A truck carrying hazardous materials accidentally drops one of its containers into a small lake contaminating it and its delicate ecosystem. Trouble arises when the wacky town entomologist feeds his collection of exotic spiders contaminated crickets which act as a sort of spider "steroid." The result is a horde of giant hairy spiders that prey on the town's unsuspecting inhabitants. Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) doesn't believe her son Mike (Scott Terra) when he tries to warn her about what's going on but blames his "media-induced paranoid delusional nightmare" on too much boob-tube watching. Then when mining engineer Chris McCormick's (David Arquette) aunt gets spun--literally--into one of the spider's webs he enlists the help of Sheriff Parker and paranoid radio announcer Harlan Griffin (Doug E. Doug) to fight off the eight-legged freaks. Armed only with rakes ski poles and chainsaws the townspeople fight off the spiders in a losing battle before Chris comes up with a master plan that will blow the arachnids to smithereens.
Prankster Arquette (See Spot Run) tones down his funnyman routine in Eight Legged Freaks and takes on the role of the humble hero. It's refreshing to see Arquette playing a more subdued character with less of a slapstick edge although I half expected him to start yelling at people to "dial straight down the center." As the sheriff Wuhrer (Berserker) plays her dual role well as a headstrong single mother of two and the town leader. Sure she looks a little too hot to be a chief law enforcement officer but maybe some sheriffs really do look like that in small-town America. While the laughs may not have been coming from Arquette there were enough to be had thanks to Doug whose most memorable role to date has to be Sanka Coffie from the 1993 comedy Cool Runnings. His radio announcer in this film believes the government is conspiratorial and that the spiders are the alien invasion he has been warning people about for decades. Doug delivers some of the movie's funniest lines.
New Zealander Ellory Elkayem (Larger Than Life) wrote and directed Eight Legged Freaks a sort of homage to mid-1950s B-movie sci-fi thrillers like Tarantula or Earth vs. the Spider. But while these cult films were funny merely by accident--Tarantula director Jack Arnold probably wasn't being intentionally campy--Eight Legged Freaks at times seems to try too hard. Packing in one joke after another takes away from the spiders' scariness making them seem more like a practical joke than a potentially annihilating threat. The special effects are extremely slick however and the spiders are well done with techniques approaching those in the 1997 sci-fi actioner Starship Troopers (but none of the gigantic CGI spiders are as scary as the real-life tarantulas caged up in terrariums at the start of the movie). Although at 99 minutes the film moves quickly the final scene in which the townspeople are being chased through a labyrinth of mining tunnels drags on a bit too long.
One thing can be said about this Disney movie--it is certainly original. In a galaxy far far away we meet Experiment 626. Created illegally by a mad scientist named Jumba (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) this little blue alien--with four arms big ears and a very bad disposition--can't be reformed. The Galactic Federation rules he must be banished to an uninhabited planet but in the transfer 626 escapes and crash-lands on a primitive natural wildlife preserve--otherwise known as Earth. There on the island of Kauai he disguises himself as a dog named Stitch and befriends Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) a lonely little Hawaiian girl with a penchant for Elvis Presley songs (and thankfully none of the characters burst into original songs). Lilo's older sister Nani (voiced by Tia Carrere) has become her sole guardian after their parents were killed but a big bad social worker named Cobra Bubbles (voiced by Ving Rhames) will take Lilo away if Nani can't prove she is fit to take care of her little sister. Of course throwing the destructive Stitch into the equation doesn't help matters much. Now being pursued by the Federation Jumba and an Earth expert named Pleakley (voiced by Kevin McDonald) the blue devil at first tries to find a way off the planet but soon takes a liking to his new surroundings and learns the meaning of "ohana"--the Hawaiian word for "family."
Although there are no "star" voices being utilized in Lilo & Stitch each character is still stamped with his or her own unique voice. Carrere (Wayne's girlfriend in Wayne's World) and newcomer Chase do a nice job with their sisterly roles and Rhames is easily recognizable as the tough Bubbles who seems a little bit more Men in Black than a mere social worker (obviously intended). Interestingly there really isn't one major villain. Characters like Jumba Bubbles and even Stitch start off as baddies but end up redeeming themselves. Only the Galactic police commissioner Captain Gantu (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) a 20-foot shark-like alien seems to be the one who never veers from his malevolent path to bring Stitch to justice but he's only in about one-third of the film. The star of the show is Stitch voiced by Chris Sanders. The devilish imp is a lot funnier when he's being a bad boy--running around saying the most awful things we can't understand--than being the good little alien. In one hilarious scene he builds a replica of San Francisco with Lilo's toys and then pretends he's Godzilla stomping and chewing his way through. But alas it's a Disney film so he has to come around realize he wants to be part of a family and find the goodness within himself. Ho hum.
