Dan Halsted

Dan Halsted

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Freshman Orientation Review


Grim
OK, it's official: I no longer care about 18 year olds. Freshman Orientation is the last hyperkenetic, oversexed, foul-mouthed, gender-bending, college frolic I'll watch. At this point I've simply eaten too much American Pie.

When Clay (Sam Huntington) arrives at a large state university, his only goal is to score a dumb blonde. At the same time, Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday), the sorority girl of his dreams, is challenged by her sorority sisters to date a gay man and then dump him (to get revenge on the evil male of the species). Clay gladly pretends to be gay just so he can spend more time with her, but now he has to figure out "how to be gay." Amanda's Jewish friend Jessica (an especially foul-mouthed Heather Matarazzo) is similarly challenged to date and dump a Muslim. Off to the side, Clay's sensitive roommate Matt (Mike Erwin), a closeted gay teen, is slowly coming to terms with himself while simultaneously falling in love with Matt. And Matt's high-school girlfriend Majorie (Marla Sokoloff) also shows up as a newly self-identified lesbian.

Continue reading: Freshman Orientation Review

Garden State Review


Excellent
Even before he finds out his mother has died, Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is depressed -- that much we can tell. His medicine cabinet is stocked with seemingly infinite amounts of antidepressants, which seem to mute his depression without addressing it. Although we are told he is an actor who has just finished a high-profile TV part (playing, as several characters recognize, "the retarded quarterback"), it's hard to picture him coming alive in his work; he barely says a word.

Garden State, an auspicious writing and directing debut from Braff (of TV's charming Scrubs), is about Largeman's return to his New Jersey hometown, and like Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, it's more about mood and moments than telling a single story (and like that film, it's about an actor feeling numb to the "real" world). Indeed, the plot feels very much out of short fiction -- and, we can't help but notice, possible autobiography; Braff is a young actor from Jersey, too.

Continue reading: Garden State Review

The Virgin Suicides Review


Good
The Virgin Suicides is a dark comedy that embodies some twisted views on suburban family life and the true lack innocence of adolescence. First-time writer and director Sofia Coppola, daughter of Godfather creator Francis Ford Coppola, proves to us that she's not really an actress (see The Godfather Part III), but that she does have the family knack for provocative movie directing. The movie is based upon Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, The Virgin Suicides, a detective story about five sisters who mysteriously commit suicide and the investigation by four neighborhood boys who had fallen in love with them. Coppola, however, transforms the movie into her own allegory of five adolescent girls who suffer from ruthlessly suppressed lives, their desperate plea for self-expression, and the tragedy that besets their wretched existence.

Set in the mid-seventies, the plot follows the Lisbon family, with James Woods, a physics teacher at the local high school, as the scatter brained father, and Kathleen Turner as the uncommonly strict mother. Their five daughters are beautiful, naturally blonde, and the desire of every boy in the neighborhood. When the youngest, Cecilia, mysteriously attempts suicide, psychiatrist Danny DeVito recommends that she be allowed to interact more socially, especially with boys. So the Lisbon girls are introduced to the boys of the neighborhood, who have already been watching the girls from afar through half-opened window shades, binoculars, and telescopes. At a party in Cecilia's honor, the boys witness a tragedy that shocks them out of their wits. As a result, the Lisbons fall into a deep suppression shutting out the rest of the world by retreating into their own inner sanctum. It appears they will never recover until Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), the high school heartthrob, pursues the unattainable Lux (Kirsten Dunst). He attempts to ask her to the prom, but the only way her mother will allow him to take Lux is if all the girls go together. For the first time, the girls will venture out of the home to interact socially in an environment other than school.

Continue reading: The Virgin Suicides Review

The Art of War Review


Unbearable
Wesley Snipes is a master of selecting bad action roles. Murder at 1600, U.S. Marshals, Money Train, Drop Zone, Boiling Point, and the ultimate camp film - Passenger 57. The Art of War is another entry in this very ugly and unique category. Ultimately, it is little more than a ridiculous action film with a plot as believable as the Warren Report, ugly violence that would have made Peckinpah cringe, and terrible acting by B-list actors like Michael Biehn and Anne Archer. Oddly, it feels like the undiscovered sequel to another Snipes "masterpiece," Rising Sun.

