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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney

by david    January 20, 2003

Until I read about this movie maybe six months ago, I didn't know anything about Chuck Barris. For those of you with me on that point, I'll do a quick rundown:

Chuck Barris was a creator/producer of game shows in the 60s and 70s. He's the guy who created the Dating Game, the Gong Show, the Newlywed Game, $1.98 Beauty Pageant, and a handful of others. In the late 80s or early 90s, he wrote an autobiography, in which he claimed that, during that entire period, he was also an assassin for the CIA, and had killed over 30 people. And nobody believed him.

So, this movie is about Chuck Barris, as Chuck tells the story. It's full of spy games and intrigue, but in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. You just can't believe any of it happened, though Barris swears it's true. It's a great, fun, engaging movie. Sam Rockwell, as Barris, is delightful. Brash, Crass, at the same time plagued by low self-esteem and unrestrained ego, he's a joy to watch. Drew Barrymore is his on-again, off-again girlfriend, and is charming as always. As this is George Clooney's directing debut (he does a bang-up job, btw, by mostly staying out of the way of his talented cast), it is full of high-profile actors in supporting roles and cameos, including Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Rutger Hauer plays his best role in decades as a German counterpart to Barris's spy, and Clooney himself is enjoyable as the CIA recruiter.

I really enjoyed this. It's a fine, smart movie, and a lot of fun to watch, from beginning to end. If you are able to see it in the theater, do. Otherwise, rent it as soon as it is available. I wouldn't nominate it for best picture, but it is definitely in my top 10 of 2002.

starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe

by david    January 20, 2003

I liked Spiderman just fine, but am I really meant to consider Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as Best Actor and Actress, respectively? I know it only costs $47 to nominate your people for these awards but, please, celebrity publicists, do us a favor and quit spamming us with this nonsense.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest: the review. Everybody knows the story of Spiderman: boy nerd, Peter Parker, gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes your friendly neighborhood wise-ass superhero. Clearly the story is appealing -- Spiderman is an icon the likes of Batman and Superman, and gazillions of people read or have read the comics, or watch or have watched the various cartoons and horrible, horrible TV Movies. The question is, will this movie be Superman: the Movie, or will it be Superman IV, the Quest for Peace?

A lot of folks REALLY liked Spiderman -- it made an assload of money. But I think most serious comic book fans (or people who used to be serious comic book fans), like me, will feel a little disappointed in the movie. It just lacked a little of the odd combination of grit and sparkle that are the hallmarks of the best of the Spiderman books. I did like the focus on the responsibility of power (the focus of the first Spiderman comic, and many thereafter, thanks to Stan Lee), and the way the movie stayed true to much of the spirit of Spiderman. And I loved him getting his ass kicked in the final fight scene -- that's something I always liked about Spidey -- he was almost Indiana-Jonesian in how often he got his ass beat.

But the onscreen version Spiderman has all the rough edges polished off. Most importantly, his first girlfriend (not Mary Jane, in the comics) should die at the Goblin's hands -- that's how Spidey learns that, despite his powers, he's still sometimes as helpless as a regular person. I dunno -- it's hard to pin down many specifics -- I just wanted the sad, difficult moments to be grittier, sadder, and more difficult. And, when Spiderman kicks ass, I wanted it to be utterly spectacular. I wanted extremes that this middle-of-the-road movie just couldn't give. Plus, Kirsten Dunst is utterly unconvincing as Mary Jane. The girl was a cute child actor, but, please -- she's not a particularly compelling adult actress (her talent is pretty surfacey, at best), and she's not that attractive. She needs a rest. I take a little issue with the script as well -- it's just too full of little jokes and little "funny" moments, but that goes back to me wanting a grittier film.

On the other hand, there's lots to like here. Sam Raimi keeps the movie clipping along, I'm always happy to see Bruce Campbell getting work (he's one of my favs), and it's good to see Sam is committed to keeping a roof over Ted's head, too. Willem Dafoe was great as Norman Osborne/the Green Goblin (if only they'd designed him without that ridiculous mask, so we could see his face more). Casting J. K. Simmons (who I've loved on Oz and Law & Order) as J. Jonah Jameson was a great move, and the rest of the supporting cast are fine as well. Tobey MacGuire is a pretty good Peter Parker/Spiderman. There are times when I needed him to be a little, I dunno, tighter or sharper, if you know what I mean, and Tobey's just too laid-back an actor for that. But he was fine, and I can accept him as Spidey.

So, Spiderman is a pretty good superhero flick, on par with Singer's X-Men or Batman Returns. But it's no Batman or Superman: the Movie, which is too bad, because Spidey, like Superman, is one of my absolute favorites, and I really wanted this movie to kick ass.

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