Sunday, November 27, 2005


Gael Garcia Bernal The Motorcycle Diaries Movie Directed by Walter Salles
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


This is a tough review to write because of the subject matter we’re dealing with: a militant revolutionary who became Castro’s right-hand man during the 1959 Cuban revolt. But here in THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES film, we don’t see this man; we see instead the formation of the person whom this man (Ernesto "Che" Guevara played by the talented Gael García Bernal)
would become. He’s a young idealist living in South America when he and a friend (
Alberto Granado played by up-and-coming actor Rodrigo de la Serna) decide to take a road trip across the continent before bellying down into their chosen carriers in medicine.

The film succeeds in giving us a very myopic view of these two men: Guevara for the initial changes he begins to go through as he witnesses injustices to the low and poor; Granado for his love of women and grudging dedication to Guevara. We travel with them on a 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle (my hat’s off to the two actors who had to ACTUALLY learn to ride one of these behemoths!) as they argue with each other over money, their deficient form of transportation, and Guevara’s unflinching honesty when asked delicate questions (this is brought into focus when they first meet a man — who looks very
German — in a small village and asks Che and Granado to look at a lump on his neck, which Granado diagnoses as a cyst but Che calls a tumor).

The cinematography was done exceptionally well on a small budget. The beauty of Machu Picchu, the green forests of Peru, the nothingness of various deserts, all added great visuals for the viewer.

The film’s faults lay with its omissions. Yes, Che was a thinking man. Yes, Che was concerned with humanity as a whole. But Che was also somewhat of a bigot. He didn’t like blacks, jews, and homosexuals (read the book THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES). So when he shows his concern for lepers in a colony along the Amazon River, we’re only see a part of this complex man. Granted, for a film you need to have your audience empathize with the main character, but this also pulls us into the shallow end of the depths that this man was. The convoluted sections of Che’s life might have added an extra level of understanding for film viewers, especially those who have knowledge of his later life when he becomes an executioner of spies and deserters, quite a dichotomy compared to the hippocratic oath he took when becoming a doctor — the oath basically promising to "do no harm."

But, again, I can understand why the film makers decided to omit these sections. We are, after all, seeing only the early life of Che, a fomenting of ideas that would change his life forever. But I think we have to be careful when looking at such a potentially volatile subject and controversial man, and only show the "sunnier" side of Che to a new generation of movie-goers. More research is needed if one really wishes to understand the levels of Che.

Click here for The Motorcycle Diaries movie trailer!


Bruce Willis Hostage Movie Directed by Florent Emilio Siri
Starring Bruce Willis
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Bruce Willis is a great action actor. His Die Hard series gave us some raucous dialogue, explosions galore, and interesting situations.

Not to be outdone, Willis makes a return to the silver screen as a former hostage negotiator for the L.A.P.D named Jeff Talley. I say former because his last negotiation ended with the death of three people, a distraught hostage taker and his wife and young boy.

Years later we find Chief Talley living a mundane life just outside bustling L.A. But times still haven't been that good for him. His wife is on the verge of leaving him, his daughter is rebelling, and now a new hostage situation breaks out at a wealthy man's home within Talley's jurisdiction.

But, not surprising, there is much more than meets the eye...

Three foolish young boys (who were just looking to steal a car) turn hostage takers within the rich man's house and find that the house can turn into a fortress (metal bars blocking entrances, surveillance cameras, etc.). And they find a safe with tons of cash in it. Why would a man keep that much money on hand?

Enter the "real" bad guys. They want a CD that's in the house which apparently has damaging information on it related to money laundering for the mob (although this isn't spelled out, it is easily surmised). And these real bad guys kidnap Chief Talley's wife and daughter and tell him he must get that disc out of the house or his family will be killed.

But inside the house are the stupid kids turned hostage takers and the rich house owner's two children (a pre-teen boy and a teenage girl). Will Talley have to sacrifice one family to save his own?


