OCTOBER SKY - 8 MM - OFFICE SPACE
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
BLAST FROM THE PAST - MY FAVORITE MARTIAN
It's October, 1957, and the Soviet Union has plunged the world deeper into the Cold War with the successful launch of the first man-made object to orbit the earth - Sputnik. The satellite has ignited the fears of adults, across the US, of Russian missiles raining down upon them from the sky. For Homer Hickam, Jr., a high school student in rural Coalwood, West Virginia, the event represents something different - an interest in rocketry that could help him and his friends out of their inevitable coal mining existence and into college in the autobiographical tale, "October Sky."
Robin's Review of 'October Sky'
Based on the true-life Smithsonian Magazine article expanded into the book, Rocket Boys, by Hickam, "October Sky," stars Jake Gyllenhaal ("Josh and S.A.M.") as Homer and Chris Cooper ("Lone Star") as his father, John Hickam. Homer and his dad, following the launch of Sputnik, reach an emotional and intellectual impasse with each other. Homer, with the guidance of his high school chemistry teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern, "Citizen Ruth"), and influenced by rocket scientist Dr. Werner Von Braun, begins to experiment with home-made rockets, built with his friends. The passion that engulfs the boys fuels the glimmer of hope that, with their rockets, they may have a shot at winning a national students' science fair and, more importantly, college scholarships.
The Horatio Alger-like story of the boys' success is a nice, though trite, little yarn of staying true to yourself and your ambition. There is more than passing kinship to films like "Breaking Away" and "Rocky." Fortunately, there is an additional element that propels the film from just okay to first rate family entertainment. The conflict that arises between father and son over their philosophical differences on life and what it holds in store for the boy give "October Sky" an edge. The discord between the two is nicely split with Homer looking to the sky for his future while his dad, a hard-headed pragmatist who worked his way up out of the mines into management, sees work in the coal mines 800 feet below as the only career path available to his son.
The relationship that plays out between Homer and John develops into a grudging respect, by dad, for his son and his unrelenting desire to reach, quite literally, for the sky. Jake Gyllenhaal holds his own as the film's young star. Homer is a dreamer fascinated with the brave new world unfolding before him. He and his friends are aided by their fairy godmother-like teacher who encourages the boys to achieve their goal. Gyllenhaal is convincing as the leader of his little band of scientists.
Chris Cooper gives a strong supporting performance as John Hickam, a man burdened with the responsibilities of his job managing the town's coal mine and who must turn a blind eye to the fact the mine and the town are dying. John has a utilitarian view of things and tries to stifle his son's scientific endeavors to save him from what dad sees as inevitable disappointment. The elder Hickam's love for his family is obvious and, as he sees Homer's dedication to his cause, he quietly helps his boy when he can. His final, overt, acceptance of Homer's dream is one of the best family-affirming bits of film I've seen in some time.
The supporting cast is populated with a nice mix of relative newcomers and seasoned veterans. Laura Dern, as the influential teacher to Homer, is solid and gives a convincing anchor for the boys and their dream. Natalie Canerday ("Sling Blade") gives an understated performance as Homer's supportive mom. William Lee Scot, Chris Owen and Chad Lindberg, as the trio of friends who work with Homer to achieve his hope are only background characters, but they do their best to flesh out their rolls.
Director Joe Johnston has crafted a feel good film that doesn't pander to cheap emotions. He couples the Horatio Alger tale with honest, real feelings and desires of a young man growing up in the politically and scientifically volatile 50's. Homer's view of the beginning of the space race is based on his fascination for the technology of rocketry and the optimism of youth. Johnston captures the feel of a dying coal mining town while depicting the trials and tribulations of Homer and his friends' ballistic missile program. (The boys' failures and successes closely parallel those of the fledgling NASA of the late 50's.)
The production design, by Barry Robison ("Home Fries"), captures both the period feel and the stark bleakness of the dying mining town. Scenes that take place in the mines beautifully depict the claustrophobia of the cramped, dark environ that drains the strength and life from the men who work underground. Photography by Fred Murphy ("Metro") compliments the production, filming the Tennessee locations (substituting for West Virginia) with crisp lensing accentuating the colder colors of the mining town. The rocketry scenes are handled in an exciting, evolutionary manner as the boys get better and better at their new-found science.
I recommend "October Sky" for the whole family, but, in particular, for fathers and sons to see together. There is much about life, hope and ambition in the film, with real heroes and roll models.
