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The Cinema Cynic:
Down In A Hole
By John Hutchins

09.26.03


It's time for another installment of everyone's favorite straight-shooter, The Cinema Cynic. Covered in this edition: the new film Underworld with Kate Beckinsale, and three new DVDs appearing on store shelves this week - Holes, Daddy Day Care, and A Mighty Wind.


Holes

One of two children themed movies released on DVD this week, Holes is a pickle of a Disney movie. It ping pongs back and forth between storylines. The main story is about a young Jewish boy (Shia LeBeouf) sent to a forced labor camp to dig in the desert; the other about a school teacher (Patricia Arquette) who falls in love with a black onion seller who's then murdered by racist townsfolk causing Arquette to go on a statewide murder spree. It's what you might call "PG-11." This from the same people who've emotionally scarred generations of children with images of an anthropomorphized deer hearing his mom get shot. Disney aside, I thought this was an above average and entertaining movie. You get the security of a film based on a novel (there's actual 'story development' wow) with good if not occasionally obtuse characters, decent performances, and the Fonz is in it!

All in all not bad.

Grade: A-


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Daddy Day Care

21:30 minutes into the film came the first "guy getting kicked in the nuts" gag, so I figured that was a good place to stop and watch something slightly more intellectual while I ate dinner. During the commercial break for Paradise Hotel, I'm flipping through the channels and land on a UPN showing starring the precocious speaking toddler that plays Eddie Murphy's son in DDC. For some reason after that I just couldn't go back to the movie, hence making this an incomplete review. Unless you have kids who want to see it, or are on an airplane and want to see what family life does to great comedians, I wouldn't recommend trying to watch it.

Grade: Incomplete


A Mighty Wind

As much as I hate to say so, when compared with the previous two Christopher Guest mockumentaries this one falls a tad short. Watching it for the second time I had hoped to appreciate it more but didn't; it was as monotonous and sparsely funny as I had remembered it the first time - one of the main causes being that Eugene Levy is just NOT funny in it. The scenes with him and Catherine O'Hara as Mitch & Micky are ad-libbed, totally uninspired, and have no punchlines. It's as if he needed to get back on the set of the pie fuc#er movie - or maybe that racially condascending one with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah - to come up with anything more for his character than wacky haircut and slightly modulated speech. Levy aside, the trio of Guest Shearer and McKean don't appear enough and when they do the emphasis is usually on the music. The funniest (or at least the wryest) moments come from Fred Willard as washed up, catchphrase happy sitcom comedian Mike LaFontaine. I remember thinking after seeing it in the theatre that Willard rescued the movie like Superman.

What might have rescued it was editing; the DVD has over 20 minutes of additional scenes that almost warrant a seperate review. The scenes are proportionately funnier and the music's better. A song called "Next to Me" had it been included would have been the closest true folk song (when considering Woodie Guthrie as the paradigm) in the whole movie. The extra footage even has its own cast list at the end. Disappointed in the movie, but probably still buy it.

Grade: C


Underworld

Under-whelming.

Imagine The Matrix, but produced for the WB and shot in England by someone who's seen Blade 150 times and thinks plagiary is a disease that killed lots of people in the middle ages. Imagine Kate Beckinsale in a movie worse than Pearl Harbor. This poor, misled Matrix cover song has vampires battling werewolves to find "the one" that will combine bloods to win the war of the species. Aside from that resemblance, it's filmed on eerily alike sets, has Matrix costuming, similar lighting, carbon copy wire work, duplicate dolly shots, identical music swells (in the same key as Matrix incidental music), comparable hair styles, imitative blocking and editing, indistinguishable cinematography; my point being it "borrows heavily" from The Matrix. In deference however to the folks reading this who actually sat through and enjoyed Underworld, I'll humbly submit that I personally found it to be two hours of stale, watch-checking, female-targeted cinema tripe.

The movie opens with a first of many shots highlighting Kate Beckinsale's vinyl clad buttocks. When taken into account this film was #1 at the box office over the weekend, it adds I think a sad credence to the concept humans can be appealed to as easily as red assed baboons. Following a subway gun battle that's more "loud" than it is "good," vampire Beckinsale discovers the werewolves - referred to as lycans in the movie - have discovered a way to put sunlight in bullets; a concept the movie fails not only to explain but never follow up. Then it's on to heavy handed character development amidst bevies of purloined images and plot points taken from films such as The Crow, Hellraiser, TV series like Dark Angel and Buffy, the aforementioned Blade, and back to The Crow again. Scott Speedman (of Felicity fame) does as good a job one could expect given his circumstances; playing emasculated love interest to Beckinsale while simultaneously compacting the gravesoil on his career following similarly foul roles in bad movies like Dark Blue and Duets. Of course no movie is completely without appeal, and my apologies to the makers of Underworld for comparing their film to Duets. The true entertainment value in Underworld comes suprisingly from co-star Shane Brolly's career preventing performance as "Craven," the films Stephen Dorff-ish vampire villian role. Dressed like a Mexican soap opera character, he chews the scenery in an awkward, non-big-screen mixture of Cinemax soft core leading man and Saved By The Bell extra. I hasten to say his performance actually rescues the movie in a sense. Comic relief, however unintentional, can save often the most irredeemable of artforms.

The films last half hour is definitely the hardest to get through. The credits finally rolling reminded me of Christmas morning. The end without um....spoiling it I'll just say is silly, and as is so common these days open-ended; flagrantly exhorting a sequel in lieu of actual ending. Ms. Beckinsale despite her mesmeric appeal, is unfortunately not able to keep this dingy afloat. My advice to anyone still harboring a want to see Underworld in theatres: Save the nine bucks, you've already seen it.

Grade: F+

 

 
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