The film is entertaining if a bit stilted. Initially no one is supposed to approach the house, but Willis' character does with ridiculous regularity.

Willis' character, too, has to convince his own officers that he's doing the right thing even when it's painfully obvious he's not, which stretched credibility.

The ending was flat-out lost on me, too. There's no way Willis's character would be able to walk away from an incident like that. Either the mob or the law (or probably both) would be all over him. I'm not going to give away the ending here, but let's just say that if I were an L.A. County District Attorney, I'd have a field day with this case.

Click here for the Hostage movie trailer!

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Our U.S. Armed Forces Gunner Palace Documentary Directed by Mike Tucker
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Just About Average...


GUNNER PALACE is a good look at soldiering in Iraq. But it's not a great documentary.

Since I'm an optomist, though, I'll start with the positives of the film ...

GUNNER PALACE is a startling look inside the Iraq war. But it's not told from the documentary maker's standpoint; it's told from the men and women who are there, everyday, fighting to just stay alive and, sometimes, fighting off boredom.

Music permeates the film as
Vietnam era songs (FLIGHT OF THE VALKYRIE, etc.) mix with rap songs performed and created by the soldiers themselves. It's as if there's a connection being made between that lost war of the 60s and 70s and that which our young fighters are going through in the deserts and city streets of Iraq. I found this intriguing and pretty insightful into the minds of our Armed Forces.

Contrary to what I've read in other reviews, I found that the documentary maker (Mike Tucker) DID ask pertinent questions ("Do you feel you're doing a good job?" "What do you think the people back home think about what you're doing over here?" etc.) These are excellent questions to ask and allows the viewer a peek into the soldiers' minds.

I could also feel some of the tension the men and women go through as they describe cringing at a piece of trash alongside the road, wondering if its an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) waiting to destroy their vehicle as they pass.

Where the documentary fell apart a bit was the overall flow of the story. There isn't one. The herky-jerky movement from place to place and person to person allowed for minimal immersion into various aspects of the war and these soldiers' experiences. Although some of this information came across, it should've been in a much smoother fashion.

Let me end this review by saying that I respect what our Armed Forces are doing in Iraq. Although I don't agree with our
current U.S. government administration and how this war came to be, I'm humbled by how dedicated our young men and women soldiers are "over there."

Click here for the Gunner Palace documentary movie trailer!

Friday, November 18, 2005

TV Series Review: LOST, Season One

Matthew Fox LOST on ABC Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Matthew Fox
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



It's really tough to encapsulate what LOST is all about, as the audience hasn't been let in on exactly where the series is headed, but what it reminds me of is an apple. You've got this glossy outer layer that looks appealing and you can peel it off to reveal a soft, pulpy, sweet center. But as you bite into it, you find that there's a core, tough, edged, and in it a set of seeds that will allow you to grow more apple trees ...if you plant them.

The glossy outer shell is the cast and what we (the viewers) think we know about them. But as we bite into the series and get a flavor for what's on the inside, we realize that there might be a worm or two. That shiny surface hid some interesting and not-so-nice things. We've got a man who was wheelchair-bound prior to the plane crash who now can walk; a young black boy who seems to be able to make things happen just by thinking about them; a doctor who's battling the past and who is the defacto leader of the group; a beautiful young woman who seems interested in the doctor, but has a past she continues to run from; a Korean couple trying to survive the ugliness of a marriage on the fritz; an overweight lottery winner who finds out that the numbers he won the lottery with are bad luck; and a slew of others.

As we eat further into this apple, we get closer to the core, that part you can't eat but contains the seeds of new life. Like the characters, if they can get passed their own cores, they might find the seeds awaiting them. Maybe.

The tropical island in which they crashed on seems to be a character in the series, too. It slowly reveals hidden secrets: old plane crashes, ancient shipwrecks, concrete bunkers, a crazy French woman, polar bears, and something that protects the island itself and acts very much like a dinosaur.

Sound interesting? You bet it is.

