American History X

Maybe it’s too violent, too harsh, a bit rough around the edges. Maybe director Tony Kaye‘s methods aren’t always very subtle, maybe the film’s kind of preachy. Forget all that hooey for a second and answer me this: how many movies suck you in, smack you behind the head, kick you in the nuts and actually make you think? Cause that’s where it’s at: nowadays, it’s unfortunately often necessary to scream and punch in the walls to make an impression. I agree that it’d be nice if filmmakers could send a message in more cerebral ways, but do you think it would be as effective? Some of the most thought-provoking, socially relevant movies I’ve seen were aggressive and advanced potentially dangerous thought processes like Oliver Stone’s “Talk Radio” or Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”. But the thing is, these movies made me realize important stuff. In the light of all this, maybe you’ll understand better why I admire “American History X”, a powerful film which was widely dismissed by pretentious nay-sayers.

The film stars the electrifying Edward Norton in his best performance to date. This is only his fifth movie, but he has already proved himself a versatile and arresting presence on screen. He plays Derek Vineyard, a smart kid who took the wrong path. Was it because his father was murdered by Blacks, or was it just because he had too much anger in him? Or is it a bigger problem, with society alienating people and almost forcing them to find someone to blame? “American History X” is about the vicious circle of hate, about how violence just spawns more violence. It’s like, Blacks caught in poor ghettos feel oppressed by the Man, and they take it out on white kids. Then these kids who constantly get beat up start hating Blacks altogether, gang member or not. And it just takes a manipulative, wrongly intentioned fuck-up like Cameron, a middle-aged white supremacist who warps the minds of confused teenagers into thinking that the way to solve their problems is to get back explosively at Blacks, Jews, Asians or whoever’s different. The film has Derek falling into that nonsense, blinded by his being pissed off. And since he’s actually smart and articulate, he’s able to woo plenty of other young people to his cause, as he becomes a local skinhead hero.

Norton plays this raging neo-Nazi with unsettling conviction, spitting hateful propaganda and brutally letting his feelings out. Some scenes are so violent they’re barely watchable. But what’s even more scary is how convincing and charismatic Norton can be, to the point where you can understand how someone vulnerable and weak of mind might want to believe what he says and follow him all the way. Through effective broken storytelling, first-time director Tony Kaye assuredly shows us Norton as a dangerous lost soul in riveting black&white vignettes, while describing his present struggle to redeem himself and save his kid brother (“Terminator 2″‘s Edward Furlong, who’s growing into an interesting young actor) from taking the hellish path that took him to rock bottom. The movie is always gripping and rich, and I found the evolution of Norton’s character enlightening and believable. The acting is thoroughly superior (the actors playing skinheads are disturbingly convincing in their senseless rage and prejudice), and Kaye’s direction is surprisingly masterful. There was some talk about how Kaye and Norton fought in the editing room, with the English director considering taking his name off the piece, but whatever that was about, American History X remains one of the pictures which had the most impact on me in quite a while, and Norton should have gotten that damn Oscar for his brilliant, unforgettable interpretation.

American Graffiti

Is it me or is this film way overrated? It is a more or less enjoyable picture, okay, but it’s far from being a masterpiece. I’m pretty sure that what most like about it is the idea of it rather than the film by itself. The whole film is about 50s teenagers who cruise around in their big American cars while listening to Wolfman Jack’s rock’n’roll radio show. The film might represent accurately the reality of this era, but personally, I wasn’t struck by the film. Maybe you had to be there; that way, the film makes you nostalgic or something. But for a 90s guy like me, watching all this is not that exciting. The film follows different guys for a night. There’s Richard Dreyfuss as an innocent, idealistic kid who won a scholarship to go study in a prestigious college but is unsure if he really wants to leave his hometown. He’s probably the most interesting character. I like how he spends the night trying to reach a beautiful blonde in a Thunderbird who may or may not have told him “I love you”. He also hangs with a gang of bad boys and… that’s about it. That’s the problem with the film: it never really digs deeper than that.

