Count of Monte Cristo, The

I don’t know. But it did. Now, I got some spoilers here so watch out. Bare bones review: the movie is pretty solid and I would recommend it.

For all you illiterates and twelve year-olds out there, “The Count of Monte Cristo” is based on the classic (and really fucking long) novel by Alexandre Dumas who also wrote “The Three Musketeers” (and if you ever get the chance–there is an excellent stage adaptation written by Charles Morey that is the best version of the story I have ever seen). “Monte Cristo” was made into a Richard Chamberlain movie which I slept through in English class and is often described as the mother of all prison break movies. This version stars Jim Caviezel as Edmund Dantes, a naive sailor, and Guy Pearce as Count Mondego, a fellow adventurer and Edmund’s best friend. The movie opens with Jim and Guy landing on the island of Etta. Their ship’s captain has a “brain fever” and they are desperately looking for a doctor. Complications arise from the fact that Napoleon is being held prisoner on the island and, fearful of a possible prison break, his British captors have been ordered to shoot on sight anyone who sets foot on the island. Thus is set up our first big action scene and it’s poorly staged and confusingly edited and I was pissed as hell, cause it looked like I was going to be in for a long night.

In fact, the whole first act feels clipped and rushed like they new the film was long (this cut came in at about 130 minutes), they needed material to excise and the set-up was chosen to go.

Now, Dumas wrote really complicated plots so I won’t go into detail how or why Jim is set-up for treason by Guy and sent to an inescapable island prison, but suffice to say when Jim does get imprisoned, the movie starts to pick up steam. Jim is befriended by an old, wrongfully imprisoned priest played by Richard Harris who is much better and more lively here than he was in Gladiator. Dick teaches Jim all about mathematics, how to play swords and most importantly the location of a huge Spanish treasure. This is easily the best section of the movie, interesting and full of suspense and if it feels derivative of The Mask of Zorro… well, motherfuckers, guess who ripped off who. After Dick dies, Jim escapes the island and runs into a group of smugglers. Luis Guzman is one of these smugglers and he is set-up as one of the world’s greatest knife fighters and Luis is going to fight Jim to the death and if he doesn’t…the smugglers will kill both of them. So, there’s this great set-up for what will be a great action set-piece…only it never happens. Jim disarms Luis in about two seconds and then tells the smugglers that he refuses to fight and the smugglers say, “Okay. Come be a pirate with us.” The fuckr Look, you could have just put up a title card that says: “Jim meets a gifted minority actor who agrees to be his manservant and comic foil.” Lazy. And Luis Guzman is too good for treatment like that. Seriously, every time he was on screen I saw the audience lift themselves out of their seats so they could better see what he was doing. Dude’s got talent and charisma and even with the shitty material he had to work with, was quite good.

But enough negative remarks about the writing. One thing I really loved about this movie was the depth of characterization. Guy has his own petty, selfish reasons to do what he does, but we totally buy into it. And while he did fall into some mustache twirling shenanigans every now and then, most of the time Guy was quite human and very believable. Jim was even better, depicting a character who starts off as innocent and naive then becomes a shell of his former self: hollow, haunted, consumed with revenge. I thank Terry Malick and The Thin Red Line for introducing us to this actor. It’s great fun to see Jim reinvent himself as the Count, and begin his exacting revenge on his former captors. There’s also a nice little love story between Jim and newcomer Dagmara Dominczyk, who plays Mercedes, Jim’s former fiance who has since married Guy. The climax of the movie is a little goofy. Does Jim really have to go “mano a mano” with Guy even after he has taken Guy’s family and money and exposed him as a murdererr I don’t know, it seemed kind of liked, “Hey, Gladiator had a big swordfight at the end, maybe we better have one, too!” I guess you do need one, but the motivation behind it didn’t seem so strong to me (shit, there I go talking like a creative exec again…). Oh, there’s also this one really lame character sub-plot about Jim losing his faith in God, but then he finds it again, I guess, by ramming steel rods through people’s chests and breaking Dorleac’s (Michael Wincott) neck.