Some have said LOST is a combination of
Gilligan's Island meets Survivor. That's rather shallow. This series has much more depth than either of those shows. It deals with how our past influences our present and, ultimately, our futures. It makes you think about what you believe the guy standing next to you is really like. And it makes you think about the core of ourselves.

I also have to comment on the fact that the producers/directors showed some guts when they killed off a prime player 3/4 of the way through the first season. Most shows would never dream of doing that in the first season. But I was happy to see that they're keeping it "real".

I do have to say, though, that I hope they know where they're going with the series. I hope they don't get lost themselves as they continue this great TV drama. And I also hope that they don't revert to some cliche (i.e., they're all dead and are in some sort of purgatory). I guess I'll just have to trust them and keep on watching.

And so should you.

No movie trailer available. Sooorrrry!


David Caruso Session 9 Movie Directed by Brad Anderson
Starring David Caruso
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


I like the horror genre as much as the next twisted individual. I enjoy being scared out of my chair, covering my eyes during certain graphic moments, sitting glued to my seat as some character you've become emotionally vested in opens a door you know should NEVER be opened. But this film delivered on none of those.

First, let's start with the films basic outline: a group of Hazmat workers have contracted to clean up the abandoned
Danvers Mental Hospital in Massachusetts. It's a creepy looking monstrosity-of-a-building which seems to develop as a sort of character all on its own. And as the workers delve into the building's rooms, they find little odds and ends that attract each worker: one finding coins and rings; another finding interview tapes (9 of them) from a patient with multiple personality disorder; and still another worker finds ...insanity and death.

Where this film fell down was in plot. It didn't seem to have one or --- probably more likely --- was buried so deep in the film's nuances that you'd be hard-pressed to find it with a microscope. Now I'm not asking for everything to be spelled out in black and white for me (in fact, I HATE that), but film makers also need to be conscious of not losing their audience completely.

Let me explain. If the makers of this movie wanted me to understand the motivation of the terrible things that happened in this place and their effects on the Hazmat team, they utterly flopped at doing so. I have no idea why one of the team members began killing everyone around him. Or what influence the building had on him. Or if he was somehow connected with the hospital at some point in his life. Or what "the
lobotomy chair" had to do with any of it.

There's a reason this film hasn't sold well and is not available at most video rental stores. It'll only appeal to those who absolutely love disassociated threads in a movie's message. But that's certainly not for me. I need at least one thread to hang on to.

Click here for the Session 9 movie trailer!


John Travolta Be Cool Movie Directed by F. Gary Gray
Starring John Travolta
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



I approached this film verrry cautiously. I'd very much enjoyed GET SHORTY, this films predecessor, and wondered how much damage a sequel could do. Then I read several professional and private reviews of BE COOL which all but beat the film into the ground for poor scripting, poor acting, and in general just being a wreck-of-a-film. So to say I was hesitant to view it would be an understatement.

But I'm glad I did...

Although BE COOL didn't come close to the level of distinction that GET SHORTY did, this film does have its moments.

We're reintroduced to Chilli Palmer (John Travolta, MICHAEL) as the Bronx shylock who's come west to enjoy the Hollywood film business. But Chilli is a bit burned out on the film industry and sets his sights on the music biz. And he thought getting a movie produced was tough!

Amidst the clamour and glamour of rappers, gay body-guards, Spice Girl lookalikes and
Aerosmith, Chilli Palmer inserts himself with his usual maddeningly calm demeanor. And in these shark infested waters Chilli meets up with Tommy Athens (James Woods), an old buddy of his. While they're sipping drinks at a local establishment in L.A., a Russian mob hit takes place on Tommy and Chilli has to find out why.

John Travolta's character is reunited with Edie Athens (Tommy's widow played very well by
Uma Thurman). Tommy was a music producer with his own label; a label that is nearly bankrupt. But Chilli and Edie may have found the perfect solution in Linda Moon (Christina Milian), a beautiful and gifted singer who's contracted to another producer. But can Chilli get her out of the contract? You bet he can.