But maybe that’s just the point; maybe it’s about showing how innocent and simple things used to be before the JFK assassination, the Vietnam war and the Watergate made us into cynics. Like there’s Ron Howard as another kid who’s leaving for college. He has a girlfriend, but he isn’t sure he loves her. He tells her they should try seeing other people while they’re apart. But through the night, he more or less realizes that why look for something else when you’re fine with what you’ve got now? This is the film’s take on love. Not very complex, but it kinda makes sense. It’s odd though that these guys don’t even know how lucky they are. According to movies at least, it seemed incredibly easy to get a chick back then. You stop at the milkshake parlor, pick up a nice looking girl, drive around and that’s it. You might go to the drive-in, to a dance at school or park by the river, but as long as you’ve got a car, you’re guaranteed to score. Even the school’s nerd gets himself a beautiful babe once he gets himself a car. The ultimate car guy has got to be Milner, who’ll race anyone who dares him. He spends most of the film with a 13 year old chick he picked up by mistake.

So that’s “American Graffiti”, not a bad film but not an exceptional one either. It’s modestly entertaining to watch, but I didn’t find it really involving, but like I said, that might be because George Lucas’ direction ain’t bad, but this if far from his visionary “Star Wars” series. The best thing about the flick has got to be the rock’n’roll classic tunes that play wall-to-wall through the film. This is one of the coolest soundtracks you could imagine, but that’s all it is: a soundtrack. Anyone can cram 50 songs in a film, that doesn’t make it a masterpiece. You might wanna check this film out on a rainy day, but the 50s period film you really need to see is the exhilarating “Grease”.

American Beauty

Lester Burham (Kevin Spacey) hates his life. Where has the fun of his youth gone? Things used to be so easier, and now he’s trapped in a boring office job, which he leaves only to return to his alienating suburbia neighborhood to a wife (Annette Bening) who cares more about their furniture than him and a daughter (Thora Birch) who hates his guts. An insecure teen, Jane’s life gets even weirder when she brings home her best friend, a perky but conceited cheerleader Angela (Mena Suvari) and her dad becomes sexually obsessed with this Lolita. Meanwhile, her mother falls into the arms of fellow real estate agent and self-motivation obsessed materialist Buddy King (Peter Gallagher), who shows her unusual ways to let out the pressure she puts on herself. And then there’s Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who moves next door. The son of a tyrannical, homophobic US Marine Colonel (Chris Cooper), he’s also a big time drug dealer who uses the money to finance his compulsive need to shoot on video the little things that go on around here. Ricky is an amazingly confident and serene young man who gleefully flows with all the beauty around him, and is able to see the beauty in Jane and to help Lester change his life by quitting his job, standing up to his wife, start pumping iron and going back to the careless joy of his high school days, smoking reefer and cranking up 70s rock while driving a 71 Firebird…

“American Beauty” is the amazing directorial debut of theater man Sam Mendes. Penned by TV writer Alan Ball, the script may feel like a sitcomish satire of suburban hell at first, but beyond the laughs lurks a fascinating exploration of people trying to convince themselves they’re not as miserable as they really are. It’s also somehow a tragedy, as we’re told right off that fatality will strike. Mendes makes great use of the possibilities of cinema. His film is always interesting and inventive visually, in an almost impressionistic way. Among other things, he makes very interesting use of American beauties, a variety of red roses that the wife cultivates and which Lester links to his fantasies. I also love the score by Thomas Newman, and the cast is as good as it gets. Annette Bening is convincing as always as an apparently successful career woman whose facade is shattering, and like Peter Gallagher’s, her character is a bit caricatural but still effective. Thora Birch is perfect as her confused daughter, and so is Mena Suvari as her babe girlfriend. Suvari (who was one of the best things in “American Pie”) is highly desirable at first, then she starts talking and gets obnoxious, but eventually you get to really know her character and she’s just another sad kid. This is a surprising performance and so is the one delivered by Wes Bentley, who’s got solid screen presence and charisma as Ricky. He’s able to really grab your attention and toy with your expectations, maybe disturb you a little but ultimately impress you with his focused mind.

