Film Review: Stealing Harvard (2002)

Also known as: Say Uncle, Stealing Stanford, The Promise, Uncle, You Promised (working titles)
Release Date: September 13th, 2002
Directed by: Bruce McCulloch
Written by: Martin Hayes, Peter Tolan
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Jason Lee, Tom Green, Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina, Richard Jenkins, John C. McGinley, Chris Penn, Tammy Blanchard, Megan Mullally, Seymour Cassel, Martin Starr, Bruce McCulloch

Imagine Entertainment, Revolution Studios, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Elaine… I like her. I like her a lot, John. But she’s a bitch! She’s a dirty, dumb bitch.” – Duff

Almost everyone I know hated this movie. Well, I knew two people that liked it but like me, they’re also long-time Tom Green fans and appreciate his absurd humor and outlandish antics.

But I get it, Green’s style of comedy isn’t for most people even if he once had a “novelty” song that conquered TRL until MTV pulled it, as well as one of the most watched late night talk shows of the era, even though MTV pulled that too.

Green’s movies are typically met with disdain from the critics but then, the critics’ consensus is typically met with disdain from myself and others who now see them as just corporate movie shills that want their early screening passes, swanky party invites and swag to keep coming in.

Anyway, that being said, I can’t say that this is a particularly good film. However, it’s still enjoyable if you like Green, as well as Jason Lee. It also features a ton of good talent from Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina, John C. McGinley, Megan Mullally, Richard Jenkins, Seymour Cassel, Chris Penn and Martin Starr. Also, it’s directed by Bruce McCulloch of Kids In the Hall. So there’s a good mix of people who are both charming, skilled and commit to the bit that is this picture.

This is a dumb, stoner, buddy comedy and that’s fine. Sometimes you want to escape and laugh at stupid shit and this movie provides a lot of good, solid, stupid shit.

The plot is about a young guy (Jason Lee), on the verge of getting married and buying a house. He is reminded, however, that he promised his niece that he’d pay for her college. Well, she’s going to Harvard and even though she has some financial assistance, the guy has to come up with the remaining 30 grand. So he goes to his friend (Tom Green) for some ideas on how to come up with the money. One thing leads to another and they decide to commit a few crimes, which all go very, very poorly.

While Lee and Green are the two featured in most of the scenes, this is still an ensemble piece and everyone gets their moment to shine. That being said, I thought that this was really well cast and I’ve got to be honest, Dennis Farina and John C. McGinley steal the scenes they’re in because they’re so good and convincing.

Out of all the movies that feature Tom Green in a prominent role, this one is probably the best. Granted, I haven’t watched any of them for a really long time. So I may start revisiting them and seeing how they’ve held up since his heyday in the early ’00s.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Red Dragon (2002)

Release Date: September 30th, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frankie Faison, Anthony Heald, Bill Duke, Ken Leung, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Langella (deleted scene), Ellen Burstyn (voice, uncredited), Frank Whaley (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Think to yourself that every day is your last. The hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me in fine state, fat and sleek, a true hog of Epicurus’s herd.” – Hannibal Lecter

In my quest to revisit and review all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, I’ve finally reached Red Dragon, the last film with Anthony Hopkins in it as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It’s also interesting in that it is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and a remake of 1986’s Manhunter, which was the first Hannibal Lecter movie that saw the famous character portrayed by Brian Cox in a chilling performance.

Having seen this again for the first time since theaters, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Especially, since it came out a year after the pretty mundane Hannibal.

Still, I think that Manhunter is the better film due to the visual style and pacing of its director, Michael Mann, as well as the performances of its cast. I thought that Tom Noonan’s version of the serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, was a lot more intense and scary than Ralph Fiennes version in this movie. That’s not to take anything away from Fiennes, though, as he’s pretty damn good too.

As much as I like Edward Norton in everything, I also prefer William Peterson’s version of Will Graham.

Where Red Dragon does take the cake, though, is in the chemistry between Norton’s Graham and Hopkin’s Lecter. The scenes they shared together were really great. While it’s not on par with the exchanges between Jodie Foster’s Clarice and Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, it still propels the film and it’s the primary factor in this film redeeming the series after it’s severely underwhelming predecessor.

