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Reviews for the week of August 9, 1999.

Monday:
Deep Blue Sea

Deep Blue Sea
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Deep Blue Sea has its moments. For example: when Samuel L. Jackson is devoured by a huge shark in the midst of his heroic "save the day" speech. Or when the shark bites the arm off a supposedly "brilliant" scientist who sits down conveniently close to the shark's mouth.

All gruesome glee aside, the plot moves swiftly without any dull moments. Several doctors and scientists at an underwater laboratory are studying sharks. Specifically, they are trying to suck some important chemicals out of the sharks' brains, because they think this might cure many illnesses. (Sharks are surprisingly disease-resistant.) Because sharks only have so much of this miracle drug in their brains, the ambitious scientists decide to increase the big fish's brain mass with genetic engineering. (Therefore, they are violating an important scientific compact about not using genetics to increase brain size.)

The upshot of all this technical scientific maneuvering is that the sharks become too intelligent and the roles are reversed. Now it's the sharks that try to kill all the scientists and lab workers, destroy the lab, and escape out into the deep blue sea. (Can you blame them?)

For being a bunch of brilliant scientific minds, they are pretty stupid. It seems the only ones with any intelligence are the scuba diver who swims with the sharks, and the cook (L.L.Cool J). Jackson's character, a rich guy whose funding is needed to continue the project, acts more or less cleverly until he gets ripped apart by that shark.

Deep Blue Sea is highly engrossing, and its flaws are forgivable. Well acted and decently plotted, this film is definitely worth viewing.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Wednesday:
The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense
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Recently, I've been disappointed by several so-called "thrillers". The string of boring thrillers began, as far as I can trace it, with The Mummy. Next came The Haunting, then Lake Placid, closely followed by The Blair Witch Project.

The newest addition to this list is The Sixth Sense. Chalk up another one to Hollywood's evident opinion that moviegoers are, for the most part, a nervous, paranoid lot of wimps who will freak at the slightest scare in a movie. They must think the entire thriller-movie-going population needs nerve pills.

Bruce Willis stars as Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist. Early in the film, he is shot by a former patient whom he obviously failed to help. About a year later, he takes on a new patient - a little boy remarkably similar to the patient who shot him. It seems the kid sees dead people - ghosts if you will - walking around, and is able to communicate with them.

Willis is a talented actor, but if he thinks wearing the same pained expression through the whole movie makes him look like a caring doctor, he's wrong. He just looks like someone doing an antacid commercial.

The Sixth Sense isn't hopeless though. While slow moving, the plot does have a somewhat surprising end - some people will undoubtedly be shocked. The Sixth Sense plays more as a romance-drama type film than a thriller, however. This makes it yet another movie that was marketed badly.

I think I've identified a link between all these thrillers that don't thrill. All five films mentioned are either PG-13 or rated R only for language, not violence or gore. I'm not saying that a film needs buckets of blood or overdone, cheesy special effects to be thrilling, but I think too many movies are being "tamed down" these days. Producers targeting teen audiences realize that they'll make more money if their film is rated PG-13. And it doesn't help that the film industry has been cracking down so ridiculously hard on R rated films (carding at the movie theatre is insanity).

The result is more movies like The Sixth Sense: softened versions of potentially exhilarating horror films that fall flat. Sometimes, it takes a little justifiable blood and gore, violence, or other horror effects to make a movie gripping. And if a "thriller" doesn't fulfill its promise of suspense, thrills, or chills, I feel cheated.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Friday:
Dick

Dick
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If you're tired of the current political scandals, it might be refreshing to revisit one from the past. Take the Nixon Watergate thing, for example: I wasn't around to see that mess smeared through the newspapers, and I was bored to death when we studied it in history.

But I fully enjoyed the new comedy film Dick. Granted, this is a fictional story built around real events, but I still think it makes an interesting - and entertaining- history lesson. Forget the textbooks - I'll just watch a movie, thank you.

Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams star as Betsy and Arlene, two teenage girls who, according to this film, greatly altered the events of U.S. President Richard Nixon's (Dan Hedaya) administration. Conveniently, they manage to witness the Watergate burglary, and bump into one of the burglar's when their class visits the White House. Nixon decides to "handle" this situation by inviting the girls to be official White House dog walkers.

Soon, they've created a bigger problem by walking in on a little "destroy-the-evidence" party at the White House. Later, they spill the story to ambitious newspaper reporters- Woodward and Bernstein (Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch), from the Washington Post.

If you know anything about the real Nixon/Watergate story, you'll know where this movie is going. To call Dick predictable on these grounds would be unfair. Yet the story is predictable in other ways; at several points I figured out the next fictional laugh gag before it happened.

Nevertheless, Dick proves to be a very laughable comedy, and I have few complaints. The acting was certainly creditable, and, while rather unrealistic, all the characters were engaging. This comedic twist of political history is a captivating film.

My Rating = Three Stars

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