In the end, Linda Moon sings with Aerosmith, the failing record label is saved, and all of Chilli's many enemies have been cowed.


What stood out for me in this film wa
s Vince Vaughn who played Raji, a white-boy wanting to be a black player. His antics were over-the-top and always hilarious.

Also notable was
The Rock, who played a gay bodyguard who likes to sing women's songs and raise only one of his eyebrows. His rendition of "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man" is absolutely hysterical.

We're also given the opportunity to see Uma Thurman and John Travolta dance again (hadn't seen that since
PULP FICTION) and they both "bust their moves on the floor" very well.

So why the questionable rating? Well, Chilli is just Chilli again. He doesn't grow or pull off anything unexpected. The double-and-triple crosses are pretty transparent. And if it weren't for The Rock and Vaughn, this film would have flopped on almost all levels. But they kept it uplifting and entertaining enough to keep me watching until the very end.

Click here for the Be Cool movie trailer!


Janchiv Ayurzana & Chimed Ohin The Story of the Weeping Camel Movie Directed by Byambasuren Davaa
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


After watching the first half of this rather slow docu-drama, I felt my eyelids growing heavy. There wasn't a lot of action to keep the viewer involved, and the story is told completely from a Mongolian perspective with no voice-over narration nor explanations as to why certain things are the way they are. And this is both a strength and a weakness of the film; its strength being a complete submersion into Mongolian life without any Americanized influence, while its weakness being the confusion some might feel when cultural things happen for reasons unknown.

For those who want a fast-paced narrative, you're certainly not going to find it here. But if you hang in there, the last 20 minutes of the film will reward you beyond any expectations.

If you're a lover of music, then you're in for a heart-rendering and absolutely phenomenal climax, too.

The story is about a group of nomadic Mongolian sheep herders who one day discover that the last camel in their harem is about to give birth ...but all is not going well. The birth is long and painful for the mother, and human intervention is a must in order to save the colt. And as the colt emerges from the womb, it appears different: it's completely white. The mother rejects its offspring and refuses to allow it to suckle, thus threatening the colt with starvation.

We watch as time and again the sheep herding family try to get the mother to nurse the newborn, but there seems no hope. The colt may die ...unless they can convince the music teacher of a nearby town to come and perform a special ceremony involving a Chinese violin. So off to the city go two young brothers, and convince the teacher to come and help the mother and colt bond through an incredible musical display.

The one thing that struck me was how sound-oriented camels are. I had no idea, never having spent much time around these humpbacked giants. But the Mongolian natives, who've grown up for centuries with these beasts of burden, know much more about them than most outsiders could ever imagine.

And, again, don't give up on the film. Watch it to its conclusion and you won't be disappointed. I promise ...

Click here for The Story of the Weeping Camel movie trailer!

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Matt Dillon Crash Movie Directed by Paul Haggis
Starring Matt Dillon
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



The initial dark qualities that surrounded the opening 30 minutes of this film made me wonder whether I wanted to continue watching it. But I did. And I'm glad I did.

The story is about an interlinking section of lives between people of varying ethnicity, working backgrounds, and class and how one little event can effect the lives of those they've never met.

Racism rears its ugly head early and often in the film, and does so in the bright light of day. Nothing is hidden or candy-coated for the audience. And all of the characters have depth and emotion and love and hate and fear and hope balled up inside themselves.

A cop, who cares for his ailing and aging father in a very loving way, is also a bigot and uses his power as a policeman to exact revenge on those (i.e. African Americans) he sees as causing many of his and his father's problems.

A district attorney who gets his SUV car-jacked one night, tries not to stereotype those black men who stole it, but also has to deal with what "the black vote" will think when this news comes out. He also has to handle the sudden panicky fear his wife feels toward any minorities they meet (including their long-time, hispanic housekeeper).

