A Review of “The Simpsons Movie”

Super Size This!, 31 July 2007
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost twenty years since “The Simpsons” first entered our homes. Over the years we’ve seen the emergence of cartoons more scathingly satirical (“South Park”) and more randomly ridiculous (“Family Guy”), but “The Simpsons” has always kept chugging along. While it’s been well past its prime for almost a decade now (oh, how we miss the Conan O’Brien years), Matt Groening and his team have decided to fire on all cylinders for the first foray onto the big screen. Staying true to its form and not trying anything too daring, “The Simpsons Movie” is essentially a super-sized 90 minute episode.

The plot of this film is a rehash of the standard “Homer does something completely idiotic and selfish and gets all of Springfield in trouble and makes Marge hopping mad.” There’s plenty of homages to some of the past great episodes (Jumping Springfield Gorge, Bart Becomes a Flanders), and all the characters are doing their classic shtick. Chief Wiggum almost shooting himself while eating free donuts that have been stacked on the barrel of his gun is especially funny. Most of the hearty laughs are found in the peripherals. “The Simpsons” has never been accused of being subtle–witness here a literal visual depiction of Homer being stuck between “a rock and hard place.” Always gently poking fun at religion (the stuff with Grandpa in church is priceless), politics (here we see Arnold as President), lampooning pop culture (Homer playing “Grand Theft Walrus” in Alaska is a joke about five years too late but still laugh-out-loud funny), and most successfully taking sharp jabs at itself and its corporate sponsors, the film delivers plenty of sight gags and one-liners to please even the most casual of fans.

As the “Comic Book Guy” might point out, this isn’t exactly “The Greatest Episode Ever,” but it packs in more chuckles per minute than anything I’ve seen on the big or small screen this year.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

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A Review of Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn”

 One Flew over the Bamboo Hut, 16 July 2007
9/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

For me, Werner Herzog will always be remembered for his haunting 1979 remake of “Nosferatu.” Next to the silent-era original, it’s probably the greatest artistic statement ever put to film on the myth of the vampire. Apart from that, he’s been one of those fascinatingly enigmatic European enfant-terrible directors, brazenly going against the studio system and doing whatever he damn well pleases, be it documentaries or bizarre art films. “Rescue Dawn” comes as a huge surprise, and proving that he still does whatever he pleases, is a dramatized version of the true story of Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler that Herzog previously filmed as a documentary in 1997 entitled “Little Dieter Needs to Fly.” Masterfully realized, “Rescue Dawn” emerges as Herzog’s most accessible film. After over 30 years of film-making, he’s gone “Hollywood” but has done it on his own terms.

“Rescue Dawn” features classical and feverishly transcendent direction from Herzog, breathtaking cinematography of Laos and Vietnam from Peter Zeitlinger, a triumphant and evocative music score from Klaus Bedelt, and Oscar-worthy performances from an amazing cast. In the lead role of Dieter, Christian Bale once again puts his whole body into the character (as he did in “The Machinist”). Bale has become one of those rare actors whose every role seems to be the performance of his career. Also noteworthy are Jeremy Davies (“Saving Private Ryan,” and “Ravenous”) as Eugene from Eugene, Oregon, who seems to always get cast as the most emotionally unstable soldier, and a shockingly good and sympathetic Steve Zahn as Duane. Herzog puts the cast through the ringer in artistically rendered depictions of torture, horror, and survival in the harshest of conditions. Even in some of the most cringe-worthy scenes, Herzog turns what could’ve been wallowing on its head–witness the fantastic transition from Bale eating live worms and one crawling in his beard to a beautiful caterpillar leisurely making its way across a leaf in the peaceful jungle.

Essentially what we have here is the war-movie version of Milos Foreman’s “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as Herzog depicts a group of average men who were slightly crazy already becoming increasingly more mad through involuntary imprisonment. While Bale’s character refuses to be held down and is constantly trying to keep his brain and skills sharp through plotting an escape, some of his fellow prisoners are rendered hopeless as they have turned their own minds into the most impenetrable walls. Herzog does a great job of depicting tiny bits of humanity and dignity shining through in the most inhumane conditions, and how the will to survive can triumph over death. He’s somehow crafted a movie that is both boldly anti-establishment and unapologetically pro-soldier and patriotism. Being based on a true story where the ending is known to the viewer doesn’t take away from the white-knuckle suspense and human drama. Unlike Foreman’s classic from the 1970’s, where Jack Nicholson (mirrored here by Bale) flew over the cuckoo’s nest and disappeared into his own insanity, Herzog gives up hope. One flew over the bamboo hut…and he made it.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

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Dining Out in Philadelphia and South Jersey

**This post is frequently being updated with new entries and hot spots as they are discovered.  Scroll down and look for the **  to find the latest updates.

