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Respectfully, Yours – Part 2: Eight Critics Review the Reviewers

Generally, the staff gets along very well, adhering to the policy of one review per film. Every now and then, however, we feel compelled to strike down with great vengeance and furious anger upon our fellow critics. Mulholland Drive, Thirteen Days, and Mission: Impossible 2 even merited their own double-whammy, polarized reviews (and we even went back to Mulholland Drive again in its own feature). In our second installment of ‘Respectfully, Yours,’ the gloves come off again as we sound off against highlights and lowlights from the archive. Are you not entertained?

The Lord of the Rings (original review 3 1/2 stars, by Christopher Null) Editor-in-Chief Christopher Null gifted Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring with a nominally positive review, despite what he describes as ‘substantial’ negatives. Apparently, these flaws consist mainly of complaints about effects and length, since Chris avoids discussing anything else.

Null was for some reason convinced that the ‘glaringly obvious digital/miniature/matte painted backdrops’ would ‘wear you down.’ Strangely enough, almost none of the backdrops in Fellowship were painted or digitized. Rather, Fellowship was filmed largely on location in New Zealand, with the backdrops Chris describes as phony CGI being constructed either from scale models, or from actual landscapes and sets built into the rugged and beautiful New Zealand hills. Few films have managed such a breathtaking mix of stunning and realistic vistas with such a grand sense of scale. Truthfully, that which is Chris’ chief complaint is really one of the film’s many strengths. Even Oscar is out to get Chris, awarding Fellowship Oscars for both Visual Effects and Cinematography.

As for length, Fellowship is not the first masterpiece to clock in at more than 90 minutes. Many of the most successful films in movie history check out at well over three hours. With the advent of Ritalin, it is now easier than ever to remain seated for extended periods. In the case of Lord of the Rings, it is well worth it. –Joshua Tyler

Editor’s Note: Josh goes by ‘The Film Hobbit’ on the Net… which you might consider when reviewing his impartiality on Tolkien movies. I still say Fellowship had its share of cheesy effects and plenty of digital ones, too (see production photo). Also, ‘scale models’ is another way of saying ‘miniatures.’ -CN

Death To Smoochy (original review 1 1/2 stars, by David Levine)

My esteemed colleague David Levine couldn’t have missed the boat farther in his analysis of Death to Smoochy‘s satire. His slighting of the charismatic performances given by Robin Williams and Edward Norton is the centerpiece of his ignorance. The basic irony that Randolph is so psychotically obsessed with being a host of a children’s show and the lengths to which he’ll subject himself to reach his goal add a sinister layer when looking upon his predecessor. Will Norton crack, can he really be that good, and even if he is, how far can someone that idealistic reach in a city so used to eating the naïve? Not to mention that both Williams and Norton are playing roles extremely divergent from their most recent work, and the carry them rather well in the process. Granted, some of the plot contrivances in Death to Smoochy produce groans, but overall it’s been one of the better films I’ve seen this year. And, for the record, Death to Smoochy was all about the emptiness in the lives of those running a show for youth, who have lost the basic reasons for their craft in favor of the almighty buck. –Rachel Gordon

The Queen of the Damned (original review 3 stars, by Joshua Tyler)

I had big, big problems with The Queen of the Damned. It was the first film of 2002 where I had to physically restrain myself from grabbing boxes of Jordan almonds from people in the theater and hurtling them with the ire of Ridley Scott losing his umpteenth Oscar. You can imagine the screaming when Tyler gave this monstrosity of a film a three star rating. My three cats haven’t recovered yet from my tirade.

The film’s direction reminds of some crass night course taught by ex-MTV video hosts (no, I will not call them VJs) on how to filch every camera angle and technique seen in the past twenty years of music video production (in fact the movie was originally meant to go straight to video). The script is pathetic, laced with ridiculous soap-opera rites of passage, courtesy of Anne Rice. But the most damning evidence of this cinematic inhumanity is unbearable singer Aaliyah’s portrayal of the Queen, which appear to be compiled from B-roll from her music videos and then digitally added to the film.

Tyler’s comment in his original review regarding Stuart Townsend’s nipples even raised my eyebrows: ‘[Townsend’s] nipples too perform wonderfully, under the most difficult of circumstances. Normally, the performance of a man’s chest is not worth comment, but Townsend goes through so much trouble to continually display them, it’s almost impossible not to notice.’ I’m not going to harp on Josh about his nipple fetish, but I saw Jake Busey shirtless in Tomcats and I didn’t mention one thing about it. –Max Messier

Monster’s Ball (original review 1 star, by Jeremiah Kipp)

Most movies about depravity are really about entertainment, but director Marc Forster avoids preachy speeches, big sappy moments, and melodramatic music with Monster’s Ball. Even during the movie’s most important scenes, Forster doesn’t overplay the material. He knows that careful, quiet dialogue, and long, silent pauses speak louder than lengthy emotional summaries.

