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May 09, 2003

Another Gripping Insight Into My Work Life

Hard as it may be to believe, I figure many of you faithful readers of the Whatever don't go out of your way to purchase the Official US PlayStation Magazine -- and why not? You have something against good, clean video gaming fun? Well? -- and may not see the DVD reviews I place within its pages every month. So in the interest in sharing my world with you, I'm displaying a typical OPM DVD column for you to peruse. These are the ones that appeared in the March 2003 issue (which means it went on sale in February), on account of my deal with OPM gives them a 90-day exclusive on the material, so these are now over 90 days old. Everyone's happy. Anyway, so here's how I make a little scratch each month.

Four Feathers
(Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson)

Here's an interesting curiosity: A film celebrating the British Empire, featuring Heath Ledger from Australia (where the Brits shipped all their nastiest convicts), Kate Hudson from America (which the Brits taxed without representation) and directed by Shekhar Kapur from India (which the Brits ruled for centuries through the cunning use of flags). No wonder it doesn't quite work. Still and all, it has some good action scenes, and Hudson and Ledger are easy on the eyes, so if you're in the mood for a Kipling-esque wallow in the Victorian Imperialism (and who among us isn't?), here you go. No DVD extras announced at press time.
Movie Rating: Two and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: N/A

Formula 51
(Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle)

Samuel L. Jackson stars in this action film as a kilt-wearing chemist, proving that he is in fact the coolest man in all filmdom, since any other action star trying to walk around an entire film as a scientist in a tartan skirt (even one who's synthesized a legal drug that gives you a super high, as he does here) would probably be beaten to death by the film's anguished financiers. The film itself is mish-mashed squidge-up of elements from Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and their various rip-offs, so if you like that sort of thing, you'll be entertained, and if not, well, Jackson's kilt will probably have scared you off already. Extras: A "making of" feature.
Movie Rating: Two and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Two Stars

Knockaround Guys
(Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper)

This long-delayed flick crawled out of the woodwork after Vin Diesel became the Next Big Thing (or, at the very least, the Next Large Thing. I mean, look at him). Pre-stardom films released post-stardom are often embarrassing moments for everyone involved -- they reek of the "I needed the work" vibe -- but not this one. It's a smartly done mob caper-slash-coming of age story, and features a nicely high-powered cast including John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper (Diesel isn't even the main character -- that role belongs to Barry Pepper, as a mobster's conflicted son). Catch it and be pleasantly surprised. Extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes and the complete screenplay.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three and a Half Stars

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
(Nia Vardalos, John Corbett)

It cost something like $5 million to make and grossed something like $230 million dollars in the theaters, which makes this film the closest anyone in Hollywood ever got to totally free money. The story is standard-issue sitcom odd-couple love story, this time with a daffy Greek woman and a WASP-y guy, but it's pretty funny and you can watch it with your grandma, and both of you can enjoy it. And, really, there's something nice about the fact that the most successful romantic comedy of all time stars a woman (Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the script) who doesn't look like she's equal parts silicone, collagen and starvation. Vardalos, co-star John Corbett and director Joel Zwick add a commentary track.
Movie Rating: Four Stars
DVD Extras: Two and a Half Stars

One Hour Photo
(Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen)

It's Robin Williams continuing his penance for one too many Patch Adams-type flicks, this time by playing a quiet, mousy photo developer who becomes unhealthily attached to a seemingly-perfect family whose film he processes, and then takes it personally when cracks start to show in the family fašade. Williams is cool and creepy here, playing the role of the "quiet guy who keeps to himself" to obsessive, clammy perfection; if nothing else, this is the film that finally convinces you to go out and get that digital camera. Williams and director Mark Romanek add their commentary to the DVD, which also includes the usual "making" feature and a Charlie Rose interview.
Movie Rating: Four Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

Road to Perdition
(Tom Hanks, Paul Newman)

So Tom Hanks is a bad guy in this elegiac tone poem to depression-era gangsterism, and to the sins of fathers visited on sons (both metaphorically and literally in the case of this film). While you're watching Hanks go through his paces, you admire his commitment to his craft, the handsomeness of the production, and the gravity of the proceedings. You also realize that Tom Hanks as a bad man doesn't really fly -- Hanks is the modern-day version of Jimmy Stewart, and no one bought him as a bad guy, either. You accept it on the premise that actors have to do something new every once in a while or be bored silly, and you tick off the minutes until it's done and he can get back to doing his usual thing.