Disney Studios were once the giants of animation. Remember when they could do no wrong as their movies grossed millions of dollars? Sure they still pride themselves on their heartwarming cutesy movies but as the hip and funny computer-generated Shrek and Ice Age dominate the current trend in animation Disney is having to keep up with the Joneses. With Lilo & Stitch it is trying. This movie is in the same vein as Aladdin and The Emperor's New Groove in which the humor and wit aim right for the older audiences--and it's appreciated. There are several laugh-out-loud moments. Plus it looks like Disney animated films are finally moving away from the original songs (which were never the same since lyricist Howard Ashman died). It's a nice change of pace. The animation is also up to par illustrating a lush and beautiful Hawaiian landscape. (But how could you go wrong with drawing Hawaii?) Still the true audience is the younger set so those Disney-esque elements have to be in place. Stitch has to become "human." Things have to wrap up neatly at the end. Maybe someday just once a Disney animated film will surprise us.
Loosely based on the (rather lame) 1960 Rat Pack film dashing understated-but-cool thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) orchestrates the most sophisticated elaborate casino heist in history less than 24 hours after being released from jail. In one night Danny's handpicked 11-man crew of specialists--including an ace card sharp (Brad Pitt) a young-but-masterful pickpocket (Matt Damon) and a demolition genius (Don Cheadle)--will attempt to steal over $150 million from three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) the elegant ruthless entrepreneur who just happens to be dating Danny's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). To score the cash Danny will have to risk his life and risk his chance of ever reconciling with Tess. But if all goes according to his intricate nearly impossible plan Danny won't have to choose between his stake in the heist and his high-stakes reunion with Tess. Or will he?
The star wattage in this movie could solve all of California's electricity problems in one fell swoop. George Clooney easily passes himself off as suave mastermind Danny Ocean playing the role with understated class and elegance. Brad Pitt takes a similar arc as Rusty though he's slightly more dispassionate and professional than Clooney's visionary Ocean. Matt Damon is convincing as the inexperienced-but-talented pickpocket who's essential to getting in the vault. And Julia is simply Julia--glamorous and charming a smart cookie who is being wooed by the evil ruthless (and anal-retentive) casino mogul so elegantly portrayed by Andy Garcia. Affecting a Cockney accent and attitude Don Cheadle's portrayal of the demolition expert is a tour de force. Carl Reiner is absolutely hilarious as Saul Bloom an aging old-timer who comes out of retirement to infiltrate the casino as a debonair arms dealer. Elliott Gould Bernie Mac Scott Caan and Casey Affleck round out the cast nicely with inspired performances especially Gould's and Mac's.
Soderbergh cemented his reputation last year as a director of serious weight when both Traffic and Erin Brockovich were nominated for the Best Film Academy Award and garnered him two Best Director nominations---an unprecedented feat. Ocean's Eleven marks Soderbergh's departure from the serious to the seriously fun. This is one of the most stylish most elegantly filmed movies I have ever seen. Not only are all the actors beautiful but so are the locations clothes and shot selections. The speed and pacing of the flick belie the movie's length; Soderbergh clearly had fun making this movie. He shot this film very intimately often allowing the camera to stay close on the actors a tad longer than expected which lets their personas shine through--thus their personalities draw you into the movie as much as the caper itself. It's not often you see a movie where the direction has as much wit and cleverness as the plot itself. Ocean's Eleven makes no pretense to be something other than a jaunty cheeky exhilarating heist movie. So while the plot's not too deep all is forgiven considering the level of acting and direction.
Novelist and college teacher Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is a literary luminary on the strength of his smash first book but his follow-up is going nowhere after years of effort. Blocked emotionally as well as creatively this rumpled pot-smoking eccentric has driven away his wife and squandered another opportunity for love with his school's hubby-cheating chancellor (Frances McDormand). Then an exceptionally gifted young student (Tobey Maguire) triggers a series of misadventures that exceeds anything Grady ever dreamed up for his fiction.
In a performance that rivals his work in "Wall Street" as the best of his career Douglas grounds the film with effortless-looking naturalism and crusty charm. His knack for bringing sympathy to unsavory characters allows "Wonder Boys" to retain an edge while stealthily reaching for viewers' heartstrings. Playing a sensitive misfit coming of age for the umpteenth time is no stretch for Maguire ("The Cider House Rules") but he's touchingly effective nonetheless. The invaluable Robert Downey Jr. ("Chaplin") is delightful as Grady's stressed-out but loyal agent who hits town with a hulking transvestite on his arm.
Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") takes the fine screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") and wrings it for every drop of humor and pathos. Wise and full of heart in its sly way "Wonder Boys" is the kind of deeply satisfying piece filmmakers must have in mind when they set out to make dramas. The obvious disparity between the film's wide critical acclaim and dismal box-office performance earlier this year led Paramount Pictures to give it a rare re-release as the holiday Oscar season gets underway.