This movie is better than any other big studio Hollywood action picture I’ve seen this year. The fight scenes may not be as flashy as what we’ll get in “The Musketeer,” but the story, characters, acting and visual design is all there. Solid filmmaking. I recommend it.

Rating: B+

American Pie 2

This guy almost… almost… ruined the film for me, as he did the first one. You see, the “American Pie” movies are not documentaries, and are not rooted in reality. When I see a film like this, I want hot guys. I want N’Sync. I want hot chicks, like Destiny’s Child. I want some hot ass flesh. And Jason Biggs is just about the nastiest, most repugnant creature to ever grace the screen. I won’t go into his Ed Wood-level acting skills — but his charismar This moron makes Freddie Prinze Jr. look like an A-list superstar! His greasy hair and pit bull’s face leave me with the desire to tear him a new asshole with my stiletto heel. Every time he was onscreen, I tried to choke on my popcorn. Jason Biggs might represent the ‘every-boy loser’, but you know what, I can see that looking out my window. If I’m gonna pay my hard-earned dollars to visit the cinema, you bet your sorry ass that I’m going to see six-packs and zit-free skin.

But enough about that. Your Lolita had a marvelous time ogling the other boys. Chris Klein just gets better and better, surpassing even his wonderful role on “Here on Earth.” He’s so adorable, oh my God he is sooooo cute!!! I have had a thing for Thomas Ian Nicholas since he played the kid with the killer fastball in “Rookie of the Year.” Seann William Scott is back as Stifler, the jock with the shit-eating grin you know you want to nail. And finally, rounding out the babelicious guys is Eddie Kaye Thomas. There was just something about him, the refined, mature attitude, the suave way he spoke and acted. The kid wouldn’t last a day in my world of pleasure and pain, none of ’em would, but hey, a girl can dream, rightr

I guess I should also mention the girls: Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, and Tara Reid. And Jennifer Coolidge, of course. I’m not going to get into the girls, because they really aren’t what gets me hot: I need dick for that. Except maybe Stifler’s mom. MILF! MILF!

The main difference I noticed between the movies: the pathetic antics by pathetic virgins have become pathetic antics by non-virgins. Nothing has changed much. Jim is still f-uuuuugly. Oz and Heather are wasted, used only for some boring phone sex scenes. (If you Hollywood boys need a consultant, I am most available.) Kevin and Vicky: wasted! The only characters to get any decent scenes and play were Stifler and Finch, in my lovely opinion.

By the way — they were dropping some serious homo innuendo for Stifler. I was afraid they’d turn him into some gay guy in major f***ing denial, but luckily, the two “lesbians” dashed that possibility into pieces. Not that I have a problem with gay men, they usually are quite obedient… but Stifler is MINE. Once my leash is around his balls, the only dick he’d ever get is when I strapped it on.

And Finch, who learned Tantra and Japanese over the year, remains the most desirable. Who wouldn’t want to screw for daysr It’s so hard to find someone so disciplined and ambitious as he was. Plus, they should have used more of Klein. They are just so cute and adorable! And some N’Sync music would have helped. I love them! JC is so gorgeous!!!

Until next week, I’ll be listening to N’Sync and writing fan letters.

Lolita out.

Rating: B-

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Snapman)

While I bet it sounded very funny on paper, and maybe if done in separate sketches some of the scenes alone might be funny. This was an hour and a half of combined sketch comedy that I rarely found amusing.

I can enjoy a comedy that has no real plot, one that’s sole purpose is to go directly for a laugh and not worry about what it has to do to get there. In order to enjoy a movie like that it has to be able to make me actually laugh, and often. This film just could not manage that task. I laughed during Sean William Scott’s cameo, and Will Ferrell caused me to laugh a couple of times, but these laughs were few and far between. Major cameos in this movie happened so often that after a few minutes the neatness of seeing someone make an appearance lost its appeal. Instead of being surprised when another famous person makes an appearance it was more like “huh… that’s Judd Nelson… OK, whatever”.