A hispanic man who installs locks for a living must deal with the prejudices people feel toward him because of some gang tatoos that peek out from underneath his clothing. But he's also a loving father with a little girl at home who fears that something bad will happen to her; they used to live in a very tough neighborhood where gunshots were a common sound. The scenes with this father and daughter never ceased to grip me, especially when some of the girl's fears appear to be coming true.

A Persian immigrant who owns a store must fight to understand and to be understood in a land where he feels hatred at every corner because of the Sept. 11th attacks. And he responds in kind by buying a gun to protect his store's property, much to the dismay of his wife and daughter.

...And the list of characters go on, each event folding over and effecting the others. It's an awesome spectacle to behold, and the end is like a piece of interpretive art. There's no definitive message to hang on to other than that we're humans, flawed and greatness in equal quantities.

The all-star cast was also pretty impressive: Sandra Bullock (MISS CONGENIALITY), Brendan Frazier (THE MUMMY series), Don Cheadle (HOTEL RWANDA), Matt Dillon (DRUGSTORE COWBOY), Daniel Dae Kim (LOST), etc.

I've read other reviews that comment on the "sterotyping" of the racist characters. But that is completely and utterly untrue. The fact that the characters often knew the stereotypes surrounding them, and commented on these, helped bring the screenplay to an entirely different level. And if, as a viewer, you felt offended by the film, you might want to ask yourself why that is.

Although the film uses race to deliver the message of hate, fear, and shallowness, the ending is surprisingly up-beat as some (but not all) of these great characters grow internally.

Click here for the Crash movie trailer!

Oscar Award Winner: Best Motion Picture of the Year

Oscar Award Winner: Original Screenplay

Oscar Award Winner: Achievement in Film Editing

BAFTA Award Winner: Original Screenplay

BAFTA Award Winner: Actress in a Supporting Role


Amir Farrokh Hashemian Children of Heaven Movie Directed by Majid Majidi
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Ali, a young Iranian boy from a poor family, is on his way home after picking up his sister's shoes from a shop where they were getting repaired, and inadvertantly ends up losing them. For a family with limited financial resources, this is a nightmare. Zahra, the sister, is pretty upset about it, but brother and sister agree not to tell their parents (lest they get a beating from Father).

Eventually they devise a plan to solve the problem. Zahra will wear her brother's sneakers to her classes in the morning, and then run to meet Ali, who will wear them to his afternoon studies at school.

But after getting in trouble several times for being late to class, Ali realizes this isn't going to work. So he finds out about a running competition involving boys his age, and third place is a pair of new shoes!


The acting of the two main children was impressive. I found them endearing and easily watchable. And the filming is topnotch, too. The camera angles, the use of light and dark, the underwater guppies, etc. were all handled as if by a professional Hollywood studio (not a low-budget
Iranian film).

It was also nice to be immersed in Iranian culture. The differences between American and Iranian schools, American and Iranian marketplaces, and American and Iranian architecture was startling.

Where this movie was SERIOUSLY lacking was in the script. And mainly in its ending. There are no resolutions, even though I felt there surely would've been. Ali doesn't win 3rd place in the running competition, but he does win. But there's no mention of what he might have done with those winnings.

And there's a scene toward the end of the film where it appears Zahra's father may have bought her some shoes (perhaps the very ones Ali lost), but nothing about this is brought to fruition.

Perhaps it's a nihilistic interpretation of the way Iranian culture is. I'm not sure. But the film seemed to end abruptly with no apparent solutions to Ali and Zahra's problems.

No movie trailer available. Sooorrrry!


Katie Holmes First Daughter Movie Directed by Forest Whitaker
Starring Katie Holmes
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



If you're looking for a good family film with clean language, clean scenes, and a clean script, you couldn't go wrong here. FIRST DAUGHTER has all those prerequisites.

The film introduces us to Samantha (
Katie Holmes, PIECES OF APRIL) who happens to be the daughter of the current President of the United States -- played well by Michael Keaton (BATMAN). She's on her way to college and adulthood but with little emotional support from her mother and father. Every aspect of her life has been laid out for her, and now she has to try and find out "who" she is. Is she really happy? Does she have an opinion on ...well ...anything?