This post was last updated on 04-03-10.

The current featured entry, Ariana, appears in blue.

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GREAT PHILADELPHIA RESTAURANTS: 

A struggling novelist need not be a starving writer.  We all have to eat.  Apart from the history and culture, my favorite thing about Philadelphia is the world renowned and ever-changing sea of fine restaurants.  Philly is far more than just Geno’s Steaks.

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A Review of John Dahl’s “You Kill Me”

Dark Comedy Showcases Leoni’s Talents, 11 July 2007
8/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

“You Kill Me” is as dark a comedy as you can get. It may also be the first artistically successful romantic comedy noir. Directed by John Dahl (best known for his indie-noirs “Red Rock West” and “The Last Seduction” and the underrated killer trucker flick “Joyride”), the film depicts a hit man (Ben Kingsley-deep in character) forced into Alcoholics Anonymous by his “family” because his drinking has been affecting his ability to kill people. Shipped off to San Franscisco to start his 12 Steps, he picks up a part-time gig at a funeral home and meets a sassy single woman with “boundary issues” (Tea Leoni-hilarious) after her step-dad dies and proceeds to start an unconventional romance with her while struggling to stay on the wagon and learn how to kill again.

The film starts off very low key, and Dahl keeps such a consistently dark tone it’s hard to adjust to the cadence. As good as Kingsley is here, the show really belongs to Leoni. When she finally arrives on the scene, the film reaches a level of hilarity you weren’t expecting. Her facial expressions, comic timing, and interplay with Kingsley as she learns the truth about his past are pure gold. Leoni has had her fair share of commercial successes (“Bad Boys,” “Deep Impact,” “The Family Man”, and “Jurassic Park III”) but it’s in this type of offbeat low-budget comedy where she really shines. She was dynamite in “Flirting with Disaster” and was the best foil for Woody Allen since Diane Keaton in the otherwise forgettable “Hollywood Ending.” Here all her comic charms are on display, and she proves that at the age of 40, she is aging not only gracefully and naturally, but with all her sexiness and innate talents in tact.

While the film goes through the predictable motions in its final act, it’s the gooey goodness of the middle portion (especially one laugh-out-loud montage of Leoni helping Kingsley train for his return to “work”) that will leave a smile on your face, with Leoni’s luminosity as a comedic actress scorched into your mind.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

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A Review of Michael Moore’s “Sicko”

Shining Light on America’s Health Care Crisis, 8 July 2007
9/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

In many ways, “Sicko” is Michael Moore’s most tightly focused film since “Roger & Me.” Recently he’s dealt with heady philosophical issues involving America’s obsession with guns and violence in “Bowling for Columbine” and then displayed the follies of the Bush Administration and the quagmire that is current geopolitics in “Farhenheit 9/11.” Here he turns his gaze to a single, tangible thing: America’s health care crisis.

Moore is up to his usual bag of tricks with his goofy pop-culture inspired propaganda, expertly combining heartfelt sentiment with big laughs in his anecdotal pieces, and essentially preaching to the choir. Informing us that insurance and pharmaceutical companies are vile profit driven machines who lobby hard in Washington and buyout politicians left and right isn’t exactly telling us something we didn’t already know.  Scary still are the review board doctors working for the insurance companies who get paid big bonuses for denying the most claims, and saddest of all, the people who actually die from not getting their treatment.  Moore, never shying from his political leanings, firmly points his finger at Nixon (whose policies paved the way for HMO’s), Reagan (who propagated the idea of socialized medicine as the first sign of Communist invasion), and Bush (who signed into law prescription drug bills that have crippled our senior citizens). He also suggests that Hillary Clinton, whose own health care plan was shot down by special interests back in the early 1990’s, is now on the same payroll after losing the good fight.