Also, this is just a good story, all around. I’m not sure which is the more accurate film to the source material between this and Manhunter but the plots are very much the same with a few details being different.

I’d also consider this Brett Ratner’s best movie. In recent years, his career has been derailed by sexual harassment allegations and with that, this will probably remain his best film, as he most likely will never work in Hollywood again.

All in all, this is pretty good and it didn’t let the Anthony Hopkins trio of movies end on a sour note.

Now there’s also the prequel film that came out after this but I’ve never seen it and it actually isn’t currently streaming anywhere. I want to watch it and review it as well but I’ll have to wait for it to pop up on a streaming service I already have, as I don’t think it’s worth buying based off of the things I’ve heard about it over the years.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Release Date: June 9th, 2002 (CineVegas International Film Festival)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli 
Written by: Don Coscarelli 
Based on: Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce,  Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Reggie Bannister

Silver Sphere Corporation, Vitagraph Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“What do I really have left in life but this place? It ain’t much of a home, but it’s all I got. Well, goddamnit. I’ll be damned if I let some foreign, graffiti writin’, soul suckin’, son of a bitch in an oversized cowboy hat and boots take my friend’s souls and shit ’em down the visitors toilet!” – Elvis

I’ll always have a certain level of respect for Don Coscarelli, as he gave the world Phantasm and Beastmaster, two films that had pretty profound effects on me as a kid.

However, I saw this back when it was new and it didn’t really speak to me like I hoped it would have. I haven’t watched it since then but I do love Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, so I thought that giving it another shot was long overdue. Plus, tastes change, I’m nearly twenty years older and I often times find myself enjoying movies that I previously hadn’t.

I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this much more than I originally did in 2002. But, at an older age, I think it’s also more relatable. Plus, I’m probably just able to enjoy the slow pace and the nuance of the picture much better.

The plot surrounds two guys that become best buds in a nursing home and discover that something strange is afoot when a reanimated mummy starts killing some of the residents. The odd thing is that Bruce Campbell believes he’s Elvis Presley and he might very well be. Ossie Davis believes he’s John F. Kennedy, after being reconstructed in a lab and dyed black. We never find out if they really are who they believe themselves to be but it doesn’t really matter and it’s part of the movie’s unique charm.

So basically, we have a story where an elderly Elvis and an elderly, black JFK team-up to fight a killer mummy. What’s not to like?

My first impression of the film, years ago, was that it was kind of cool but it moved way too slow and felt uneventful. Now, I like the pace and it isn’t slow, so much as it tries to really develop the characters, their personal bond and build up some suspense before the big final fight at the end.

It’s still far from Coscarelli’s best work but it’s definitely better than the later Phantasm sequels and the Beastmaster movies he didn’t direct.

As I get older in age, I feel like I can just relate to the movie and its characters much more than I did in my early twenties. It probably reflects where Coscarelli saw himself at the time that he made it, as well as the two stars. Davis died a few years later and even though Campbell is still going strong, today, by 2002, he had to be feeling age creep up on him.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Don Coscarelli movies, as well as other films starring Bruce Campbell.

Film Review: Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002)

Also known as: Austin Powers 3, Austinpussy, Austin Powers: Never Say Member Again, The Next Installment of Austin Powers, The Third Installment of Austin Powers (working titles)
Release Date: July 26th, 2002
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Mike Myers, Michael McCullers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles, Michael Caine, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, Clint Howard, Rob Lowe, Fred Savage, Masi Oka, Michael McDonald, Donna D’Errico, Greg Grunberg, Kinga Philipps, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Kristen Johnston, Tom Cruise, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, John Travolta, Britney Spears, Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne, Jack Osbourne, Willie Nelson, Burt Bacharach, Nathan Lane, Katie Couric

Team Todd, Gratitude, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” – Nigel Powers

The third and unfortunately final film of the Austin Powers series may be the worst of the three but it’s still damn enjoyable and pretty good. Besides, all the films are fairly close in overall quality; this one just happened to be the odd one out.

That being said, this one is the most ambitious of the three pictures.

