John Diehl

John Diehl

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Natural Selection Trailer


Linda White is a Christian housewife, trapped in a loveless marriage which she can't do anything about, as per her beliefs. She desperately wants a baby with her husband Abe, in the hopes that her life might start to pick up but unfortunately, she is barren.

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Walker Review


Excellent
Following his one-two punch of cultic cinema, Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, director Alex Cox went on to make two more films that consecrated his reputation as, well, a malcontent. It was 1987 and Cox's latest film, Straight to Hell, was universally panned, not completely unfairly. But just five months later, Cox returned with Walker, an equally-batty spectacle built on the last years of the late-19th-century soldier-of-fortune William Walker and his conquest of Nicaragua. Given only a paltry release in December '87, Cox's film maudit was banished to the realm of VHS for two decades before Criterion took an interest and decked it out with all the trimmings.

Far too crazy to be fatalist, Walker strangely begins on a moment of near-defeat for the titular batshit commando (the phenomenal Ed Harris) and his madcap battalion. Saved by a sandstorm and his lawyer, Walker finds himself back in the arms of his love Ellen Martin (Marlee Matlin). The fact that Ephraim Squier (Richard Masur) holds the keys to Walker's future in politics doesn't stop Ellen from asking Squier to fornicate with swine. Soon enough, Walker is trading away his future with Ellen for a mission to Nicaragua at the behest of Squier and Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle).

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Land of Plenty Review


Weak
Wim Wenders' sense of subtlety and grace started to decline somewhere in the '90s, and in post-9/11 he's clearly lost it altogether. Land of Plenty is his meditation on the Big Event (and I guess at this point we should assume that every film director will eventually make one... come on Spielberg, what's holding you back?). Kudos for having the stones to have the movie take place all the way across the country in L.A., but could the story be more overbearing?

John Diehl plays a Vietnam vet who spends his days in a van keeping tabs on suspicious personages, particularly those with turbans. He's constantly narrating the action into a tape recorder, and he even has a flunky willing to help him "analyze these chemicals by oh-nine-hundred." This is contrasted with his long-lost niece (Michelle Williams), a mopey girl who's all too happy to spend all day working in a soup kitchen. The digital video looks suitably present and "real," but Wenders' wandering sentiments fail to add anything new to what has become a mountain of conversation on the New Paranoia and What the Hell Are We Supposed To Do Now? It's not exactly lazy filmmaking, but it's hard to give it your complete attention.

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Jurassic Park III Review


Excellent

Dinosaurs!

While the first Jurassic Park was mediocre and the second film god-awful, Jurassic Park III finally gets the formula right. These movies were never meant to be science heavy or overly sentimental; they should've been what #3 is -- an amusement park thrill ride packed wall-to-wall with dinosaurs and more dinosaurs, clocking in at less than 90 minutes with as little dialogue and subplot as possible. Plus, big bonus -- no Jeff Goldblum!

Instead of Goldblum, JP3 brings back Sam Neill as the slightly grizzled Dr. Alan Grant who seems happy to put his terrifying up-close dino experiences behind him. Grant and his new protégé Billy (Alessandro Nivola) are once again looking for funding for their research, and are coaxed into accompanying a new wealthy benefactor -- Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his wife Amanda (Téa Leoni) -- on a fly-over of the second Jurassic island, Isla Sorna. But things turn ugly when the Kirbys announce they plan to land on the island to search for their 14-year-old son Eric (Trevor Morgan) who was conveniently lost there while paragliding. When the group ends up crash landing in the jungle, the movie becomes a race to see who will get off the island and who will become lunch. (Sounds like a cool idea for the next Survivor.)

While dialogue has never been these films' strongest suit, JP3 remedies this by having less of it. Regardless, the writers behind this screenplay-of-fewer-words are pretty impressive: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor are the minds behind Citizen Ruth and Election. It comes off as a bit like how a dumb movie turns out when it's penned by smart people (like a Wayne's World) -- lots of action peppered with throw-away goofball lines like, "They weren't making dinosaurs; they were playing God."

