- Æon Flux - This empty sci-fi flick's listing on IMDB.com is loaded with glowing user endorsements, leading everyone else who has seen it to believe that either drugs were involved in forming these opinions, the Pod People took these users over or an army of undercover PR lackeys is spinning overtime. This cinematic equivalent of a bronzed cow pie, an unimaginative Logan's Run pretender set 400 years in the future after a global plague, stars Charlize Theron as a rebel trying to take down the corrupt government of Bregna, the only city on Earth. From the way-lazy back story title cards and opening narration to the silly costumes to the cartoonish action sequences to the awful deadpan performances, this should be called Peed-On, Sux. Maybe Theron's mother needed an operation or something, but this is a very bad and brainless example of sci-fi, a puffed-up issue movie that ultimately offers nothing but regret. Instead, check out creator Peter Chung's original, pre-anime craze animated MTV series, which was released on DVD late last year.
- Breakfast On Pluto - The Crying Game writer-director Neil Jordan never really does get into why Patrick “Kitten” Braden becomes a transvestite, but he does manage to save his film from being a rote and self-indulgent celebration of uniqueness when he bobs and then weaves a political cry (for Irish independence) into it. The criminally attractive Cillian Murphy plays Kitten a little too much like Mrs. Doubtfire, though he does sustain the character, and an incredible glam-packed soundtrack helps create an energetic sense of time and place.
- Deep Blue - While not as stunning as the likes of Winged Migration or March Of The Penguins, this BBC-produced nature film sure is pretty to look at. With a calming, minimalist narration by Pierce Brosnan (supplanting Michael Gambon's from the UK release) and a dreamy score by George Fenton, the underwater photography is stunning. The beast-on-beast violence is a bit intense, with one hapless sea lion meeting his end when two orcas play hacky-sack with his mangled corpse (in slow-motion, no less).
Even if you don't know who Bettie Page is, chances are, you've seen her image before. The infamous pin-up girl-turned-bondage queen's jet-black hair, cropped bangs, torpedo bust line and hourglass figure coupled with an impossibly innocent face and sweet, sweet smile earned her countless fans, as well as the nickname "Dark Angel", during her heyday in the 1950's.
Writer-director Mary Harron thought that it would be a good idea to make a biopic of the now-hermitic former it-girl. Of course, writer-director Mary Harron thought that it would be a good idea to adapt Bret Easton Ellis's smelly load-ode to emptiness, American Psycho, for the screen, and watching that was a torture that even Saddam would never have stooped to. While her attempt to glorify and demystify the Tennessee sweetheart is well intended, it is not sound, which is due to a combination of a shortfall of vision paired with the fact that other than the gifts Page flaunted, there may not have been much more to her.
Mad Cow Disease -- which changed its name from Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) when it got famous in the late 1990's -- is a fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle, spread by the host consuming animal by-products infected by this protein mutation. The disease is zoonotic -- meaning it can be transmitted to humans (and vice versa) -- so this forced cannibalism resulted in the deaths of over 150 Europeans through 2004 who had consumed tainted beef. While only five BSE-infected cattle were identified in the U.S. through 2005 (due to their largely soy diet), the panic was enough to cause widespread bans on U.S. beef.
A good parody is hard to spin beyond the here and now. Take "Weird Al" Yankovic, for example. The pop-music jokester has put out 11 regular albums since 1983, when the accordian-playing nice guy's spoof of The Knack's "My Sharona" (titled "My Bologna" and recorded in the men's room of his college radio station) started his career as a musician, comedic icon and food fetishist when it blew up on The Dr. Demento Show. However, every hilarious and unforgettable cut like "Eat It", "Like A Surgeon" and "Smells Like Nirvana" that hit was matched by fade-away tracks like the New Kids jape "The White Stuff" (an ode to Oreos), the Rocky III goof "Theme From Rocky XIII (The Rye Or The Kaiser)" or the misjudgment "Taco Grande" (a riff on Latin rough-boy Gerardo's only hit, "Rico Suave"). The secret to a successful parody is complex, involving a careful balance of picking a song that is big enough, worthy of a good-natured dressing down and most important, funny. The same is true with movies, and the latest in the popular Scary Movie series is a great example of what can go right and wrong with such an attempt.
• Christa McAuliffe: Reach For The Stars - Massachusetts native Christa McAuliffe has become quite inseparable from the image of the ghastly tendrils of smoke hanging over the Florida sky after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in January 1986, but she's also remembered as a schoolteacher who never stopped teaching. It is this second image on which first-time filmmakers Renée Sotile and Mary Jo Godges focus, going beyond blindly reverent fluff and digging into the humanity that made the loss of McAuliffe and the subsequent grounding of the Shuttle so much of a tragedy. With a warm, comforting narration by Susan Sarandon and a note-perfect song track by Carly Simon (whose tapes McAuliffe brought aboard Challenger), the film captures the spirit of exploration and discovery through McAuliffe's example, and not by just stating she was a shining star we should all try hard to emulate.
• Bee Season - Richard Gere as a rough-boy sailor in An Officer and a Gentleman? OK. Richard Gere as a singing and dancing attorney in Chicago? Convincing enough. Richard Gere as a Jewish husband (of Juliette Binoche) and father exploring the mysteries of God through the flawless spelling of his daughter? Oy. Many parts of this existential drama about the ways in which a brilliant 11-year-old (Flora Cross) affects her family are sketchy, as no one of the characters is well-drawn enough for us to care about them too much. Genius was captured far better in films like Little Man Tate and Searching For Bobby Fischer.
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