I like this movie, even if the story feels really overstuffed. There are some cool, big twists to the series’ mythos and I actually kind of loved what they did with it by the end of the film. It also ended in a way that opened up a fresh take on the franchise that would’ve been really neat to explore in another movie.

While a fourth film has been rumored since this one came out, I don’t see how you could even do it now in our overly sensitive, always offended modern world. Comedy is truly dead in the 2020s and anything they could make, would be an unfunny, mittens wearing, faded Xerox copy of the original three flicks. No thanks.

Anyway, I think what I liked most about this was the inclusion of Michael Caine as Austin’s father. He was so enjoyable in this that I wish they would’ve debuted his character earlier so that we could’ve got him in more than just one picture.

Mike Myers also ups the ante, as he now plays not just Austin, Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard but also a new villain, Goldmember.

Heather Graham is gone, unfortunately, but Beyonce was decent as the new female partner for Austin. They didn’t really seem to give the two a romantic plot, though, which kind of felt weird, as Austin, in spite of his ugliness, is a chick magnet of incalculable levels.

As I said, this is the worst movie of the three but it’s still a good send off for these characters and their story, assuming we never get a fourth film.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

Film Review: Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Also known as: Gojira X Mekagojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 3 (alternative English title)
Release Date: November 2nd, 2002 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Masaaki Tezuka
Written by: Wataru Mimura
Music by: Michiru Oshima
Cast: Yumiko Shaku, Shin Takuma, Kou Takasugi, Yuusuke Tomoi, Kumi Mizuno, Akira Nakao

Toho Co. Ltd., 88 Minutes

Review:

“You gave me strength. So did the others. No life is worthless. I believe you now.” – Akane Yashiro

The Millennium Era of the Godzilla franchise is definitely my least favorite. However, the films aren’t bad, they’re just kind of meh, overall.

While people seem to really like this film’s direct predecessor, I actually liked this one a wee bit more. I think it had a lot to do with feeling less convoluted and not bogged down by so much fantastical mysticism.

This is just a sci-fi action flick with a giant beast and a giant robot. Even though the Mechagodzilla gimmick had already been done to death, by this point, this version of that type of story felt like it worked. I also love the redesigned version of the robot, now called Kiryu.

The plot also feels like it was lifted from an Ultraman series more than it feels like a rehash of previous Godzilla plots. Although, the duo of Mechagodzilla films from the Heisei Era had similar plot setups.

The reason I liken this to Ultraman is that it features a government task force that is fighting the kaiju threat. Instead of calling on Ultraman and various suped-up vehicles, the ace pilot in this story controls Mechagodzilla (or Kiryu).

The human elements of the story are pretty boring, though. The action scenes and monster battles are good, however.

But if I am being honest, this is almost completely forgettable in the grand kaiju-sized scheme of Godzilla things. Honestly, this whole era, other than the series’ finale, Final Wars, is pretty forgettable.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla films of the Millennium era.

TV Review: Wrestling Gold: Before They Were Famous (2002)

Released: 2002
Cast: Jim Cornette, various

VCI Video, 120 Minutes

Review:

I’ve already reviewed the regular Wrestling Gold series of classic matches. This one-off release, though, features slightly more modern footage, as it showcases the earliest marquee matches of some of wrestling’s biggest stars from around the turn of the millennium.

Everything here is taken from Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Jim Cornette’s promotion from the early ’90s. Because of that, he also hosts this DVD, just as he hosted the other Wrestling Gold releases alongside Dave Meltzer. There is no Meltzer here, however.

This is a compilation of about twenty matches and segments of some of the biggest stars at the time of this DVD’s original release. A lot of big stars worked in SMW, so this is essentially a greatest hits of that promotion’s biggest stars.

The match quality is fairly decent but the overall collection is a bit of a mixed bag. Still, it’s worth checking out if you’re into wrestling history and seeing some of the top wrestlers of all-time before they were mainstream names.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Wrestling Gold DVD series and other wrestling compilations of the territories in the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Spider-Man (2002)

Also known as: Spider-Man: The Motion Picture (working title)
Release Date: April 30th, 2002 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Randy Savage, Octavia Spencer, Macy Gray, Lucy Lawless, Jim Norton

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben

Spider-Man blew my mind when it came out in 2002, as the vast majority of comic book movies before it were terrible. Also, Marvel didn’t have a good track record up to this point, other than 2000’s X-Men, which was just one movie that seemed to have taken a step in the right direction.