Moore really scores, though, when he starts globe hopping and shows us just how well socialized medicine works in countries like Canada, Great Britian, and France, and how much all of the people involved (doctors and patients) think it’s wonderful and that our system is absurd. The most telling anecdote is when he’s able to get a group of 9/11 heroes suffering from the debilitating effects of having worked at Ground Zero some much needed treatment in Cuba (of all places!) after they have been repeatedly denied by their insurance companies here in the States.

Other than marrying a Canadian or moving to one of these countries where health care is free to all, he offers no solid suggestions for how people who want to stay in America can fix the system other than to give this vague sense that “socialized medicine works.” He’s shed some light on the topic, and points us in the right direction, but isn’t willing to lead the way with any practical solutions.

Some of the most interesting points are made while in France, where the citizens enjoy free higher education, free health care, 35-hour work weeks, and government issued nannies. One of the Americans living now in France points out, “the people in France get all this because here the government is afraid of the people while in the States the people are afraid of the government.” Marie Antoinette, it seems, lost her head so the French could get free health care.

Funny, sobering, and frustrating, “Sicko” is a wake-up call for America to start their own revolution.

Message to Washington: Off with their heads!

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

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A Review of Len Wiseman’s “Live Free or Die Hard”

 

Good Old-Fashioned Shattered Glass Action Flick, 6 July 2007
7/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

“Live Free or Die Hard” is quite a refreshing piece of entertainment this summer in the wake of so many effects-driven computer simulated action/fantasy films. With its silly title, smart-alleck lead character (Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis doing John McClane), and loads of old fashioned stunts involving cars, SUV’s, elevator shafts, big rigs, helicopters, fighter jets, and collapsing highway bridges, this flick is a great piece of shattered-glass entertainment–a throwback to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when movies like the original “Die Hard” changed the face of movie action.

There is some frustration to be had when you start to realize how much they toned down to achieve the friendly PG-13 rating. There’s far less profanity flying, and while the body count is astronomically high (the collateral damage in this film in terms of human life and damaged property is tres magnifique), there’s little blood and guts to be found. Still, die hard “Die Hard” action fans should rest assured knowing there will be plenty of funny one-liners, hot chicks (a wonderful Maggie Q as the bad-ass female villain and the scorchingly feisty and cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane), super smart bad guys (a very good Timothy Olyphant), and jaw-dropping death-defying stunts.

Director Len Wiseman orchestrates the complicated stunts very well like a masterful puppeteer, which is a shock considering how god-awful his “Underworld” films were. The hand-to-hand human match-ups still bear some of his annoying hallmarks, but he’s learned how to blow things up really well and has learned a thing or two about scope and editing in big action set-pieces. The excellent pacing and preposterousness of the stunts (especially the climax involving the fighter jet and the big rig) certainly put a smile on my face.

There’s a whole lot of computer hacking related mumbo-jumbo involved in the story, and there’s a lot of downtime for male bonding and “explanation” of the finer plot points that slows the film down some but is actually nice to see in a world now ruled by Michael Bay-style non-stop action. Plenty dumb, plenty thrilling, and plenty of fun, “Live Free or Die Hard” is a pleasant surprise considering how unnecessary this sequel seemed from conception.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

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The Unlucky Seven: The Worst Films of All Time

In response to last week’s list of the Best Films of All Time, I have decided to name the Worst Films of All Time.

Talking about the films you hate is sometimes even more subjective than talking about the films you love.  I know that sometimes I carry a personal vendetta against certain directors or stars who have made me endure something horrible in the past.  Also, there’s a difference between a bad film, and a BAD FILM.  Everyone knows that an Ed Wood production, a video-game film adaptation from Uwe Boll, or the latest film staring Paul Walker is going to be laughably horrendous.  It also seems that every month there’s another horror movie, comic-book adaptation, or romantic comedy that is shrieking and unwatchable.  There are also those films that are so festering and bilious (Showgirls) or downright silly (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians) that they actually become entertaining.  The truly BAD FILMS are the ones where a considerable amount of talent, effort, or money went into the production and most of the people involved had the intention of making something worthwhile.  Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Here, I, David H. Schleicher, present my

Unlucky Seven: The Worst Films of All Time: Continue reading