I can hear the initial story being laid out… Jay and Silent Bob leave New Jersey to stop the movie about their characters, then hilarity and crazy antics ensue. The problem is they forgot the hilarity in the equation, there were a lot of ridiculously crazy situations that occurred, but they weren’t very funny. This movie relied too much on being obscene for shock value, and not enough on actually translating its humorous ideas into funny scenes.

Having now seen this film and “Dogma” I must say I am not terribly impressed with Smith’s talents. This is just another gross out comedy like all of the Farrelly Brothers movies; the only difference is this one has a ton of cameos. I still plan on checking out Smith’s other films, but because of my overall dislike of this film it will probably be awhile before I can bring myself to rent one of his films.

Rating: D+

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

The film begins with an “origin” story for Jay and Silent Bob. Sadly, the comic “payoff” in this scene is simply a baby saying “fuck” several times, which doesn’t do it. Then, Randal and Dante (from “Clerks”) call the police and get a restraining order against Jay and Silent Bob, preventing them from staying at their post outside the Quick-Stop. They then go visit Brodie (from “Mallrats”) at his comic store, who tells them that a movie is being made based on the “Bluntman and Chronic” comic book. As usual, Jason Lee is brilliant in this little bit. So, they visit Holden McNeil (from “Chasing Amy”) who tells them that the movie is being made, and introduces them to the “Internet”—where people say nasty things about Jay and Silent Bob. Because nasty things are being said about them, Jay and Silent Bob head off to Hollywood.

The next act has some serious problems, and makes no sense from a narrative standpoint. There’s a lot of sketch-y type stuff going on—a long bit involving “the rules” of hitchhiking, a completely out of place Scooby-Doo parody, until finally, at a “Mooby” restaurant (one of the few “Dogma” references in the film), Jay and Bob meet Justice (Shannon Elizabeth) and her friends Chrissy, Missy, and Sissy (Ali Larter, Eliza Dushku, and Jennifer Schwalbach Smith). They, along with an animal-loving troubadour (Seann William Scott) are going to Boulder, Colorado, allegedly to free animals from a research lab.

We get to Boulder, and it’s revealed that Jay and Bob have been set up as patsies by the girls. They will break into a lab and liberate monkeys, while the girls perform an elaborate diamond heist across the street. I’m unclear on exactly how the heist is performed, but it requires all the girls to get dressed in skin-tight leather catsuits and perform strange martial arts maneuvers. Needless to say, things go wrong, but everyone escapes, just barely—the girls with the diamonds, and Jay and Bob with a monkey. Jay and Bob then, with the monkey, finally make their way to Hollywood, where the final act occurs.

In Hollywood, Jay, Bob, and the monkey, pursued by Federal Marshal Willenholly (Will Ferrell) and an overzealous security guard (Diedrich Bader), go on a wild romp through the Miramax lot, and everything climaxes in a shootout and everyone getting down to the music of Morris Day and the Time. Obviously, the plot really doesn’t matter that much. It’s all an excuse for bizarre comic set-pieces and speeches.

The film is intermittently hysterical. Basically, once Jay and Bob get onto their first movie set, there’s a 10+ minute stretch of the film that’s non-stop laughter as they’re chased through various movie sets. After then, we move into closing the film’s “plot,” which takes far too long for its own good, including a 3 minute montage of Jay and Bob kicking people’s asses. There are a lot of good jokes and solid laughs throughout the film (with Affleck and Lee giving the most laughs per time), but there are times when the film is just DEAD.