Sam Raimi made magic, however, and seeing this for the first time in a very long time, I’ve got to say that the magic is still there. Frankly, I loved this movie in 2002 and I love it now in 2020.

Side note: how the hell is this 18 years-old already?

From top to bottom, this is a solid picture. Sure, I have some issues with the creative direction but it achieved what it set out to do, which was to tell a great origin story, close to the source material, and to entertain and give fans something spectacular.

On top of that, it’s well acted, everyone plays their parts well and even if Tobey Maguire wasn’t 100 percent perfect as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, it’s hard not to love him and become invested in his journey. I’m from the camp that really liked Tobey Maguire and I still think he’s the best live-action Spider-Man, overall.

I also thought that Willem Dafoe was genius casting as Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. While I’m not a fan of the Goblin’s suit in the movie, as a character, his was pretty close to perfect. It actually kind of sucks that they only really got to use him in one film but the story that emerged from his demise makes up for it, as these movies become just as much about Harry Osborn’s journey, as they are Peter Parker’s.

This is just so well crafted and executed that it set the bar really high for the series. It would actually be eclipsed by the second movie, which I once considered a near masterpiece. We’ll see how I still feel about it in another week or so. Let’s try not to talk about the third film until I review that one. I have a feeling that time did it some favors in spite of its creative misfires.

Anyway, the emotional high points of this movie still hit me right in the feels and regardless of having seen this multiple times, it’s all still very effective. The Uncle Ben stuff really feels like a punch to the gut, even if you know it’s coming and you’ve already experienced it.

Apart from the Goblin costume, my only real gripe about the movie is the overly copper look to it. It’s not terrible but I’m not a fan of everything sort of looking like it was shot at sunset, excluding the night scenes. This just feels really filtered and overly vivid. It’s an obvious creative choice but it’s not one that makes the visual presentation look more like the comics. Well, maybe the comics of the time but it kind of detracts from what could’ve been a more colorful, more cheerful look to the film, more akin to the classic artwork and tone of Steve Ditko.

One thing that really stood out to me quite a bit was Danny Elfman’s score. What happened to movie scores? There really aren’t very many that are that memorable in modern times and this one just really points that out, as it’s dynamic, energetic, fun and I’d say, by this point, iconic. While it’s not on the level of Elfman’s Batman scores, it feels more refined and complex and it doesn’t come off as derivative of his older work, which some of his scores do.

Spider-Man still is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I think it’ll maintain that status forever, as it helped push Marvel properties down the right cinematic path and it exceeded 2000’s X-Men by quite a bit.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Documentary Review: John Ford Goes to War (2002)

Release Date: 2002
Directed by: Tom Thurman
Written by: Tom Marksbury
Cast: John Ford (archive footage), John Wayne (archive footage), Kris Kristofferson (narrator), Peter Bogdanovich, Dan Ford, Leonard Maltin, Oliver Stone,

FBN Productions, Starz! Encore Entertainment, 56 Minutes

Review:

I fired this up on a rainy afternoon because I saw it on the Starz app and because I mostly like the films of John Ford.

It’s a fairly interesting documentary that delves into the man’s war experience and how it helped shape the pictures he would go on to make as one of Hollywood’s premier directors.

My only real issue with the documentary is that it is pretty slow and boring. The subject matter is engaging but the presentation almost puts you to sleep.

This was relatively short though, just being under an hour and it is worth checking out if you admire John Ford’s filmmaking style, especially in regards to his war pictures.

I wouldn’t call this a necessary TV documentary, even for fans of the man’s work. Honestly, it just makes me hope that someone will come along and make a more comprehensive and energetic film on the great director’s career.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Starz filmmaking documentaries.