The movie revolves around the convenient story of a special UN operative caught up in a secret murder conspiracy involving a Chinese ambassador, the Chinese Triad Brotherhood, a rich Chinese businessman (played by...that bad guy from Rising Sun, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) a Chinese UN interpreter, and, inexplicably, Donald Sutherland. The film ends with more confusion than a boatload of Chinese immigrants trying to register at Ellis Island. Or should I say the film ends with the most blatant ripoff of both The Matrix and all of John Woo's Hong Kong films combined.

Continue reading: The Art of War Review

Any Given Sunday Review


Good
Football is as engrained in our society's mores as deeply as war, family values, and politics -- at least that's what Oliver Stone would like you to believe. To back up this statement, Any Given Sunday analyzes the effects of a culture that elevates professional athletes and coaches to a plateau where they are immortalized as heroes of the common man. Stone's football fairytale is a culmination of every anecdote, highlight, or soundbite you've ever seen associated with the pigskin, wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing Christmas package, and sealed with a kiss from team owner Cameron Diaz. Stone aims to please, and he doesn't miss a single cliché of the revered and scrutinized American athlete.

At its core, Any Given Sunday is the story of Miami Sharks coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino - The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon) and his two quarterbacks, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx - The Great White Hype, Booty Call) and Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid - The Big Easy, Innerspace). The quarterback is the most vital position in the game. He is the team spokesperson and field chief, and he serves as a crucial link between coaches, administration, and players. When legendary two-time Pantheon Cup (aka: Super Bowl) champion Cap Bowman ruptures a disk after a bone crushing hit, coach Tony is left with Willie Beamen (Foxx), an athletic, yet untested QB. His team has lost four straight and appears to be plummeting in a downward spiral with the playoffs right around the corner. He's got delusional team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) and sports analyst Jack Rose (John McGinley, doing his best Jim Rome impersonation) breathing down his neck because of his outdated coaching style, and a team of players he's losing control of.

Continue reading: Any Given Sunday Review

U Turn Review


Excellent
I can't imagine U Turn in any director's hands except Oliver Stone's. Breaking free from his political obsessions, Stone explores new territory, giving the material a stark edge, innovation, and a thick, memorable atmosphere. In one film he investigates adultery, incest, bad luck, Indian philosophy, gambling, paranoia, murder, deception, fraud, money, and the Russian Mafia. This is an original tale with a full plate, but surprisingly U Turn never feels crowded, contrived, or recycled. It's a feast for the senses, as long as you have a strong stomach.

Similar to Natural Born Killers in style, the film includes black & white inserts, frequent use of hand-held cameras, overexposed shots, vivid close-ups, zip-switches from smooth to grainy, unique camera angles, time-lapse sequences, and hallucinogenic effects. Stone rounded up some of his Nixon crew to establish the technical aspects of the film, including director of photography Robert Richardson, production designer Victor Kempster, and editors Hank Corwin and Thomas Nordberg. The crew shot U Turn in just 42 days, entirely on location in the actual town of Superior, Arizona, fully utilizing the vast landscape. According to the film's production information, the filmmakers revamped four blocks of Superior's main street, even creating new restaurants out of unused storefronts.

Continue reading: U Turn Review

Witchblade Review


Terrible
In the grand tradition of fabulous movies like The Relic and Wishmaster comes another movie about museum-ware gone wrong. Yancy Butler stars as a cop who encounters the Witchblade during a museum shootout, finding the strange bracelet/gauntlet/sword permanently welded to her forearm. The rest of the movie is a dichotomy: a bad comic book sci-fi/fantasy about the Witchblade's mysterious powers mixed in with an atrocious cop thriller involving a dead friend, a dead father, and a dead partner! Can this girl's luck get any worse? Throw in some low-grade Matrix-wannabe special effects and I likely need only say "Based on the comic book..." to make you run away from this movie, screaming.

Serving Sara Review


Terrible
With his painfully dreary performance in Serving Sara, Matthew Perry proves he will never play any character in a movie other than his annoying Chandler Bing from the television series Friends. If I really wanted to watch Perry be Bing, I could find the same comedy routine in this film on daily reruns of the show. And that would be free. And much less of a waste of time.

In Serving Sara, Perry plays a process server named Joe who has a tendency to screw-up the serving of court papers to his clients. But for some reason beyond comprehension, his boss Ray (Cedric the Entertainer) decides to give the next big assignment to Joe. All he needs to do is rush across town to serve divorce papers to Sara Moore (Elizabeth Hurley). Difficult? Of course! When Joe meets the beautiful Sara, she bribes him with a hefty reward to instead serve the divorce papers on her husband Gordon (Bruce Campbell).

