Films Review February

BRIDE OF CHUCKY (R)

You can’t keep a good killer doll down. Just when you thought the “Chucky” franchise had worn down for the last time, the latest installment breathes new life into the formula. I mean, any film that kills John Ritter not once but twice has my vote for best film of the year (Next time John don’t be so rude to your fans).


BRIDE OF CHUCKYThe “Bride” is Jennifer Tilly, whose giddy performance as the former girlfriend of the serial killer-turned-killer doll is the highlight of the film. With her slinky get-ups and sexy, helium voice, Tilly is a living doll. All that changes when Chucky the doll (voice of Brad Dourif) is brought back to life, and in retaliation for his ex-girlfriend’s indiscretions, transforms her into a doll as well. Now they’re two of a kind, and need an unwitting couple to make themselves flesh once more. Director Ronny Yu does a wonderful job of making the film a kinetic experience. Lots of macabre mayhem and splashy special effects permeate the film. Go get then Chucky. (Universal)

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Horror director Wes Craven presents this remake of Herk Harvey’s black and white masterpiece of the macabre, and the results are ultimately disappointing. Adam Grossman wrote and directed the remake, which stars Larry Miller (“The Nutty Professor”) as the sadistic killer who haunts the dreams of Alex Grant (Bobbie Phillips). When she was a little girl, Alex watched Louis Seagram (Miller) kill her mother. That was twenty years ago, and now Louis is back for more murder and mayhem. He pops up in the most unexpected places, driving poor Alex crazy. While the first film utilized ominous imagery to make its point, the remake relies on standard issue thrills and chills. There’s not much here to recommend the remake unless you’re a sadist. (Trimark)

DIGGING TO CHINA (PG)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Actor Timothy Hutton makes his debut as a director with this touching coming-of-age tale that features a winning performance from Kevin Bacon. Bacon stars as Ricky, a mentally-challenged man who befriends young Harriet (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter of the woman who runs the small hotel he’s staying at. Harriet dreams of escaping her boring existence when Ricky arrives. They instantly become friends, much to the dismay of their families. Harriet’s alcoholic mother (Cathy Moriarty) doesn’t approve, while her flirtatious sister (Mary Stuart Masterson) is suspicious. When Ricky and Harriet invent a plan to help them escape the restraints of their existence, they’re forced to face the realities of their lives. Sweet and unassuming, “Digging to China” (that’s what Harriet wants to do) features engaging performances, writing and direction. It didn’t get much play in theaters, but deserves to be seen on video. (BMG)

PARANOIA (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Pedestrian thriller stars Larry Drake (“Dr. Giggles,” “L.A. Law”) as a vicious serial killer whose reign of terror comes to and end when he’s caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Christ, you grow marijuana in your backyard and you get life in prison, you kill an entire family and they give you two decades. Makes sense. Doesn’t matter. As Calvin Hawks stews in prison, the only surviving member of his last attack, Jana Mercer (Brigitte Bako), lives in fear of her life. She refuses to leave her New York apartment, and converses with her psychiatrist via her personal computer. Jana’s nightmare continues when Calvin acquires a computer in prison, and begins sending her threatening messages, including an ominous one stating that his sentence is up and he’s getting out. That forces Jana to seek refuge in a friends country house, where she becomes the prey in a twisted game of cat and mouse. Pretty much what you expect. (Sterling)

PECKER (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Goofy good time from writer-director John Waters might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those looking for something a little (okay, a lot) offbeat will be pleasantly surprised. Edward Furlong stars as Pecker (leave it to Waters to name a character that), an 18-year old man who lives with his wacky family, works in a Baltimore sandwich shop, and enjoys taking photographs of his friends. Pecker’s impromptu show of his work in the sandwich shop attracts a New York art dealer (Lili Taylor, always a delight), who buys one of Pecker’s photos and helps launch him in the Big Apple. Before the flash of a bulb, Pecker is the darling of the New York art world, who find his photographs of friends and family unique. How Pecker gets lost in his fame, only to turn the tables on the elite makes for sharp, witty dialogue and some extremely outrageous situations. The supporting cast is wonderful, including Christina Ricci as Pecker’s girlfriend who is content working at the local Laundromat, Mary Kay Place as his flighty mother, Brendan Sexton III as his best friend, and Patty Hearst (a Waters favorite) as a society matron. (New Line)

PERMANENT MIDNIGHT (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Hey, it’s Ben Stiller month at the video store. First, Stiller is on display in last year’s hottest comedy “There’s Something About Mary.” This week, Stiller can be seen in Neil LaBute’s “Your Friends and Neighbors,” and writer-director David Veloz’s “Permanent Midnight.” Based on sitcom writer Jerry Stahl’s autobiography, “Permanent Midnight” is the lesser effort of the three. Stiller still shines as the heroin addicted comedy writer whose bright career begins to fade with his increasing drug use. A high-profile cast does their best to make things interesting, including Elizabeth Hurley as the writer’s ex-wife, Janeane Garofalo as his distressed agent, and former “E.R.” co-star Maria Bello as the woman trying to get close enough to make a difference. The problem with “Permanent Midnight” is a common problem with all films dealing with junkies. It’s hard to care about characters who are self-destructive. While Stiller delivers the goods, the writer-director fails to make “Permanent Midnight” compelling. It’s just dreary. (Artisan)