I give "October Sky" B+.
Laura's review of 'October Sky'
In 1957, the denizens of a West Virginia coal mining town gather to watch the night sky for the appearance of Sputnik, the Russian satellite which was the first man made object successfully launched into outer space.
Chris Cooper is John Hickam, the superintendent of a coal mine he's worked at all his life. He's immensely proud of his company and his position in it, as well as his older son, Jim, star of the Coalwood High School football team. When his younger son Homer becomes infatuated with building rockets, inspired by the sight of Sputnik soaring overhead, the seeds of a family conflict and a young man's determination are sown.
Homer appalls his buddies Roy Lee and O'Dell by approaching the school nerd Quentin in the cafeteria to inquire about rockets, which Quentin happens to know quite a bit about. Soon the foursome are at work in Homer's basement (what man can resist a good explosion?). Homer secretively gains the assistance of a welder and a machinist at the mine, until his unrelenting dad reassigns the welder to the much riskier mining.
Supported by Miss Reilly (Laura Dern), who believes her students have a shot in a national science competition, the young rocket scientists are soon drawing crowds at their remote launching site. When a forest fire is pinned to one of their experiments, however, the entire town turns against them (except for Miss Reilly), and Homer's dad is particularly shamed. When John is seriously injured in a fatal tunnel collapse saving the lives of others, Homer dutifully accepts his fate in order that his brother's football scholarship be honored and his family provided for.
When his dad returns to work, however, Homer rejects his fate and goes on to represent his team triumphantly at the national science competition. The film's credits roll over real home movies of the film's principles while telling us what became of all of them. It's heartening to see that not one of the four rocket boys ended up in Coalwood's mine. (Symbolically, Homer's mom (Natalie Canerday, 'Sling Blade') spends most of the film painting a mural of a beach in her kitchen and we learn she retired there - another Coalwood escapee.)
"October Sky" beautifully portrays a simpler time on the cusp of modern technology. It's a small film with a lot of heart just verging on corniness.
Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is a private eye trying to leave routine adultery cases behind for something bigger when he's contacted by a recent widow who's discovered a disturbing film in her husband's safe. Welles, who believes snuff films are an urban myth, agrees to discover the origins of the film. He hooks up with Max California (Joachin Phoenix), an adult video store clerk, as his guide into the seedy underworld of LA in "8MM."
Laura's review of '8MM'
Directed by Joel Schmacher ("The Lost Boys," "Batman and Robin") and written by Andrew Kevin Walker ("Seven"), "8MM" purports to be one of those films about a man who must descend into hell in order to conquer it and then find redemption. The finished product is a film with high production values, a script that builds nicely before plummetting into nonsense and acting (with the exception of Joachin Phoenix) of the 'where's my paycheck' variety.
"8MM" borrows heavily from such films as "Hardcore," "Silence of the Lambs," and "Seven" without capturing any of the nuances that made those movies interesting. When Welles is asked by an industrialist's widow to prove the snuff film discovered in her late husband's safe is a fake, it would appear we're in for an enlightening journey through the lowest depths of the porn industry and for a while we are. Symbolically, Welles is searching for a teenage runaway and potential murder victim while doting on a baby daughter Cindy ('Cinderella' as he calls her) he must constantly leave because of his job (a direct link to George C. Scott's search for his own daughter in the same circumstances in "Hardcore" as well as a reference to Brad Pitt's unborn child in "Seven.")
Once Welles links the victim to a missing persons report, and then to a sleezy pornographic filmmaker, though, the film becomes an overwraught action/vigilante film that had the preview audience laughing at its ridiculous moves. (In a scene very reminiscent of the final showdown between Clarisse Starling and Buffalo Bill, Welles enters the home of the masked murderer (Machine, Chris Bauer) of the snuff film from the basement. Machine then plays head games with Welles from the upper story of the house with absolutely no indication as to how he could possibly know Welles was there. This movie's several climaxes are all along this vein. Welles also has a talent for making the wrong phone calls to the wrong people at the wrong time which screams 'plot development' over logic.)
Nicolas Cage, who has been my favorite actor for years culminating in his tour de force, Oscar winning performance in "Leaving Las Vegas," has finally succeeded in making me shake my head in disgust at the choices he's made since then. His performance here could have been given by any number of lesser actors - only once did he show a glimmer of what he's capable of - when he cradles his baby daughter in his arms after facing horrors he'd never dreamed existed, he throws everything into the moment. It's not enough. He's becoming a caricture of himself.