As evidenced by dialogue like that, JP3 doesn't take itself too seriously, which is perhaps its saving grace; and it pulls no punches when taking potshots at the other two movies. For example, when Grant finds Eric (or, rather, after Eric rescues Grant), Eric tells the scientist, "I've read both your books. I liked the first one better than the second." Also, the so-called millionaire Kirby turns out to be a plumber. So much for a repeat of John Hammond.

Above all, JP3 packs in more dinosaurs per square inch than any other JP film before it. This time, big, angry reptiles are coming out of the sky and water as well as land, and the filmmakers even introduce a dino to rival the T. Rex, a massive monster called Spinosaur (that's right, dino-fighting). And, of course, the raptors are back, and now they can communicate with each other (don't ask, evolution's a bitch). Most importantly, none of the humans try to fight the dinosaurs themselves, so we won't be seeing any unbelievable scenes of kids knocking out velociraptors with a few gymnastics kicks.

Efficiently crammed with lots of thrills, Jurassic Park III may come off as a little bit like a big-budget B-movie, but you're not likely to have a better time at a blockbuster this summer. It's just loud, smash-and-crash monster movie fun at its finest.

The DVD extras focus on the film's special effects -- surprisingly, very little CGI, very many animatronic legs and jaws.

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Fail Safe (2000) Review


Good
CBS -- of all places -- remade the original, masterful Fail-Safe, a cautionary tale about nuclear war, jammed full of big name movie stars (check out that cast!), and shot in black and white from Walter Bernstein's original screenplay. It's a very faithful remake, even though the production values (it's shot on video) are atrocious. It's a fabulous original film and a worthwhile redo -- but it comes about 20 years too late. Why waste time remaking a tale about nuclear war with the Soviet Union -- a country that no longer existed -- in this millennium? Still, it's worth a look if you're a fan of the original.

Stripes Review


Extraordinary
This sloppy but popular comedy stands just behind Bill Murray's best movies -- Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation -- in quality, but stands with them in establishing the film comedy as we now know it: irony-soaked, lowbrow, and funny. As late as the mid-'70s, too many film comedies were earnest, cute throwbacks without a single real laugh. (Thank God for Mel Brooks, who made the only consistently funny comedies of the decade.) Supposedly hilarious films like Shampoo and The Goodbye Girl (or insert another '70s comedy here... I'm having trouble remembering any of them) now seem naïve and lame -- all the more so for trying to be trendy and sophisticated. Such films tried harder to please the critics than the crowds, not by being highbrow but by being frothy.

All that was dead the moment Bill Murray threw the candy bar in the pool in Caddyshack. Critics hated Caddyshack, and called Saturday Night Live skits "mean-spirited," but for everyone else, it was finally OK to be crude, clever, offensive -- and funny. Subsequent films like Stripes, often featuring one or more cast members from SNL (Murray, et al.) or Second City TV (Harold Ramis, John Candy), set the mold. The formula hasn't needed much tweaking since then, either; the successful comedies of recent years (There's Something About Mary, American Pie, etc.) owe everything to them.

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Monument Ave. Review


OK
Weird little Ted Demme movie about (what else?) drugs and thugs. Denis Leary plays a low-level gangster in an Irish mob, forced to maintain utmost secrecy when one of his best friends is capped by the boss right in front of his eyes (and in a rather jarring sequence). Curious story, it tells us about loyalty but never says whether that's a good or a bad thing. Not to mention, it's always tough to take Leary seriously in a dramatic role. At least he really is Irish.

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Stargate Review


Weak
When did I miss the event that made Stargate worthy of an "Ultimate Edition" DVD, complete with director's cut? I guess that MacGyver-starring TV show thing is more popular than I thought.

Anyway, if you're unfamiliar with Stargate, the story is pretty straightforward. Military types unearth a big metal ring encoded with Egyptian hieroglyphics, then import a kooky archeologist (James Spader) to figure out what it does -- which, within 30 minutes, involves the opening up of a portal to another world, millions of light years away.