Last but not least is Kevin Spacey, who could and should get another Oscar for his astonishing portrayal of a man who spins his life around. It’s just so exhilarating to watch him gain confidence and retrieve hope in life. Spacey has done great work in the past, but this might be the role that he’ll be remembered for. He goes through many different states of mind and behaviors in the film, yet Spacey makes it feel all natural. This is one of these performances that stick with you and inspire you. I’m not sure I’d have the courage to follow Lester’s footsteps, but I wish I had. When I went to work after seeing the movie, I often caught myself grinning imagining what it would feel like to pull a Lester and write a letter telling my bosses exactly how I feel about them. And then there’s Spacey’s “got nothing to lose” attitude and return to an adolescent mind state which is so funny! It’s always fun to watch someone being a smartass and making uptight types speechless for once. Spacey is almost like Bill Murray in this movie, with more psychological depth of course but I still could easily imagine Murray saying lines like “I rule!”. “American Beauty” follows the steps of films like “The Ice Storm”, “Happiness” and “Election”, but it has its own refreshing, uplifting flavor. Some might see that as a setback, but so what if this is more “Forrest Gump” than “Blue Velvet”? I’m personally grateful to any picture that gives me a new respect towards life. “American Beauty” is one of the year’s very best pictures.

Almost Heroes

Poor Chris Farley. As you probably know, he died of an overdose at the end of last year. Personally, that pissed me off more than the deaths of Robert Mitchum and James Stewart that same year, because anyway, they hadn’t worked in years. But Farley! He was one of the funniest guys in Hollywood, along with what I consider to be the coolest Saturday Night Live generation, 1990-95: David Spade, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Farley. Chris had bit parts in many comedies, from the “Wayne’s World” flicks to “Billy Madison”, “Dirty Work”, “Airheads” and “Coneheads”. He also had films of his own. My favorite is his teaming with Spade, “Tommy Boy”. The pair also made another big screen collaboration, “Black Sheep”, which ain’t as fresh. In these films, Farley’s loud and blunt physical humor and Spade’s hilarious sarcasm add up to some wonderful comedy. He then made the dumb action comedy “Beverly Hills Ninja”, and finally, “Almost Heroes”.

In this film, Farley plays an Old West guide who happens to also be fat, hairy, loud, dumb and alcoholic. At the beginning of the 19th century, he’s hired by a classy British explorer who’s determined to cross America to the Pacific before Lewis and Clark get there. With them, they bring a band of slow witted yet outdoor-wise companions, a brutal Frenchman and his Indian woman. Their adventure will have them facing Savages, bears, eagles, natural threats and even angry Spanish conquistadors.

And that’s a Chris Farley comedy? Oh yeah. You still have all the sex humor, the fatty-falls-down jokes and more dumbness. But this time, the film’s a fun Western à la “City Slickers”. Of course, you shouldn’t expect a finely tuned masterpiece, but director Christopher Guest does a pretty good job. The visuals aren’t, like, stunning, but some landscape shots are quite impressive. The music’s fine too, but anyway, who gives a rat ass? The most important thing to know is: Is the flick funny? And the answer is: Yes! It’s not the funniest film I’ve ever seen, but Chris sure cracked me up often in this flick. I should also mention that he’s teamed up once again with a sarcastic dude, as Friends’ Matthew Perry takes David Spade’s place. I sure love Spade, but believe me, Perry is as enjoyable, or maybe even more, since besides being hilarious, he also has a really strong, leading man-style screen presence, and he’s a surprisingly good actor.

And when you think about it, Farley was also damn good, in his own way. He truly was one of the funniest actors in Hollywood. In life like on screen, he was an unstoppable party animal who was all about screaming, drinking and falling down. Unfortunately, unlike movies, life ain’t all about happy endings, and poor Chris died at the young age of 33. He made us laugh many, many, many times, but still, he didn’t have the time to get the respect he deserved. I’m pretty sure that, given a few more years, he could have done it, like Jim Carrey finally did with “The Truman Show”. To get back to the point, “Almost Heroes” is a satisfying comedy, but it ain’t the farewell I would have wanted from good old Chris. It’s still damn worth checking out, just to laugh your ass off one last time.

Almost Famous

Every critic praised this film. There’s been almost endless talk of it being a frontrunner for the next Academy Awards, of it being the best film of the year, of it being this year’s “American Beauty”. Here’s what I’m saying: don’t get too hyped. Yes, Cameron Crowe‘s follow-up to the wildly successful “Jerry Maguire” is insightful, often hilarious, beautifully crafted, touching and wonderfully acted and, chances are, it will hold a very respectable place on my year-end Top Ten. Heck, the final scene between William and Lester Bangs is one of the best I’ve ever seen, a little bit of dialogue about the correlation between art and longing, intelligence and loneliness, or as Bangs tells his protégé, how “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” Then again, the second coming of Hollywood’s golden age it isn’t. Better than every release of last summer’s dismal crop, probably, a shoe-in for Best Picture, maybe not.

