday, 5/25/00
ridley scott's "gladiator" (russell crowe, joaquin phoneix, connie nielsen, richard harris, oliver reed, derek jacobi); nice sword and sandal flick, in the tradition of spartacus and steve reeves.  not a masterpiece, but a very good action packed drama, with nice decapitations and skullduggery and other mayhem.  the early battle scenes, and indeed all the violent scenes, make the creative decision to show you the confusion of the battle rather than the strategy, a decision which some may dislike but I found exhilarating.  the early battle reminded me of orson welles' "chimes at midnight" staging, still a classic!  I've heard complaints about the computer generated backgrounds, but they looked mighty fine to me.  and it was great to see the durable derek jacobi back in roman garb! (larry's review of this film can be found here.)

- thursday, 10/10/96
"the glimmer man" (steven seagal, keenan ivory wayans, and a bit part by michelle johnson, not looking as good as she used to) - a badly written but well photographed martial arts buddy cop flick.

- thursday, 4/22/99
doug liman's "go" (sarah polley, desmond askew, taye diggs, scott wolf, jay mohr, timothy olyphant, and william fichtner) - a quirky, gritty, slice of life revolving around several small time losers and druggies and how their lives intertwine.  amusing and dark, but easy to forget.

- thursday, 5/21/98
Roland Emmerich (dir, writer, producer) and Dean Devlin (producer, writer) version of "Godzilla" (matthew broderick, jean reno, hank azaria, maria pitillo, michael lerner, harry shearer, kevin dunn, doug savant) - a rousing, exciting, and well-paced special effects flick (with great effects) that keeps you interested despite the clichés.

- thursday, 10/28/04
takashi shimizu's "the grudge" (sarah michelle gellar, bill pullman, clea duvall, grace zabriskie, and the great ted raimi).  a really bad and clichéd horror movie.  too many little sub-plots for you to get to care about any of the characters, and no real tension in the first place.  it is a remake of a japanese film (by the same director) so maybe it was based on cultural cues that I just don't share, but it left me totally unmoved and uninterested.

Not Wednesday, not Tuesday, Not ... oh bloody hell
Movies E thru G