Joachin Phoenix, on the other hand, provides the only real enjoyment to be found among the cast. His combination of worldliness and still youthful innocence as a punk rocker making a living at a seedy adult video store while dreaming of a music career is believable, touching and humorous. When Max leaves the film, the film dies.
Of the support, James Gandolfini comes off best as a guilty porn filmmaker. Christine Keener ("Your Friends and Neighbors") deserves better than the suffering wife role she plays here. Peter Stormare is still riding his "Fargo" creds as a 'porno artiste,' which he plays too over the top. Anthony Heald, as the industrialist's lawyer, was surely cast because of his past role as Hannibal Lector's warden. Amy Morton has a good scene with Cage as the runaway's mother, but pays for it later on when the script fails her.
The film is shot very darkly by Robert Elswit ("Boogie Nights," another film about the porn industry) - even Welles suburban home is dingy. The Middle Eastern-themed score by Mychael Danna ("The Sweet Hereafter") is interesting music, but jarring in this context (is he trying to make this despicable environment seem exotic?).
Robin's Review of '8MM'
Sitting through the very long two hour run time of "8mm," I was struck by the similarity it holds with the mediocre 1979 Paul Schrader film, "Hardcore," starring George C. Scott. The earlier film, for all its flaws, gave a participant's view into the sleazy porno industry of LA as it dragged you through the peep shows, massage parlors, skin flicks and "snuff" films as Scott hunts for missing runaway daughter. That film had, at least, an interesting framework to carry the story through the raunch of the business.
"8mm," I'm sad to say, doesn't even come close to '79 film. It is murky in its filming, production and, especially, acting by its star, Nicolas Cage. The original screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker ("Seven") is a shallow concoction of trite premises as it conveniently introduces the clean-cut private eye, Tom Wells (Cage), to the title reel of a real snuff film. This viewing should have led the PI on a journey into hell. It doesn't. Instead he barely touches on the tawdry business as he searches for the truth. For Wells, this consisted of entering successively grungy "shops" that cater to sicker and sicker interests in perversion. Nothing more.
Everyone, with one exception, is less than good in the film. Cage, who hasn't given a performance even approaching his Oscar winning role in "Leaving Las Vegas," is bland and boring. I put it as his most wooden performance to date, faring little better than Kevin Costner in "Message in a Bottle." James Gandolfini, who's performances I usually love (from "True Romance" to HBO's "The Sopranos"), plays a slimy, bad guy, porno producer Eddie Poole to little note. Catherine Keener ("Out of Sight") gets the tough job as Wells' loyal but lonely wife and mother, Amy, and deserves better for her troubles. Peter Stormare ("Fargo") is comic book villainous as the evil snuff film maker Dino Velvet. Actually, the whole movies has a cheap teenage graphic novel quality to it, like a poor "The Crow," without any of that films quality and intelligence.
The best thing in the film is Joaquin Phoenix as Max California, Wells' street wise but honest, almost innocent guide into the LA porno underworld. Phoenix showed a promising debut in "To Die For" and impressed me even more in his outrageous peformance in Oliver Stone's "U-Turn." The young actor adds to a good body of work with Max in "8mm." When he is on screen, all too briefly, he elevates the proceedings to a level of interest, even breathing life into Cage's phoned-in role.
Director Joel Schumacher takes the low road in his presentation of "8mm." The manner in which the story slowly, very slowly, progresses, the lackluster acting by the star, the murky, unexciting production values all fall under the Schumacher's control and responsibility. All these things make "8mm" an uninteresting, hollow film that offer little viscerally, intellectually or emotionally - I never reacted to the horrors that are supposed to beset Wells in his journey into the darkness.
It's pretty sad that a big star/big budget film about a gritty piece of life that should powerfully effect the viewer at the gut level fails so miserably. Phoenix impressed me, but the rest of the film did not even come close.
I give "8mm" a D.
Work sucks. So believes office worker Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston, "Swingers") as he suffers, day by day, the numbing routine and petty politics of life as a worker in INITECH Corporation. Making life hell for Peter and his co-workers is VP Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, "A Simple Plan"), the perfect combination of uselessness and authority who can and does make life miserable for everyone. Peter undergoes hypnotherapy to help him cope with his dilemma, but the session is botched, leaving the young man "without a care in the world in "Office Space."