Don’t take me wrong here, I do love the movie. I’m a huge fan of Crowe and his debut, 1989’s “Say Anything”, is one of my all-time favorites. This teenage romance was such a heartfelt, clever, feel good but realistic film, and obviously a very personal film for Crowe. Well, “Almost Famous” goes even further, as it is almost autobiographical. It’s about Crowe’s exceptional teenage years as Rolling Stone Magazine’s youngest correspondent, going on tour with Led Zeppelin and other ’70s super-bands and writing stories about them. So we meet William Miller (newcomer Patrick Fugit), a kid who’s bright but doesn’t fit in at school. It might have something to do with how his mom (Frances McDormand) started him early at school and skipped him a grade, making him years younger than his peers. A college professor, she means well, but she can be quite overbearing. She doesn’t want her kids anywhere near the sex, drugs and rock & roll of the era. But when William’s sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel)leaves home to go look for Simon and Garfunkel’s America, she gives him the stack of LPs she has smuggled in over the years: the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Led Zeppelin II, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, The Who’s Tommy and many other vinyl masterpieces that kick off William’s passionate love affair with music.


He eventually starts writing rock articles in his school newspaper and in underground magazines and grows confident enough in his his work to send it to legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The Creem editor sends William to review a Black Sabbath concert, but he ends up tagging along with the opening act, Stillwater (a fictional composite of various bands Crowe wrote about in the 1970s). This will lead to his first major assignment, writing a cover story on the rising band for Rolling Stone, and to a very rich and entertaining movie which plays with rock movies clichés to end up being wholly sincere and original. Will, deemed “the Enemy”, witnesses all the rowdiness that happens on the road. The tour bus mayhem, the parties in hotels, the fooling around with Band Aids – a group of teenage girls who insist they’re not dim-witted groupies but muses who are here for the music. There are also harsher moments, as tensions develop between Russell (Billy Crudup), the handsome guitarist with mystique who holds all the attention, and Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), the lead singer who believes he should be the front man. And on an even deeper level, beyond the difficulties of journalism, William falls madly in love with Band Aid Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who only has eyes for Russell…

As you can see, there are a lot of characters and events in the film, and I just gave you an overview! But for most of the picture, Cameron Crowe handles it all surprisingly well, involving us with both William and the band, fully developing even characters on the fringes like the 15 year old’s mother and his mentor Bangs, whom he calls whenever he’s in a jam. There are a lot of memorable moments (a tour bus sing-along to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, William’s deflowering by three girls (!), a near fatal plane ride that turns into a confessional…) and great music, and it’s all sincere, witty and often very, very funny. It’s a bit messy, going in many different directions to the point where you can’t really tell for sure what it’s ultimately about, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like great albums, this is a film that you have to go through again and again, discovering new things. You might see it as an almost-documentary look at the rock scene circa 1973 at first, but then it becomes apparent that, like every Crowe film, this is really a love story. Love for music, and love for the very special Miss Penny Lane. Personally, this is the part that really got me. I too once met a Penny Lane, a perfect, totally lovable fun-loving girl who meant everything to me but never saw me as more than a friend, so William’s ordeal was all too familiar to me.


But enough about me. “Almost Famous” is a damn good film which shows how Crowe becomes more and more gifted behind the camera with every film. You see the heart of “Say Anything” or “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”, the film he wrote for Amy Heckerling in the early ’80s, but this new film is a much more ambitious venture. It takes you on the road from California to New York, you see William come of age and, if you’re to believe Lester Bangs, you’re witnessing the last death rattle of rock & roll, as it’s on its way to turn into the industry of cool of the ’80s.

One of Crowe’s biggest strength is his direction of actors. This is Patrick Fugit’s first film, but he’s surprisingly convincing and complex. With his big, wide open eyes, he’s the perfect witness to the circus that is rock & roll. And in the last act, when it gets more emotional for him, he’s so good that you’re right there with him on the screen, longing for Penny. As the main figures of Stillwater, Billy Crudup and Jason Lee are just electrifying. Lee is still somehow in Kevin Smith mode, but he also channels some of Robert Plant’s energy and gives Jeff Bebe a lot of presence, even though he’s overshadowed by Russell Hamond, played with incredible charisma by Crudup. He really becomes a rock star, an idol, a golden god.