The film has substantial problems as well. First is its inaccessibility. There are LOTS of lines that are fairly obscure “View Askew” jokes—like “Affleck! You were da bomb in Phantoms!” and brief appearances by just about every major character from Smith’s previous films who still exists on Earth. Most of the audience isn’t going to get those. Second is the film is way too self-referential for its own good. Lines like “people act like this in movies!” are uttered, and then the characters stare out of the screen at the audience. Hilarity allegedly ensues. Also, the film relies on an on-screen caption to make a joke at one point that stops what could have been a clever comic sequence dead in its tracks. Third, the film’s jokes often are too dated. The “jewel thief” sequences are obviously intended to be a parody of “Charlie’s Angels,” but as that film indulged in self-parody, it’s very hard to parody it well. Finally, the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and isn’t really ABOUT anything, unlike Smith’s more recent and more impressive films.

So, in summary, “Jay and Silent Bob” is a good way to while away a summer afternoon, at least if you’re a fan of the View Askew universe. Just don’t have your expectations too high. I suppose it brings the characters of the “Jersey Trilogy” to a close. I just hope Smith can leave them behind now, and move to something new and different. He obviously has talent as a writer that I think can transcend these narrow characters.

Rating: C+

Rat Race

This film follows the same pattern that many other comedies are taking as of late; it seems they work hard developing around fifteen to twenty minutes of scenes that are quite funny. Mix in another forty minutes of mildly funny scenes, then add another thirty-five minutes of awful filler and weak plot development. Put all that together and you have “Rat Race,” as well as a number of other recent comedies.

There were a number of entertaining performances in this film lead by Jon Lovitz (of course), John Cleese, Vince Vieluf and Dave Thomas (of Strange Brew “fame”). But, just as there were a couple of very entertaining actors their were also some on the opposite end of the spectrum. Whoopie Goldberg, Rowan Atkinson, Wayne Knight and a bus full of Lucy impersonators were downright awful. Not once were they funny and more often than not they were less entertaining than watching paint dry. The scenes with the Lucy impersonators were so repulsively bad I considered walking out of the theater and waiting until the scene was over.

I hate to see such a large cast of (arguably) respectable actors and actresses waste away in a mediocre comedy. But, waste away they did and this film makes me wonder again and again why if one can put together a half dozen good jokes, why can’t they spend the time and stretch it throughout the whole film. This could have been a very funny film with more effort to fill the gaps between the big gags, but it didn’t and the film suffered because of it.

Rating: C-

Changing Lanes

1. The forms given at the end of the screening are by no means sufficient to state my views of this film.

2. I want to make VERY clear to Paramount that while this movie needs fixing, it does NOT need the sort of fixing I suspect tonight’s screening will be taken to suggest.

3. The print looked complete. There was a temp score (that actually worked pretty well), temp opening titles, and no closing credits, but aside from thatr This was a finished film.

“Changing Lanes” starts with a simple premise. A yuppie lawyer (Ben Affleck) gets into a wreck with a middle-class insurance broker (Samuel L. Jackson). The lawyer doesn’t want to give the insurance broker his insurance information, tries to give him a blank check, which is refused, and he scurries off to court. Unfortunately, he’s dropped a file, and Jackson’s character doesn’t want to give it back. That’s a superficial story outline, but there’s A LOT of storylines beneath it. Jackson’s character is going through a nasty divorce and is a recovering alcoholic. Affleck’s character had been having an affair with another lawyer (Toni Collette) and is worried that he may be on the wrong side of the case.

The fundamental premise and the lead cast led me to believe that we were going to get a mainstream Hollywood thriller, but that’s not what we get at all. Instead, we get an explanation of right and wrong. Both of the lead characters constantly try to do what’s “right” by their moral code, but wind up fucking up their good intentions. There are a LOT of long speeches about right and wrong, mostly delivered by Sydney Pollack as the Senior Partner of Affleck’s firm, and by William Hurt, in a nice cameo turn as Jackson’s AA sponsor. This is a drama, folks, about two men at the breaking point—it’s not a thriller, and it need not try to be. What I saw tonight was far better than the execrable Tomb Raider, and contained solid performances pretty much across the board, with the exception of the actress who plays Jackson’s wife, who is too hysterical for her own good and winds up hurting what could have been a powerful scene between her and Jackson in a jail cell.