Jeremiah gave this film one star, the lowest possible rating. He criticizes the movie for the its stark seriousness and how it takes time to develop the characters. He also dislikes the pace of the dialogue. Funny, because this very script earned a deserving Academy Award nomination. Jer also panned the performance by Halle Barry, saying ‘she can’t even act.’ Even funnier, she won the Best Actress Academy Award for this very performance. Looks like the majority agrees with me on this one. Monster’s Ball is a harrowing, powerful portrait of real human grief. –Blake French

Training Day (original review 4 1/2 stars, by Blake French)

Perhaps everyone really wanted to see Ethan Hawke bitch-slapped for his lousy career, but that’s hardly enough to merit all those heaps of praise lauded upon the ‘so fierce he’s cool’ bad-cop thriller Training Day. ‘Unquestionably convincing, disturbingly realistic, and unflinchingly honest,’ hailed Blake French, and he wasn’t alone. But I wonder i
f bamboozled critics would have said the same thing if Denzel Washington had played the John Lithgow psychopath in the equally incompetent Ricochet instead of an honest cop.

Yet French continues, ‘It’s altogether one of the year’s most thought-provoking films.’ Indeed, it’s worth analyzing how Hollywood is comfortable placing a demonic black face on police brutality (guess we’ve forgotten about the Diallo slaying, the Louima rape, and the Rodney King beating — I suppose you could say Washington’s casting defies stereotype; I’d argue it ignores political integrity). Button-pushing aside, it’s still nothing more than a slapdash, incompetent, urban rap video directed with faux-gritty style (not conviction, but style) by Antoine Fuqua, the hack behind Bait and The Replacement Killers. When Washington claimed to be chasing the great Sidney Poitier during his respectable Oscar speech, then announced Fuqua as a bright young genius, it was enough to make your head spin. — Jeremiah Kipp

John Q (original review 3 1/2 stars, by Norm Schrager)

I have to respectfully disagree with you Norm. John Q is not ‘the most crowd-pleasing film of the season.’ In fact, this tasteless film is nothing short of political rhetoric.

Denzel Washington does play a convincing dad who is thrown over the edge when his son is denied the medical coverage that will save his life. A more interesting and challenging effort would have directed John’s anger at his insurance company, not the local emergency room. The insurance companies are the true problem.

I am a firm believer in responsible filmmaking. John Q is irresponsible for endorsing a character that takes a gun into a hospital and demands a surgery. If it was not irritating enough that he got the surgery, before the final credits role, we get a couple of inappropriate proclamations regarding the many people who are denied surgery every year. By placing this kind of message at the end of the film, the filmmakers have turned this movie into a political statement encouraging those in John Q’s circumstance to take the law into their own hands. John Q is not a hero; he is a criminal. I did not cheer for him; I loathed him. You can call me mean-spirited but I find it hard to believe anyone would find his violent behavior acceptable, regardless of the circumstances.

John Q is the most crowd-preaching film of the season. –David Levine

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (original review 4 stars, by Max Messier)

From looking back at a history of his reviews, Max normally goes for movies that (a) feature large guns, (b) feature lots of blood, and/or (c) feature Rob Schneider peeing on things. This makes his cheering on of Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire all the more inexplicable, because it features none of these three things!

What it does have is the worst animation since Pocahontas, inexplicable characters writ larger than life, and a story that makes absolutely and utterly no sense to adults. And this is supposed to be a movie for children! Next to recent animated movies like Shrek, Monsters, Inc., and Toy Story 2, Atlantis looks like a fanciful ‘history’ filmstrip from third grade.

What could color Max’s opinion on a movie so awful it earned only $84 million at the U.S. box office (but cost $90 million to make!)? I’d like to think it has something to do with drugs or alcohol, but the reality is he probably got infatuated with the movie after interviewing Thomas Schumacher, head of Disney Animation, and filmmakers Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, the three responsible for this mess. Shame! Didn’t you see Almost Famous, Maxie? –Christopher Null

National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (original review 1 star, by Blake French)

Like my esteemed colleague Blake French, I have a number of issues with National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. The plot stumbles from scene to scene like Barney Gumble on an obstacle course. Teen movie legends Paul Gleason, Curtis ‘Booger’ Armstrong, Tim Matheson, and Chris Owen (‘Sherman’ from both American Pie movies) are shamelessly underused. The supporting cast includes a former houseguest on MTV’s The Real World.


But what makes Van Wilder a guilty pleasure is Ryan Reynolds. He plays the title character with such a happy-go-lucky charm that I smiled every time he appeared. And his delivery, a mixture of wise-ass and James Bond, suits a movie that takes nothing seriously. Reynolds carries the movie, which features an array of hit-and-miss gags and Tara Reid playing the most beautiful student journalist in film history.

All things considered, three stars sounds more reasonable — maybe three and a half if I didn’t happen to visit a bakery or a dog kennel within 24 hours of viewing. –Pete Croatto

Read Part 3 of Respectfully, Yours!

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