 

Film Review: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Also known as: Night of the Werewolves (working title)
Release Date: March 22nd, 2002 (Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Music by: Mark Thomas
Cast: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham

Kismet Entertainment Group, The Noel Gay Motion Picture Company, The Carousel Picture Company, Victor Film Company, Pathé, 105 Minutes

Review:

“We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch.” – Sgt. Harry Wells

I wasn’t aware of this film until a few years ago but I’m glad that I came across it and checked it out.

To start, I dig werewolf stories but I also really like Sean Pertwee, now most famous for playing Alfred Pennyworth on Gotham, as well as Kevin McKidd, a guy that fanboys were hoping would be cast as Thor before the job went to Chris Hemsworth.

The film takes place in the Scottish Highlands and follows a military unit as they are doing some exercises in the woods. The soldiers soon discover that they are in the country with a pack of werewolves and their training mission gets all too serious. Eventually, they hole up in a suspiciously abandoned house and have to fight off the werewolves that are trying to invade. Primarily, it’s a waiting game, as they need to survive until morning.

The plot has some twists to it, most of which are predictable but that doesn’t make this a bad picture. In fact, it’s still a lot of fun, plays into the werewolf tropes pretty hard but still gives us something cool and unique.

I also like the fact that the werewolves are bipedal, which are my favorite type. In this film, they are large, tall and damn vicious. They almost appear to be wolf versions of the Deathclaws from the Fallout video game series.

Additionally, the special effects, which are almost all practical, physical effects, are impressive.

There are even some funny gags in the film like when a soldier is trying to hold his guts into his body but the dog in the house starts tugging on an intestine.

In the end, this is just a really neat movie that probably deserves more recognition and fanfare than what it has. Pertwee and McKidd were solid together and I really liked Emma Cleasby, the film’s sole female lead.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Howling, Ginger Snaps and The Company of Wolves.

Film Review: Blade II (2002)

Also known as: Blade 2: Bloodlust (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: David S. Goyer
Based on: Blade by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss, Danny John-Jules, Donnie Yen, Matt Schulze

Marvel Enterprises, Amen Ra Films, Imaginary Forces, New Line Cinema, 117 Minutes

Review:

“They tortured me almost to death, and then let me heal in a vat of blood so they could go at it again. Sorry sons of bitches could’ve at least fixed my damn leg while they were at it.” – Whistler

I think I liked Blade II when I saw it in theaters, which was the last time I saw it. However, seeing it with 2019 eyes, this thing is a total failure when compared to the solidness of the first picture.

Guillermo del Toro directed this, which means something to a lot of people, but if I’m being honest, del Toro rarely wows me. I don’t know why. I like his style to a point but I think he’s a severely over hyped filmmaker and his faults are really apparent in this movie.

The first movie in this franchise had superb character development and world building. This just takes all of that and makes it darker for the sake of making it darker and it adds in so much of del Toro’s narrative and visual tropes that its a flat movie with flat, predictable characters that act more like caricatures than real people. Blade II is a perfect example of style over substance.

This also has a new vampire threat that is very del Toro-esque and while these new, more dangerous vampires should be scary, they’re just kind of weird and go so far outside of what a typical vampire is that they feel like a different type of monster altogether. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but I just don’t like these creatures and they seem pretty generic and lame. Plus, they all basically look the same, which is just shirtless, bald and pale things. If I’m being honest, it’s as if del Toro is trying to channel some of the visual cues from Dark City‘s baddies while adding in a bit more fright factor with their jaws splitting open and revealing vampire vagina faces like the aliens from the Predator franchise.

While there are several actors I like in this beyond Snipes and Kristofferson, all of them are poorly used. Ron Perlman is underwhelming, Norman Reedus is annoying, Donnie Yen is wasted and Danny John-Jules feels like a watered down and less fabulous version of his most famous character, the Cat from Red Dwarf.

I didn’t like the bad guys, I didn’t like the plot twists that one can see from ten miles away and there was nothing here that justifies the need for a sequel.

I’m trying to think of one scene or sequence that stands out in the movie and I’ve got nothing. This is just an almost two-hour music video full of late ’90s techno and industrial scene cliches. And the whole shebang is derivative as fuck.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Blade movies.