Then there’s the Band Aids, who play a much more central role in the story than you’d expect. They aren’t giggly groupies stalking the band, they’re smart, sweet young things who really love the music and just happen to overlook the fact that the rockers they fool around with have wives. Fairuza Balk and Anna Paquin don’t get a lot of screen time, but Kate Hudson certainly does. When I saw her face on the poster, I found it odd, thinking, “Isn’t this a movie about a rock writer and a band?” But once you’ve seen the film, you understand. Hudson’s Penny Lane IS the movie, she is the heart of it all, and she’s fabulous.

So is Frances McDormand; her character could have been a caricature of the mother from hell, but McDormand is too clever to fall for that. Instead, she makes you understand her character. Last but not least is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who in just a few scenes, gives heart and soul to the real-life character of Lester Bangs. His views on music are cynical yet insightful and he’s a self-proclaimed honest and unmerciful critic but, underneath it all, you see that he’s a lonely guy. An uncool guy, who’s always locked up in his apartment with tons of LPs when William calls, who doesn’t seem to have much of a social life. Somehow you get the sense that he and William are much the same. He probably loved and lost a Penny Lane too.

So now I’ve been shining Crowe’s shoes for more than 1500 words, and you must have seen the 4 stars I gave the film. So why then did I start out warning you not to get too hyped? Because, most times, a movie will never be as good as its hype. And, even though it’s one of the 2 or 3 most entertaining films I’ve seen this year, it doesn’t quite have the power and depth of a “Truman Show” (which topped my 98 Top Ten) or a “Magnolia” (which topped last year’s), and I felt a bit let down by the last scenes, which wrapped everything up a bit too nicely, with everybody getting sort of an happy end. It’s as if Crowe took his time to make this big picture with all these people, and then he rushes to finish it. “Almost Famous” is still a wonderful film, one of the best of the year, I just believe that it could have been even better.


Whenever you hear about James Cameron, it’s generally about what an arrogant prick he is. I admit that his acceptance speeches don’t advantage him, but since I don’t know him personally, I can’t say if he’s a good guy or not. What I do know is that he’s one of the most brilliant craftsmen in Hollywood. You could say that his talent is mostly in FX, but it goes deeper than this.

Cameron has a skill at shooting, editing, pacing and scoring everything so it really gets under your skin. Very few filmmakers can work their audiences that finely. His films usually start out rather quietly, as we get to know a bunch of characters and involve ourselves in the plot. Then Cameron starts building tension, making the film more and more intense until you’re literally on the edge of your seat, and he keeps throwing more shit at you even when you think he’s done!

That’s what I love about Cameron’s work: no matter your expectations, he achieves to win you over and make you submit to the wild ride he’s got cooked up. You’re so excited that you completely lose your notion of time; at 3h14, “Titanic” is still more exciting than many 90 minute movies!

“Aliens” is probably the picture in which this is the most obvious because there’s barely any story, just pure action thrills. This is one of these rare sequels that totally outdo the original. In Ridley Scott’s film, you had a group of scientists on a mission on an uncivilized planet who came across a fierce alien creature who killed them one by one, until it got its gooey ass kicked by one tough broad, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).

In the sequel, Cameron takes these two awesome characters (the babe and the beast), and then he adds a dozen ultra-macho Marines (Michael Biehn, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, Al Matthews, Lance Henriksen, etc.) and a whole fucking lot more aliens! The film is set 57 years after the original, as Ripley is recovered by a corporate asshole (Paul Reiser). Unaware of what the scientists discovered in the meantime, he sent people to colonize the planet. Their station doesn’t respond, so he asks Ripley to go back with him and a troop of Marines to see what happened. The place they find is real hell: aliens have slaughtered the humans and taken over. Only a little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), has survived. It’s up to the Marines and mostly Ripley to get back at these damn dirty aliens…

You really have to see “Aliens” to understand how much ass it really kicks. How can I put into words the terrifying atmosphere, the in-your-face violence or the nerve-wrecking suspense of the film ? This is truly one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen.