So, my suggestions for how to recut the film:

1. Action Should Be Abrupt: There are “action sequences” in the movie. The car wreck that starts the film, another car wreck about midway through the film, and a couple of fist fights. These sequences need to be recut to be more jarring and sudden. Right now, they’re shot simultaneously too lyrically, with slow mo, and too jarringly, with quick cuts all over the place. Give us the incident in one take, from one wide angle, and it’ll be more effective.

2. Expand the Supporting Characters: Toni Collette and Ben Affleck’s characters OBVIOUSLY have history together. In fact, it’s made clear at one point that they were having an affair that is now over. Unfortunately, Collette’s character doesn’t have a back story, or any real development. Collette’s a talented actress! Use her! Additionally, William Hurt’s part should be expanded a little more. If we knew a bit more about the ties between him and Jackson, a scene at the jail would really come alive.

3. Cut Down The Cinema Verite: There are, especially early in the movie, a lot of documentary-style shots that establish setting. Those are all well and good, but they linger a bit too long. The film feels long as it is, and it runs only about 100 minutes. Basically, the film needs to be tightened throughout… little cuts, though… nothing big.

4. Emphasize The Themes More: The whole movie takes place on one day, Good Friday. There’s obviously some religious imagery going on. Hell, Affleck’s character even spends some time in a church. But if there’s a religious parallel going on, draw it out a little more. You don’t need to hit us over the head with it, but make it clear. It’s too fuzzy as it currently stands.

5. Rework The Ending—The ending, as it stands, is abrupt and silly.


After a day of battling, Jackson shows up at Affleck’s offices to give him the file. Affleck and Jackson first talk, and Affleck has a nice speech about right and wrong. Here’s where we veer substantially off-track. They get into an argument about whose “fault” the accident that morning was, and get into a fist fight, which spills out onto the balcony. The folder drops to the floor of the balcony, and the file begins to blow away. Jackson saves the file, but Affleck takes it from him, lets it blow into the breeze and they laugh together. Fade to credits.


How about ending it this wayr Jackson shows up at Affleck’s office and gives him the file (thereby doing the right thing), they discuss right and wrong (it turns out the file is actually a fraud designed to funnel money into the firm’s hands), then Affleck disposes of the file, preferably by burning or shredding it. The end. More satisfying, less unbelievable, and lends more closure to both characters. You don’t need the fistfight. All you need is closure to the characters.

6. Don’t Fuck It Up: What already exists here is a decent movie. I suspect it test screened poorly. Scenes that I found effectively dramatic drew laughter from chunks of the audience. However, don’t feel compelled to turn this into a taut thriller. That’s not what Roger Michell (the director, who previously made Notting Hill) made, and not what Michael Tolkin and his co-writer wrote. They created a story about two people facing crossroads in life on the very same day whose paths happen to intersect. THAT’S the movie! Not an action thriller or an Affleck/Jackson showdown, but two stories that happen to intersect. Some touch-up will help… a new score (might I suggest Thomas Newman, whose music would fit nicely) will make sure the right emotional buttons get pressed, and tightening will help, but this isn’t a movie that needs to be completely reworked.

The film is slated for a Christmas-time release, it looks like, and it can make it. The changes I’ve suggested are far from gigantic, and would make the film a better film. In fact, Jackson and Pollack’s performances are both potentially award-worthy, and Affleck yet again does above-average work in a role he’s started to make his trademark when he’s doing real acting… that of a young shark who’s trying to keep it together in the wake of tragedy and change. The current film commits a cardinal sin: it’s uncommercial. However, it has a virtue even stronger than that. It’s a good film already, and it can be an excellent one with a little bit of tweaking. Paramount, take the risk and give us a movie closer to the cut I saw tonight, a drama about lives intersecting, than the cut I fear, which turns the film into “a taut thriller about men at the edge!”

Rating: B-