Robin's Review of 'Office Space'
"Office Space" starts out with a bang, but ends up in a formula laden whimper in animator Mike Judge's first foray into live action feature films. In the beginning third of the film, Judge draws an absurdist, but very real, view into the numbing bureaucracy of monolithic corporate America, where creativity and individuality are stifled and down-sizing is a way of life. The ongoing gag of Peter's "problems with the TPS reports" shows the silliness of the false importance of the paper generated by the corporate drones day in and day out.
The premise that leads to Peter's metamorphosis from pressured worker bee to laid back opportunist occurs during a hypnotherapy session that ends abruptly and incomplete. Peter is transformed as he comes out of his hypnotic trance at the point where he is told that he doesn't have a care in the world - and he believes it! After an amusing sequence where Peter turns on the corporate entity and is deemed upper management material, the story goes routine with a plot by disgruntled employees to rip off the company.
The best thing in "Office Space" is the outstanding performance by Stephen Root (Mr. James on TV's "News Radio") as myopic , muttering nerd Milton. Milton is a poor schlep who was laid off five years before, but no one ever told him and a computer glitch keeps paying him his salary. He is also the perpetual low man on the totem pole and has to endure indignity upon indignity at the hands of boss Lumbergh. Root is unrecognizable and provides a pathetic, but amusing, character in Milton.
Gary Cole, as the obnoxious Lumbergh, is dead on as the useless, but savvy, corporate exec whose job, it seems, is just to make life miserable for the workers. Cole is a surprisingly versatile character actor capable of both dramatic and comic roles from "A Simple Plan" to "The Brady Bunch" movies.
Ron Livingston, as Peter, is a vaguely likable actor who gives a bland everyman performance without any real distinction. A more wryly amusing actor, like a young Tom Hanks, could have had more fun with the role and given the character, Peter, some spark. Livingston lacks that spark. Other perfs, with the noted exceptions, are little more than stick figure characters.
The script, by Mike Judge, starts out with sarcastic wit, poking fun and derision at big companies and their taking for granted, even abusing, their employees. Peter's turn from lackey to brazen slacker is funny and satisfying, making the viewer identify with his new found freedom. The last half is a disappointment of routine, mildly amusing humor.
I hoped for more and give "Office Space" a C+.
Laura's review of 'Office Space'
Based on his 'Saturday Night Live' 'Milton' shorts, Mike Judge, creator of 'Beavis and Butthead' and 'King of the Hill,' ventures out of animation with "Office Space." Peter (Ron Livingston, "Swingers") despises his job debugging bank software for Y2K at Initech. Initech is portrayed as a soul sucking environment lorded over by the smarmily condescending Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, "A Simple Plan"). The arrival of two consultants has Initech's employees running for cover from the dreaded pink slips.
The something strange happens. Peter goes to a hypnotist for help coping with his horrible life. As the hypnotists convinces Peter he's in a blissful state, the guy drops dead of a heart attack just as he's about to bring Peter back. Peter now has a new lease on life - he simply doesn't care about anything but what he wants to do. He rarely deigns to appear at work, finally asks the waitress (Jennifer Aniston) he's been admiring from afar out, and tells the consultants exactly what he thinks and how he shirks from work. Management material, they declare!
"Office Space" is uneven but has enough hilariously home-hitting truths to keep it afloat. Most of its pleasures are to be found in its asides and supporting characters, particularly Cole's jerk of a boss and the office weirdo Milton (an unrecognizable Stephen Root of 'Newsradio'), who was laid off five years ago, but never informed and continuously paid. Root dribbles a constant stream of his torturous woes, from the fact that Initech replaced Swingline staplers with a lesser brand to the way that his cubicle keeps getting moved further and further away from the window (he ultimately ends up in the basement). Peter must listen to the incessant sing-song chirp of 'Corporate Accounts Payable, Nina speaking, just a moment' from the overly made up woman in the next cubicle and his colleague who suffers from the name Michael Bolton, has hourly fights with a cheap copying machine.
The film does not show its $10 million budget - everything's drab, cheap and shoddy, from Initech's interior to Peter's bland apartment. Judge, instead of letting his offbeat observations carry his film, lays down a standard revenge plot which drags the proceedings down. His timing's off as well - it's difficult to accept software programmers fearing layoffs when they're skills are at a premium.