RONIN (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)They first meet in an out-of-the-way pub, late at night, during a rain shower. The perfect setting for a little intrigue. They’re nameless at first, but hey, isn’t that Robert De Niro? Yeah, and the woman behind the bar, wasn’t she Truman’s fantasy in “The Truman Show?” That guy sitting at the bar? Didn’t he double-cross Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible?” And speaking of double- crossing, isn’t that guy in the booth the same person who tripped up Harrison Ford in “Patriot Games?” The answer is yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. In “Ronin,” director John Frankenheimer wisely casts familiar faces to flesh out his thriller about a crack team of professionals hired to retrieve a silver case. This is important because Frankenheimer and writers J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz waste no time kicking the film into high gear. Before the film is over, we’ll know about these characters, but it’s important for us to immediately identify with them. “Ronin” looks and plays like one of those great 1970’s detective thrillers. It’s tough, it’s gritty, and it doesn’t rely on process shots or special effects to tell its story. What you see is what you get, and you get an eyeful. Despite some clumsy plot points, I really liked “Ronin.” It reminded me of Frankenheimer’s “The French Connection II,” which like “Ronin,” takes place in France, and deals with a relentless pursuit. The director and the writers do a splendid job of delivering this expository dialogue without dragging out the film. Instead, once “Ronin” kicks into gear, it’s non-stop thrills. “Ronin” features some hair-raising chase sequences that turn the small, cobbled streets of France into demolition derby. Catch your breath and hold on for dear life, because these scenes are truly spectacular. (MGM Home Entertainment)

SOCCER DOG: THE MOVIE (PG)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)If imitation is really the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks behind “Air Bud” must be blushing. How else do you explain this variation on a theme about a young boy named Clay (Jeremy Foley) who hopes that joining the local soccer team will help him fit in with his new parents and town. Clay finds soccer and making new friends difficult, but all that changes when Clay meets dog on the run Lincoln. When a key soccer player is injured, the coach reluctantly recruits Lincoln, who not only helps win the game but revitalizes the team. Now life is good, except for that pesky animal control officer out to snare Lincoln, and a rival team that fights fire with fire by securing a pooch of their own. Lightweight fun, the film will appeal mostly to children who don’t care that they’re seen it all before. Available for sell-through at $19.99. (Columbia-TriStar)

URBAN LEGEND (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Poor Natalie is having a bad day. Her best friend Michelle from high school has been decapitated by a madman hiding in the backseat of her car. Another friend found his precious pup baked in the microwave before having Pop Rocks and Drain-o shoved down his throat. Then there was her amorous friend who parked out in the middle of nowhere, left to take a leak, and then wound up hanging from a tree above the car, his feet scratching at the roof. Don’t forget about her college roommate, who is murdered in the next bed while Natalie sleeps. Boy, those sorority initiations are getting tougher all the time. If they sound like stories you’ve heard before, you’re right. They’re called urban legends, folklore that has become so wide spread and so well known that it seems like truth. The lady who found a friend rat in her bucket of chicken. The celebrity who experimented with little furry rodents and lost one where the sun don’t shine. We’ve all heard them, and some of us have passed them off experiences that have happened to someone we know, or to the friend of a friend. You know, my brother has a friend whose sister works as the night nurse at the local hotel, and she was the one who admitted the celebrity with the gerbil problem. Truth is, none of it ever happened. It was just an “Urban Legend.” That’s the premise of a new film that tries desperately to ride on the same wave as “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” but drowns in the process. “Urban Legend” is so predictable and pedestrian you wonder why they even made it. (Columbia-TriStar)

YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)If timid audience members had a hard time sitting through the carnage at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan,” they would never survive the human mine fields of writer-director Neil LaBute’s viciously candid and funny “Your Friends and Neighbors.” LaBute doesn’t write rosy romantic comedies. He writes scathing social satires about selfish, rotten people who are enjoyable to watch from a distance. LaBute’s first film, “In The Company of Men,” was raw and nervy. It was about two corporate men who decide to get even with women by wining and dining a deaf secretary until she falls in love, and then dump her. It was tough to watch, but proved LaBute’s ability to keep us glued to our seats no matter what he throws at us. LaBute raises the stakes with “Your Friends and Neighbors.” There are no likeable characters in LaBute’s latest, just a steady stream of pathetic, selfish people who wind up cheating on each other one way or another. Before the film is over, the only person the characters haven’t slept with is the director. He was too busy filling their mouths with some of the most sexually candid and hilarious dialogue heard this year. How refreshing to hear adults talk like adults. LaBute’s cast couldn’t be better, especially Jason Patric, whose sauna confession to friends Ben Stiller and Aaron Eckhart was one of the most devastating moments on screen this year. (Polygram)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

BENEFICIARY, THE (R/Orion)

ERUPTION! (R/New Horizons)

SHAME II: THE SECRET (PG-13/Paramount)

SHOT THROUGH THE HEART (R/HBO)



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