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Tully Review


Good
There is something so inviting -- especially for those of us who live in the city -- about a film that captures the brilliance and serenity of rural life. Seeing those late-day hints of sunlight beam down upon open fields and lone houses can be one of the great cinema escapes. Tully, the debut feature from a talented filmmaker named Hilary Birmingham, gives viewers that easygoing country warmth but also delivers a fine, reserved narrative within its setting.

Based on an award-winning story by Tom McNeal, Tully is a guy-at-a-crossroads tale, told with a welcome lack of standard convention. The title character, played by able newcomer Anson Mount (Crossroads), is a young, good-looking fella admired by most of the women in his Nebraska farming town, and playing his quiet popularity for all it's worth. Tully works on his pappy's farm with his younger brother, Earl, but still finds time to get it on with a local stripper (Catherine Kellner) on the hood of her car (or his car, if available).

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Lost Souls Review


Weak

If spooky movies based on tenets of Catholicism are your bag, you can do a lot worse than "Lost Souls," in which Winona Ryder stars as a once-possessed woman trying to find and save a man destined to become Satan incarnate.

It's no "Exorcist" -- although it is cashing in on that film's rerelease -- but at least this faith-based frightener doesn't invent "missing" books of the Bible to advance its plot like the pathetic action hybrid "End of Days." At least it's not inundated with shopworn demonic clichés like the pathetic "Bless the Child." At least it's not just an exercise in style over substance, like the Goth/MTV genre entry "Stigmata."

No, "Lost Souls" actually has quite a bit going for it before narrative loose ends begin to unravel the whole picture.

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Anywhere But Here Review


OK

With any lesser actresses than Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman in the lead roles, the turbulent mother-daughter relationship at the center of "Anywhere But Here" might be little more than fodder for another Lifetime Channel movie -- especially with such a pathetic title.

In fact, I can't imagine what drew director Wayne Wang ("Smoke," "The Joy Luck Club") to what on paper must have looked like a rather prosaic project about a middle-aged woman, desperate for a fresh start, dragging her inimical teenager from Wisconsin to Los Angeles in the hopes of creating a fulfilling and glamorous new life.

But Wang's ability to extract vitality and depth from even the most obvious female roles (a hooker in his "Chinese Box" became a symbol of Hong Kong at the end of English rule) begets such effortlessly extraordinary performances from his stars that this seemingly pedestrian story will ring true for anyone who is now or has ever been a teenage girl embarrassed and imposed upon by her mother. (Frankly, there isn't much here for guys, I'm afraid.)

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Pearl Harbor Review


Grim

The handful of battle scenes that make up a good hour of "Pearl Harbor" are adrenaline-pumping and hyper-realistic on a massive scale.

You feel the impact of every single 7.7mm round from dive-bombing Japanese Zeros as they rip through pavement, planes and people in the infamous attack around which the film in centered. Director Michael Bay's camera goes inside cockpits, rides along on bombs from release to explosion, captures the terror of a torpedo in the water from the deck of a ship and includes some of the best special effects ever put on film.

The money shot is a hull-buckling blast that rips through the USS Arizona. It makes being on a luxury liner hit by an iceberg look like a 25-cent carnival ride.

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Jurassic Park III Review


Weak

In 1993, the first "Jurassic Park" took Hollywood's first giant step into the world of computer generated special effects, rendering from scratch huge life-like dinosaurs that genuinely interacted with the humans they chased and chowed on. There were a few tell-tale signs of CGI style that savvy audiences now recognize (soft-focusy skin on some critters, for example). But there wasn't a movie-goer on Earth who wasn't agog at how real those dinos looked.

CGI effects have evolved exponentially in the last eight years and in "Jurassic Park III" the movie's biggest stars are so seamless blended and thoroughly convincing that the very concept of these ancient beasts being a special effect barely even crosses your mind. It only occurred to me once, for about 10 seconds, during a fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and this movie's even bigger, meaner baddie called Spinosaurus. Half way through the furious dust-up, it hit me: "Holy cow, these things aren't real!"

I might not even have thought about the effects at all except for being drawn to the extreme deliberateness of the movie's big-budget post-production by the over-amped, over-bearing, Dolby'd-to-death sound effects, apparently designed to shatter eardrums.

Continue reading: Jurassic Park III Review

John Diehl

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