Continue reading: Serving Sara Review

S.W.A.T. Review


Unbearable
Is it that Samuel L. Jackson's character is nicknamed "Hondo"? Could it be the sequence where Colin Farrell goes running on the beach, appears to flirt with a dog and later explosively vomits, all of it set to the Rolling Stones' "Shattered"? Or maybe it's the time that the cast of S.W.A.T. all bust out with a rendition of the theme song from the TV show that the movie itself was based on. (Imagine Tom Cruise humming the Mission: Impossible theme while breaking into Langley.) You can pick from a variety of primary causes, but the end result is the same: S.W.A.T. is such an abominable waste of time and resources that I barely know where to begin.

There's plenty of blame to go around, but it should probably start with the script by David Ayer and David McKenna, which starts with your basic bank hostage scenario that can only be solved by (cue music) the S.W.A.T. team. Hotdoggers Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) move into the bank, disobeying orders, and Gamble ends up shooting (nonfatally) one of the hostages. Street gets demoted out of S.W.A.T., while Gamble quits the department entirely, holding a serious grudge.

Continue reading: S.W.A.T. Review

The Virgin Suicides Review


Good
The Virgin Suicides is a dark comedy that embodies some twisted views on suburban family life and the true lack innocence of adolescence. First-time writer and director Sofia Coppola, daughter of Godfather creator Francis Ford Coppola, proves to us that she's not really an actress (see The Godfather Part III), but that she does have the family knack for provocative movie directing. The movie is based upon Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, The Virgin Suicides, a detective story about five sisters who mysteriously commit suicide and the investigation by four neighborhood boys who had fallen in love with them. Coppola, however, transforms the movie into her own allegory of five adolescent girls who suffer from ruthlessly suppressed lives, their desperate plea for self-expression, and the tragedy that besets their wretched existence.

Set in the mid-seventies, the plot follows the Lisbon family, with James Woods, a physics teacher at the local high school, as the scatter brained father, and Kathleen Turner as the uncommonly strict mother. Their five daughters are beautiful, naturally blonde, and the desire of every boy in the neighborhood. When the youngest, Cecilia, mysteriously attempts suicide, psychiatrist Danny DeVito recommends that she be allowed to interact more socially, especially with boys. So the Lisbon girls are introduced to the boys of the neighborhood, who have already been watching the girls from afar through half-opened window shades, binoculars, and telescopes. At a party in Cecilia's honor, the boys witness a tragedy that shocks them out of their wits. As a result, the Lisbons fall into a deep suppression shutting out the rest of the world by retreating into their own inner sanctum. It appears they will never recover until Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), the high school heartthrob, pursues the unattainable Lux (Kirsten Dunst). He attempts to ask her to the prom, but the only way her mother will allow him to take Lux is if all the girls go together. For the first time, the girls will venture out of the home to interact socially in an environment other than school.

Continue reading: The Virgin Suicides Review

Beyond Borders Review


Unbearable
Anyone with a minimum television I.Q, who has seen Sally Struthers' infomercials, knows there are people in the world who are suffering. For most civil wars or cases of starvation, there is an admirable and often thankless effort by those more fortunate to help these people. Beyond Borders glorifies this crusade, yet the movie does nothing to explain the importance of the effort or why so many are willing to risk their lives to help. It seems totally content to use this humanitarian effort as a means to tell a listless and insulting romance.

Angelina Jolie is Sara Jordan, an American in London who is trapped in a meaningless life and a dismal marriage. At a humanitarian aid concert, she meets a crusader named Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) whose passion for helping the less fortunate gives her life a new direction. For the next 11 years, the lovestruck Sarah abandons her son and husband (Linus Roache) to fund and follow doctor Nick's efforts as he travels to some of the world's most desolate places: the Ethiopian desert, the jungles of Cambodia, and the snow-covered slopes of Chechnya.

Continue reading: Beyond Borders Review

The Corruptor Review


OK
Sadly, it took me far too long to figure out exactly who The Corruptor referred to in order to recommend this film. Lots of great gun battles, especially on DVD, and the story is a notch above the typical buddy cop action thriller fare, but in the end, it's just another cops & robbers flick.
Dan Halsted

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