"Office Space" is generally a trifle - I was hoping for more from the talented Judge. However, when he scores, he slam dunks.
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
Directed by Larry Clark of "Kids" infamy, "Another Day in Paradise" stars James Woods and Melanie Griffith as Mel and Sid, junkie thieves always on the lookout for the last big score. When Mel needs a small accomplice to hide in a drug distribution outlet, he picks nickel and dime teenage thief Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser, "Masterminds") for the job. Along with Bobbie's naive girlfriend Rosie (Natash Gregson Wagner, "Two Girls and a Guy"), the makeshift family hits the road and heads to the rural midwest.
Laura's review of 'Another Day In Paradise'
While not as audacious and original as "Drugstore Cowboy," which it is fated to be unfavorably compared to, "Another Day in Paradise" merits a look for some interesting performances, particularly the totally unexpected moving turn from Melanie Griffith in perhaps her finest performance.
Bobbie and Rosie are hopeless teens who don't realize they're hopeless. Both have escaped abusive homes to squat in and old warehouse and subsist by Bobbie's thievery. We're introduced to Bobbie robbing vending machines (the coins in the cigarette machine are a clue to the film's nebulous time setting), where he's discovered by a security guard who brutally beats him before Bobbie escapes by stabbing the man. Along comes Mel to patch him up and provide heroin to ease the pain.
When the foursome hit the road, it's clear that Sid has a strong maternal instinct. She immediately insists that Mel stop so the two scrawny teens can eat and then takes Rosie on a shopping spree. When Mel and Bobbie successfully pull off their drug heist, things begin to take a dark turn, however. It becomes clear that Mel's bravado hides his insecurity - he's losing his touch and using Bobbie as a crutch to inject some fresh blood into his fading ability. The two buy a parcel of guns from a strange character called The Reverend, a cross between Andy Warhol and the undertaker from "Phantasm," and begin to sell their stolen pharmeceuticals. Sid wants nothing to do with prospective buyers called Hitler's Henchmen and her instincts are right - the deal goes spectacularly, bloodily bad. After Mel and Bobbie recover at the Reverend's farm, Mel insists on yet another 'sure thing' set up by his buddy Julio (an uncreditted Lou Diamond Phillips as a flamboyantly gay bar owner) and drag the now-reluctant three along for a last, ill-fated chapter.
Griffith is superb as the functional junkie/surrogate mother. When Rosie announces her pregnancy in a diner, Griffith's jubilant overaction and Woods' grim admonitions speak volumes about her unfulfilled needs in their relationship. Woods is always interesting to watch and his conflicted Mel is no exception - he's a snake, but a complex one, not devoid of emotion. Kartheiser is solid if unexceptional as Bobbie, a kid thrilled to be given a shot at the big time whose innocence is shattered when he comes to understand that Mel's feet are made of clay. Gregson Wagner is needy and childlike, if a bit bland as Rosie. Lou Diamond Phillips dives in to his outrageous Julio, camping it up before turning lethal.
The story, based on the novel by ex-con Eddie Little, feels a bit warmed over. The film has a gritty look befitting its subject matter. Destined for a short life in theaters, "Another Day in Paradise" is slated for a May video release.
Robin's Review of 'Another Day In Paradise'
"Another Day in Paradise" is a "Drugstore Cowboy" wannabe that lacks the earlier film's hard edge and gritty performances by its principles, Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch. Director Larry Clark ("Kids") takes a mundane story of drug use and thievery and spends two hours in the telling.
The one surprise in "Another Day"" is the performance by Melanie Griffith as Sid, the other half of the older couple who take the kids under their wing. Griffith known more for her fluffy roles and gives a surprising turn as the pragmatic junkie who is the maternal influence for the little gang.
James Woods gives a cookie-cutter performance of the type that we have seen him do many times before - usually better. If you didn't know that Mel is a junkie, you would guess that it is just James Woods doing James Woods.
The youngsters who join the elder duo are played without real flair by Vincent Kartheiser ("Masterminds") and Natasha Gregson Wagner ("Two Girls and a Guy"). Kartheiser fares better than Wagner, coming across as a likable young man who wants to please his mentors and glories in his entry into the "big time." Wagner is vapid in a shallow role and doesn't yet have the ability to put her own imprint on the character, Rosie.