And of course, the Alien series belong to Sigourney Weaver, arguably the toughest gal in Hollywood. Like a Schwarzenegger with boobs, her Ripley is a sympathetic yet take-no-shit chick who ain’t afraid to take action. Weaver really has a strong on-screen presence. Next to her, even these razor-toothed, acid-filled scumbags don’t stand a chance!

Air Force One

Ha! This is an extremely unoriginal action film : foreign terrorists take a plane hostage. Hello “Delta Force”, “Passenger 57”, “Executive Decision”… And anyway, these are all reminders of the classic “Die Hard”. The only difference is that the hero this time is the President. Yeah, right! I haven’t seen any plot that unbelievable in a long time. I mean, the President is just an administrator! I doubt that he could pull a Schwarzenegger, or even a Seagal! Still, the action is enjoyable. There’s enjoyment to be had out of all these shoot-outs, fights, explosions and attitude. Wolfgang Petersen’s direction is effective enough, even though he did a better job on “In the Line of Fire”, one of the finest thrillers ever made.

As for the performances, I’m kinda tired of Harrison Ford. I mean, I loved him as Han Solo, and his turn as Indiana Jones is mesmerizing, but these days, he’s too much of an old stiff. His presidential portrayal is far from good ole Bill Clinton. He’s way too serious. Unbelievable action is better digested when it doesn’t take itself too seriously; ask Ah-nuld. The most interesting thing in the film is probably Gary Oldman, always impeccable. He’s a strong villain, and he’s the only convincing presence in the picture. Still, I was always entertained, if not thrilled. It’s like, I had seen every twist and turn a thousand time, but the whole enterprise is mostly well oiled, so I had a good time.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Wanna smile? A lot? Rent this movie. Watching this adventure flick, I was a kid again. I was grinning the whole time, getting all excited, sometimes needing to restrain myself from jumping up and prancing around. I just LOVED this movie! The uplifting score, the glorious Technicolor cinematography, the heroics of Errol Flynn… It all gels to perfection and makes the viewer regress to childhood. It makes you grab a stick or anything and pretend to be in a swordfight, then put your fists on your hips and laugh heartily. The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz (taking over after William Keighley proved unable to make the action exciting), just a few years before he made “Casablanca”, and you can feel the man’s undying love of cinema. That’s the thing with a lot of movies from the 1930s and ’40s; they have a sense of innocence, a lack of irony and cynicism that’s very refreshing.

Unlike the recent Robin Hood flick starring Kevin Costner, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” doesn’t try to be gritty and realistic. It’s not an accurate depiction of medieval times, it’s an over the top adventure in a fairy tale world in which men prance around in bright colored tights and hats, in which there is trouble and danger, but also a hero nearby who is there to save and protect the good people of England. You know the story, King Richard the Lionheart has gone on a crusade and has been captured, leaving his sneaky brother Prince John (Claude Rains) and the crooked Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) to reign over his land. A real pair of tyrants, they robs, tortures and kill peasants for greed and power. Fortunately, from the woods of Sherwood rise a brave, reckless man, Sir Robin of Locksley (Flynn), who gave up his property and title to help his fellow Saxons, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. With his band of merry men, he’ll keep on keeping on until England is safe again and Richard is back on his throne…

You really have to check this one out. To watch Errol Flynn is to love Errol Flynn. Whether he’s caught in a duel, making inspirational speeches in front of his men, shooting arrows through enemy guards with perfect aim, or romancing Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), Flynn is pure charisma. Like a John Wayne or a Humphrey Bogart, he’s a true movie star, equal parts casual charm and badass attitude. The rest of the cast is also colorful and fun, but there’s no doubt that this is Flynn’s game. Yet it’s even more enjoyable that the movie serves him so well. He could light up the corniest action flick, but here he’s surrounded by great talent. Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s Oscar winning score is always there to spruce up things, the editing is quick and precise and the art direction creates a world of castles and villages in which we wish we could live. Altogether, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is celluloid proof that you don’t need ultra-violence, foul language or explicit sex to cook up great action and romance. This is a movie that will thrill kids of all ages.