To be fair, Hanks' performance is good, but Hanks never really lets go like he needs to; even at his baddest here there's something held in reserve -- something that Hanks himself probably wasn't aware he was holding in. Contrast this performance with Denzel Washington's luxurious wallow in badness in Training Day: Washington's performance had teeth, while Hanks' performance has a pained scowl. A close miss, but at least it's an interesting miss, and it's helped along by an ace in the hole: Paul Newman, who plays Hanks' adoptive father and crime "godfather" -- a situation with exactly as much potential for pathos as you might expect. On the extras front, director Sam Mendes offers commentary and deleted scenes with commentary; there's also a "making of" feature and a photo gallery.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

Rules of Attraction
(James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon)

Let's make this really simple: If you really want to watch a film of college students acting like angry, hopped-up lower primates, go rent of those videos where they basically post a camera in the French Quarter at Mardi Gras and let people flash the lens at they stumble by. It will have somewhat more plot than Rules of Attraction (which, to be fair, makes slightly more sense than the hopelessly rank Bret Easton Ellis novel upon which it is based), and the characters will be more sympathetic, even as they flash each other for beads and vomit on the sidewalk. No DVD Extras.
Movie Rating: One half star
DVD Extras: N/A

Spy Kids 2
(Antonio Banderas, Carla Guigino)

More pint-sized James Bond-y action with a Latino twist from director-writer-editor-composer-probably-would-handle-craft-service-if-they-let-him Robert Rodriguez. Lots of people find these movies tiring -- Rodriguez is immensely creative in a showoff-y way that can grate after about a half hour, and the kid stars of these things aren't, like, good actors, but when you consider that the average live-action kid-oriented film stinks like a dead rat fresh from a Newark sewer, I'm willing to cut the man a little slack for making the effort not to be boring. Plus, it has Ricardo Montalban! All together, now: "KHAAAAAAAAN!!!!!" Lots of extras, including commentary, stunt and gadget featurettes, music videos, deleted scenes and so on.
Movie Rating: Three and Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three and Half Stars

Sweet Home Alabama
(Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey)

Sure, we think of that winsome little Reese Witherspoon as just the bee's knees, but consider that in Sweet, she plays a woman who is all cozy with one man (who proposes to her at Tiffany's, for crying out loud) but still secretly married to another. Yes, Reese Witherspoon: Wanton, unapologetic adulterer! And yet, people weren't shocked -- they thought it was cute. So, to recap: Probably the most depraved representation of decent sexual relationships in a Disney film since, oh, Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts! A hooker!). Like that will stop you from getting this for your mom. You're all sick. Extras include director commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, a music video and an alternate ending.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

The Tuxedo
(Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt)

Jackie Chan as Inspector Gadget, and really, why would anyone in their right mind want that? For the film, Chan dons a spy tuxedo that's all filled with special effects, but the whole point of a Jackie Chan film is that he is the special effect in itself (yes, I know, he's getting up there in age. He's still more flexible than you or me). Also, the plot, involving water striders infecting the world's water supply, is beyond stupid. I still like watching Chan (he's always amusing) someone needs to mention to Chan that Hollywood apparently thinks all his fans are idiots. At least there's the blooper reel to look forward to, as well as deleted scenes and a "making of" documentary.
Movie Rating: Two Stars
DVD Extras: Two and a half Stars

Posted by john at May 9, 2003 12:15 PM

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Comments

Scott | May 9, 2003 03:05 PM

"India (which the Brits ruled for centuries through the cunning use of flags)."

Ahh, where would the world be without Eddie Izzard?
"You can't claim this, we live here, all 400 million of us."
"Well... have you got a flaaag?"

Joshua Calkins | May 9, 2003 07:04 PM

If possible i'm even more impressed with you than before... an Eddie Izzard reference?! genius! I find it generally disheartening when i used Izzard references in my everyday life and people don't catch them... sad state of affairs... kudos to you!

John Scalzi | May 9, 2003 07:33 PM

Yes, the Eddie Izzard fans have a secret language all their own. When I switched over to Movable Type, I gave some consideration to renaming this area "Cake or Death," but decided against it.

Jay | May 9, 2003 09:09 PM

John, glad to know that your publisher has a 90 day exclusive ONLY. If those reviews were songs and you were signed with a major label, it would be a long time before we got to read them on your website. (Pardon the anti-RIAA activism)

Good words. No surprise you're a writer by profession. :)

Maggie | May 10, 2003 02:19 AM

Hee! I actually subscribe...but I never get to read it because the seven year-old steals it.

Shawn Struck | May 10, 2003 12:23 PM

Believe it or don't, but I was actually an OPM subscriber before I had heard od IndieCrit or Whatever. I followed them here over a year ago and haven't left. ^_^

mark | May 10, 2003 03:26 PM

"Cake or Death" is taken, I'm afraid:
http://www.google.com/search?q=Eddie+Izzard&sourceid=opera&num=0&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8