A problem of visual texture versus story tone is apparent in the film as the photography, by Eric Edwards ("My Own Private Idaho"), lends a rich lighting to most scenes that give the actors a positively healthy look. You wouldn't know that you are watching a film about the ravages of heroin addiction when looking at the golden hues with which the characters are lighted.
The screenplay by Christopher Landon and Stephen Chin is based on the novel of the title name by Eddie Little. The story lacks a sense of purpose as it meanders along trying to find itself. Is it a druggie move? A caper flick? It touches on these things and more, but does not have a coherent sense of the direction and meaning.
Technically, the film looks as cheap as the seedy environment Mel and company live in. I realize that "Another Day In Paradise is fairly low budget, but with talent like James Woods involved on both sides of the camera, I expect more quality.
I give "Another Day In Paradise" a C.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Brendan Fraser is Adam Webber, a 35 year old man locked in a bomb shelter since birth with his Cold War-fearing father, Calvin (Christopher Walken), and his housewife mother, Helen (Sissy Spacek). Decades before, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a freak airplane crash drove the Webber's into their elaborate shelter, thinking that Armageddon had arrived. Born underground, and never seeing a real woman besides mom, Adam is ready to go up and face what's left of the world, get supplies for his folks and, most importantly, to meet a girl in "Blast from the Past."
Robin's Review of 'Blast From The Past'
"Blast from the Past" is a likable boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl comedy that, once again, showcases Brendan Fraser as a charming, goofy naof, a la the popular "George of the Jungle." Here, Fraser is a stranger in a strange land as he emerges from his 60's cocoon and is immersed into the crazy world of 90's LA. Fortunately for Adam, he meets Eve (Alicia Silverstone), a tough as nails young woman who takes kindly to the innocent stranger. With the help of his new-found guide, Adam strives to find the needed supplies for his family and a willing bride for himself. Of course, the requisite romance between the aptly named Adam and Eve burgeons to its logical conclusion.
Fraser is proving to have a lasting charisma as a character actor, particularly in comedy roles. His amiable nature, innocent good looks and physical ability all lend to his on-screen persona. Unlike his characters in "George of the Jungle" and "Encino Man," Adam is a very complex character, educated by his genius dad in book learning while his mom teaches him the finer things, like dancing and good manners. Adam is anything but simple and Fraser gives the character his due. He makes you believe the wonder he feels when he sees, for the first time, the sky, the sea and a black woman. The young actor has a definite presence and a knack for comedic work.
Alicia Silverstone has the tough job of playing the straight-man to Fraser's Adam. In what could have been a routine, two dimensional role, Siverstone's Eve is a modern day cynic who is quite capable of taking care of herself and, by extension, Adam. As her cynicism melts away, Eve realizes that Adam is the man for her, even before finding out that the old stock certificates given to him by his father are worth millions.
Stellar supporting performances by Walken and Spacek help keep the quality high in "Blast from the Past." Walken plays Adam's dad, Calvin, with the intensity of character he is famous for. As the scientist/genius, he devises an elaborate bomb shelter aimed at maintaining the way of life he knows and loves, even if the world above is devastated and populated by mutants. Walken creates a real person in what would have been a two-dimensional character in less capable hands.
Sissy Spacek gives a great perf as Adam's mom, Helen. Before the "bomb," Helen suffered through her husband's fanatic ways well enough. Afterwards, alone with Calvin, Helen slowly succumbs to the pressures of isolation, becomes a closet drinker and seeks solace in raising her son. Helen is a fully developed lady with real needs and hopes and Spacek makes her so. This is the second outstanding recent performance by Spacek - see her strong dramatic turn in "Affliction" - and gives me hope that she is renewing her flagging acting career. Dave Foley also has fun as Eve's gay roomie, Troy.
The original screenplay by the film's director, Hugh Wilson ("The First Wives Club"), and co-writer Bill Kelly, is a fresh telling of routine romance material. A good deal of film time is spent in showing life with the Webbers in their unique home, with attention to the details of surviving for 35 years underground. When Adam goes above ground, the story takes a major turn as Adam becomes newly born into the outside world. Sufficient time is spent on both parts of Adam's life to make this a rich, light-hearted comedy with real folks and truly funny moments.