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

It’s a bright morning on Sesame Street, and that fuzzy little red monster we know as Elmo is having fun playing with his beloved blanket. And then Zoe comes along and wants to play with his blanket, but Elmo doesn’t want to share, so they fight and both end up with nothing, as the blanket escapes them and falls into Oscar’s trash can. Elmo follows it, only to get sucked into a magical doorway to Grouchland, Oscar’s native world. Here’s a place where people are all for dirtiness and stinkiness, throw trash everywhere, act like jerks and wash themselves with cheese. But even these careless grouches have someone to hate, the evil Huxley, who steals all that makes Grouchland disgusting to make it his, the blanket included. Elmo will have to go through various adventures and learn the values of kindness and sharing to defeat the villain…

Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love Sesame Street as much as the next guy. But stretched to feature length, it’s kind of a letdown. I did enjoy pretty much “How Elmo Saved Christmas”, a made-for-TV feature that airs often on PBS during the holidays, maybe because my expectations are lower when it’s “just TV”. But when I cough up some of my hard-earned money to see a movie on the big screen, I expect more than just cute and colorful. I’m not asking for the Children Television Workshop to go “Fight Club” (though that’d be interesting), but this movie gets pretty dull and moronic by moments. Maybe it’s because Elmo is the most childish of all the Muppets. Like, Kermit and Gonzo have an edge, but Elmo is just Mr. Nice Guy.

His debut on the big screen has its moments, as director Gary Halvorson tries his hand at audience interaction (Elmo asks us to help him and stuff), witty nudges (a movie theater in Grouchland is playing “Basically It Stinks” starring Sharon Groan) and most amusingly, self-reflection, as the film freeze-frames from time to time to let Bert and Ernie come in to comment on the plot and goof around, kinda like those robots in “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. I also liked some of the songs (the first number is particularly catchy), and I guess kids will like the slapstick, the colorful sets and all. I did enjoy most of the Muppets’ antics, but I can’t say the same about the human actors. Mandy Patinkin is more obnoxious than fun as the mean-spirited Huxley, and Vanessa L. Williams oughta be embarrassed of her lousy turn as the Queen of Trash. Basically, this is a movie that grade schoolers will dig and that their accompanying parents won’t be bored too much by, but it ain’t no “Babe” or “The Iron Giant”. Don’t bother if you have hair in funny places.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

From 1959 to 1965, animator Jay Ward cooked up 325 episodes of The Rocky and Bullwinkle show, a crudely drawn but surprisingly clever cartoon about a goofy moose with a penchant for corny puns and his flying squirrel straight man. Together, they strained again and again to stop the evil schemes of Pottsylvanian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale and their fearless leader, Fearless Leader. The show was aimed to kids, but it’s obvious that Ward was also hip to older audiences when he poked fun at the Cold War and weaved always more elaborate puns so pathetic you couldn’t help but chuckle. And now, after 35 years of reruns, everybody’s favorite moose and squirrel are back for new adventures, and this time they’re on the big screen!

The movie takes off as Fearless Leader and his mischievous spies con a studio executive (Janeane Garofalo) into signing them a deal, which somehow leads to their arrival in the “real world”, no longer cartoons but three-dimensional characters played by movie stars. Robert De Niro seems to be having a great time going all-out zany as Fearless Leader (well, he did produce the film), but as for Jason Alexander’s Boris and Rene Russo’s Natasha, they sorta look the part but they seem to wonder what they’re doing in this silly, nostalgic romp. Anyways, Fearless’ evil plan this time around is to launch RBTV, a channel consisting solely of Really Bad TeleVision that will hook American audiences and transform them into mindless zombies. Fearless will them go on the air and tell them to vote for him as their next President, which they will do promptly in their brainwashed state.

But wait, there is still hope, as the head of the FBI (Randy Quaid) sends out wide-eyed, bumbling agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to save the day with the help of, you guessed it, our old friends Rocky J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, who have been living out in retirement in Frostbite Falls. The three are in for a wild ride through America, as they go from Hollywood to the RBTV station in New York. This road comedy will include numerous attacks from Boris and Natasha, a speech at Wassomatto U (say it out loud), smashed cars, incidents with justice, celebrity cameos from the likes of John Goodman and Whoopi Goldberg and of course, plenty of lame puns! “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” isn’t high art, but like that other adaptation of a Jay Ward cartoon, the Brendan Fraser vehicle “George Of The Jungle”, it’s a colorful, amusing kiddy flick that you can enjoy even if you have hair in funny places. It sometimes drags, but it remains modestly entertaining, which is due in no small part to the cheerful, very sympathetic performance of Piper Perabo. Worth a rental, or a matinee if you’re a fan.