Sleepy Hollow

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is less the Washington Irving story than it is “Scream” set in post- revolutionary times. Its production design by Rick Heinrichs is ravishingly eerie, all gray skies, looming spires, gnarled branches, and rearing horses. The magnificent collection of character actors is almost another element of the production design, with faces right out of Holbein or Daumier. But the spurting blood, rolling heads, and postmodern sense of irony are jarring and uneven. (It’s set in 1799, the end of the century, get it?)

Johnny Depp plays the honorable but easily frightened Ichabod Crane, in this version not a schoolteacher but a sort of 18th century detective, committed to the use of science and logic. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders attributed to the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a bloodthirsty Hessian soldier, who steals the heads of his victims because his own was stolen from his grave.

Crane insists that the murderer cannot be supernatural, until he sees it himself. Still, he analyzes the evidence to find the secrets that link the victims together and the human force driving the Headless Horseman.

The themes of science vs. supernatural and appearance vs. reality appear throughout the movie, as Crane must understand his own past in order to see the truth. He describes himself as “imprisoned by a chain of reasoning.” He keeps coming back to a toy given to him by his mother, a spinning disk with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As it spins, the bird appears to be inside the cage, an optical illusion, and, not by coincidence, the very illusion (persistence of vision) that makes us think that the people in the thousands of still pictures that make up a movie are really moving.

Depp plays Crane with the right haunted look and rigid posture. But the ludicrousness of some of the plot turns and the exaggerated fright reactions leave him with the most outrageous eye-rolling since Harvey Korman’s imitation of a silent film star. Indeed, the movie frequently brings to mind those sublime “Carol Burnett Show” movie parodies, especially when the villain ultimately finds time for a detailed confession as the planned final victim is waiting for the Headless Horseman to arrive. The wonderful Christina Ricci is wasted in an ingenue part.

Parents should know that this is a very, very gory movie, with many headless corpses, lots of spurting blood, heads being sliced off and bouncing to the ground, various other murders, a couple of “boo!”-type scares, and of course characters perpetually in peril. The heads all show up eventually, too. There is a brief but non-explicit scene of a couple having sex, several very gross moments, and a scene of torture in an Iron Maiden. This is only for teens who really enjoy slasher movies, and then if they can’t find a video of something better, like “Poltergeist” or director Tim Burton’s own “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Edward Scissorhands.”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Horror

She’s All That

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Get ready. The success of movies like “Scream” has led to an upcoming avalanche of movies transplanting every possible movie plot into high school. This one takes “Pygmalion” with a few touches from “Pretty in Pink,” “Easter Parade,” “Cinderella,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It falls smack dab in the middle of a genre I call “the makeover movie,” in which Our Heroine achieves success through good grooming and accessorizing. The result here is uneven, with some good performances and even some witty commentary on teen culture, but beware — the raunchy references make this inappropriate for younger teens, and even parents of mature high schoolers might want to consider it carefully.

Zach, the most popular and talented boy in high school (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) gets dumped by his beautiful but mean girlfriend the day after spring vacation of their senior year. She has met an MTV-celebrity (Matthew Lillard, hilarious as a self-obsessed gross-out champion based on MTV’s legendary Puck). Zach and his best friend bet that he can take any girl in school and get her elected prom queen before the end of school. The choice is drab Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is coping with her mother’s death by taking care of her father and brother and by worrying about problems throughout the world instead of working through her own feelings of loss.

Laney is one of the least persuasive ugly ducklings in the history of movies. She shucks her glasses and her overalls, and my goodness! She’s beautiful! And my goodness! Zach finds himself actually caring for her. The plot is almost numbingly predictable, but one of the movie’s strengths it that it makes clear that Zach and Laney have both limited themselves by defining themselves before they have really had a chance to find out who they are.

The movie’s other strengths are Prinze, who has a wonderful screen presence and the magnificent Anna Paquin as his younger sister. Cook’s performance is flat by comparison. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is a caricature as Zach’s former girlfriend.

Parental concerns include strong language, teen drinking, and casual sex (though not by the main characters). Zach’s friend brags that he is going to get Laney to have sex with him in a hotel room he has arranged for the occasion. For some reason, when Laney’s friend overhears this, instead of making the stunningly obvious move of telling Laney what the guy has in mind, he races around trying to get the message to someone else. Parents should know that the movie includes an ugly and graphic scene in which a school bully torments Laney’s hearing-impaired brother by reaching into his pants to grab some pubic hair and putting it on his pizza. Zach then forces the bully and his friend to eat it. Yuck.

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Comedy Family Issues High School Romance

Rush Hour

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan is always a delight to watch. His charm, wit,and impeccable timing make his kung fu moves closer to Charlie Chaplin or Jacques Tati than to Stephen Segal. He has had a hard time finding an American script to showcase his talent, but comes a little bit closer with this action comedy. Chan plays a Hong Kong policeman who comes to America to find the kidnapped eleven year old daughter of his close friend, a Chinese diplomat. He is teamed with comedian Chris Tucker, who brings energy and some freshness to the tired role of “LA cop who doesn’t work well with others but is so good they have to put up with him.” Chan and Tucker seem to genuinely enjoy one another, and both share gifts for physical comedy that provide some very funny moments amidst the usual round of explosions and bad guys. And the little girl (Julia Hsu) is adorable, with a Mariah Carey imitation that is utterly delicious. The movie has the energy that was missing in recent retreads like “Lethal Weapon 4” and “The Avengers.” Parents should know that it includes a good deal of cartoon-style violence and many of the usual swear words (and Chan learns the hard way that a black man may be permitted to use the n- word when anyone else may not).

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Action/Adventure Comedy

My Favorite Martian

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The commercial for this movie features our heroes (the visiting Martian and his earthling friend) in the midst of a car chase. The Martian (Christopher Lloyd) shrinks the car, which goes into the sewer system and comes up in a toilet. We get the toilet-eye view just as a hugely overweight man is pulling down his pants to sit. This is a good indication of the movie’s subject matter and humor level.

It is also a good indication of the failures of the rating system. It is hard to imagine an appropriate age group for this movie, but because the language is euphemistic, it gets only a PG rating. As with Flubber, Disney has remade a familiar story with souped-up special effects, but with a poor script. Not recommended.

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Comedy
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