The visceral elements meet the story and performers head on with production design by Bob Ziembicki capturing the retro feel of Calvin's view of his world. The bomb shelter/home is a wonder of kitchy 60's with its period electrical appliances, pastel colors and suburban feel. Make-up design by Matthew Mungle ("Bram Stoker's Dracula") Ben Nye Jr. is excellent as they age Calvin and Helen through the decades. Costuming by Mark Bridges ("Boogie Nights") suits the mood of the film, with Fraser's homemade costumes adding to the visual image of the outsider and yokel entering a whole new world
On the surface, "Blast from the Past" is a pretty routine little tale with its fish-out-of-water story. Underneath, though, is a fully developed yarn with a terrific principle cast, led by Fraser, solid technical credits and likes a good comedy.
I give "Blast from the Past" an enthusiastic B+.
Laura's review of 'Blast From The Past'
"Blast From the Past" is like an inverse, less serious minded version of "Pleasantville." Where that film thrust 90's teenagers into the 1950's, "Blast" has bomb shelter baby Adam (Brendan Fraser) emerge from an environment frozen in 1962 into present day LA.
The film opens during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A very pregnant Helen (Sissy Spacek) and Calvin (Christopher Walken) Webber are hosting a party, when commie paranoid scientist Calvin clears his house of guests after seeing JFK on TV. The brilliant and wealthy engineer has recreated his home underground and supplied it for 35 years in the event of a nuclear attack and he brings his wife (who insists on bringing her pot roast along) there moments before an unmanned fighter plane crashes into their house, making the Webbers believe the bomb has struck. Calvin has rigged his shelter to lock for thirty years when the environment will be free of radiation. Their son is born and Helen prophetically names him Adam.
Thirty-five years later the exits unlock, and Calvin insists on 'going above' alone, decked out in a protecive suit. His elevator crashes through the floor of a seedy bar and its burnt out proprietor believes he's seeing either God or an alien. Calvin's once pristine neighborhood is now one of the seediest parts of LA which he thinks are peopled with mutants (a transvestite propositions him) and radiation victims (a drunk throws up in the gutter). He rushes back down and forbids his family to leave, then has an attack and falls gravely ill. Helen provides Adam with $3,000 to restock their supplies and sends their impossibly clean cut and naive son into a new world.
This comedy works largely due to its delightful cast. Walken is entirely believable as a genius who has schooled his son in math, several languages and baseball (Adam brings his now priceless collection of baseball cards, plus his 'worthless' IBM and AT&T stocks with him when he departs). Spacek is the most fun as the perfect mom who becomes increasingly stir crazy, numbing her hysteria with cooking sherry. Fraser once again trots out his 'naive man in a strange world' character ("Encino Man," "George of the Jungle"), but it works, and he's learned to dance a mean swing number (Helen's given him dance lessons every day below ground). Alicia Silverstone redeems herself from her last couple of duds ("Excess Baggage," "Batman and Robin") as Eve, the tough young woman who falls for the stranger while trying to rid herself of him. Dave Foley is a scream as her wry, gay roommate.
The script, by Bill Kelly and director Hugh Wilson, is peppered with clever lines and sight gags. Calvin's shelter is so well prepared that Helen actually uses a shopping cart to get food for her kitchen and Calvin has a fish hatchery to provide fresh fish. He's rigged up a projector which reflects to a TV tube so the family can watch endless reruns of 'The Honeymooners.' Adam never thinks to check the address when he leaves the shelter. After ordering 500 lbs. of frozen hamburgers from a butcher he suddenly realizes he can't tell the man where to deliver them and asks if the butcher knows his address.
Production design by Bob Ziembicki ("Boogie Nights") was researched via several magazine articles of the early 60's describing bomb shelters from the simplistic to the outrageous.
When Adam makes Eve listen to a Perry Como tune and declares a sudden swoop in Como's delivery 'where it really takes off,' he almost convinces us, so charming is his childlike enthusiasm. "Blast From the Past" hits all the right notes.
MY FAVORITE MARTIAN
Based on the 1960's TV show starring Ray Walston and Bill Bixby, "My Favorite Martian" has been updated with Christopher Lloyd as the visitor from Mars and Jeff Daniels ("Dumb and Dumber") as Tim O'Hara, the TV reporter who finds him. The film also stars Elizabeth Hurley as the dimwitted reporter Tim lusts after, Daryl Hannah as nice girl Lizzie, Wallace Shawn as the evil doctor on 'Uncle Martin's' trail, Christine Ebersole as Tim's nosy landlady and Ray Walson as a government agent.
Laura's review of 'My Favorite Martian'
"My Favorite Martian" is an unwelcome reminder of how few of the recent spate of movies adapted from 60's sitcoms work. This is a bottom of the barrel effort from Disney that not even the TV show's original star could save.
The film opens with a space probe on Mars (a tacky looking toy model) stopping just short of a goofily populated Martian city. From there, the story's just a bad rehash of a plot familiar from the immensely superior Hannah starrer "Splash" - alien being befriended by hapless human is tracked down by ruthless government officials and scientists who almost succeed in killing said being before alien is saved by the friendly humans.
The film throws a lot of special effects at its audience (which look like rejects from "Men in Black") to distract from the non-goings-on. Lloyd, who can be annoyingly manic, does his best to enliven Martin and provides the little charm the film has. Daniels is simply harried throughout. Hurley is almost funny as the clueless sexbomb, but plays the role so obviously she loses control of it. Hannah, looking drawn and worn, is sunny but subdued. Michael Lerner, Oscar nominated for "Barton Fink," is slumming here as the TV station owner who employs his daughter for her looks rather than her ability.
There's not even much here for kids with the exception of some tasteless toilet humor and a zany talking spacesuit. Even the Mickey Mouse and Pluto cartoon which preceeds the film is distinctly lacking in imagination. Product placement abounds in this dud.
Robin's Review of 'My Favorite Martian'
The latest entry into 60's TV shows remade into feature length movies is "My Favorite Martian," starring Jeff Daniels as earthling Tim O'Hara and Christopher Lloyd as the title alien. It's the 90's and the US unmanned space program has landed on Mars and discovered a bunch of rocks. Unbeknownst to NASA, there is an unseen, but highly sophisticated society on the red planet - a society that can send someone to earth in a blink. While visiting Earth, one of the Martians has an emergency landing and is forced to seek help from TV producer Tim O'Hara. Tim has his hands full as he tries to help his new Uncle Martin and hide the alien visitor from the prying inquiries of ambitious TV reporter, Brace Channing (Elizabeth Hurley).
On the heals of a string of failed attempts to reprise old TV sitcoms into feature length entertainment comes "My Favorite Martian," extending that string by yet another length. Once again, in an attempt to make a buck purveying such bloated, boring trash as "Sgt. Bilko," "McHale's Navy," and "The Avengers," Hollywood has seen fit to make us suffer another remake.
The TV show, which ran from 1963 to 1966, starred the late Bill Bixby as Earthling Tim and Ray Walston as his free-spirited, alien Uncle Martin. The film replaces the thoughtful humor and minimal F/X of the old series with a mad cap rendition of the show. The movie has Uncle Martin, following his crash, forced to flee from Earth before his spaceship's self-destruct mechanism blows up the world. It's a formulaic race as Martin and his fast talking suit, Zoot, have to repair his broken craft and beat feet before it's too late. The wild and wacky story is peppered with numerous bathroom humor and bodily fluid jokes that will appeal only to the very young. Aside from a possible curiosity by baby boomers who remember the show, there is little offered that will appeal to the adults accompanying the kids.
Christopher Lloyd gives a manic, mad cap flavor to his Uncle Martin character, and is wacky enough to keep the kids entertained. Don't expect Oscar winning performances here as Lloyd does his thing and Jeff Daniels goes through the paces as the second banana, Tim. Elizabeth Hurley has some fun as the she-devil reporter as she tries to get her big scoop on aliens on earth. Darryl Hanna has little to do as Tim's wannabe girlfriend, Lizzie. Wallace Shawn gives his usual all as the obsessed alien hunter and Ray Walston has an important cameo role.
Production is excessively cute, especially with the addition of Zoot, a wisecracking spacesuit who has a life and personality of its own. The kids like Zoot. The rest of the production is pretty routine with special F/X of the kind seen in "Men in Black." Uncle Martin's requisite finger control from the series is still there, having just been updated to take advantage of visual effects that weren't around way back when.
"My Favorite Martian" should prove popular among the kiddies, but will find its true shelf-life in the video rental world. There isn't enough nostalgia for the old series to recommend for any beyond the most juvenile mind-set.
I give "My Favorite Martian" a C-.
Next Show Previous Show
Home | Review and ratings archive | Top 10 | Video | Crew | Article | Links