The film pulls us through her early time at Redmond University but does so using a lopsided script and rushed revelations. She has to contend with the overbearing status of her secret service contingent, her every move being tracked by the tabloids, and a roommate who has personal baggage of her own.

Although the film was at times touching (especially when Keaton and Holmes are on screen together as father and daughter), the script rushes us through any trials and tribulations, as well as life-changes regarding parenthood and growing up.

Also the movie felt like an overly sweet pill that was difficult to swallow. Even though Samantha had problems, there was never anything even remotely obstacle-like that she couldn't have easily overcome with her available resources (as shown when she takes her friends on a trip in an Air Force One jet; which, by the way, would NEVER happen, so credibility was seriously lost there).

But I'm sure this film will have a pretty powerful appeal to the preteens and early teens out there. And parents can rest easy knowing that there's very little (if anything) in this slight movie that'll corrupt the pliable young minds of their kids.

Click here for the First Daughter movie trailer!


George Segal King Rat Movie Directed by Bryan Forbes
Starring George Segal
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



What happens when a group of WW II soldiers are confined to the harsh island climate of Changi in Singapore? What can they do to survive this nearly death-like existence? Limited food. No medical supplies. Unbearable heat. Welcome to hell...for some. For others, though, this might be something of an opportunity.

Corporal King (
George Segal's best role) has found his niche in this extremely un-paradise like location. He scams guards and Army officers alike, making his life more comfortable than those around him. But he also has compassion for some, and builds trust amongst them (even if they seriously outrank him).

But what will happen when the war ends and the divisiveness of officer and grunt reemerge? How will those who've suffered greater loss than King Rat view this lowly Corporal?


In one of James Clavell's best novels, KING RAT comes scurrying off the screen, rubbing its moral messages uncomfortably against the viewer. Should we like or dislike The King for what he does? Are the officers any better (they've been stealing food, after all)? Do multiple wrongs make a right? What IS right in a horrendous situation like this?

Unlike other war films of the era (1965), KING RAT explores the methods of men in squalid situations during war time. No explosions. No bullets whizzing by. Just soldiers dealing with the possibility of death and what each does in order to survive.

Click here for the King Rat movie trailer!


Nathan Fillion Serenity Movie Directed by Joss Whedon
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



It would be pretty easy for me to bash SERENITY to pieces during this review ...but I won't. The bashings, as some folks at pointed out, can be directed at the lack of advancement in language, limited projectile-type weaponry, and a microcosmic-society inside the spaceship SERENITY that have reverted back to the cowboy-shoot `em-up days.

It could also be considered cliche-riddled with the lone-type gunslinger fighting against far superior numbers and odds, only to win and change the course of everything.

But again, I'm not going to bash these things. So you may be asking, "Why?" Well ...because it works. The film is not really meant to break any new science fiction movie-making ground. It's designed to be entertaining, with exciting gun-battles, eye-popping CGI, and characters who are great to watch. From Mal (Nathan Fillion,
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), SERENITY'S captain who holds a grudge against the all-powerful Alliance, to the beautiful but lethal River (Summer Glau, FIREFLY) who can become a killing machine with the utterance of one word, all of SERENITY'S crew have to battle their pasts and presents and, sometimes, even themselves.

The other thing that made the film fun and easy to watch was the snappy dialogue and frequent use of humor during extreme situations. One scene that comes to mind even now is when River escapes from SERENITY'S brig and takes control of the bridge. Once Mal finds out where she is, he rushes up there to find her typing in coordinates and she quickly draws a weapon on him. Mal says, "You know, I trusted that you were a human being, at least somewhere in there you were. And my crew trusted me on that. So if you're not you might as well shoot me now." "Click!" sounds as she cocks her weapon. Mal swallows, "Or we could just talk some more," he says quickly.

It's really great to see comedy in science fiction (not since
GALAXY QUEST have I enjoyed listening to this type of dialogue).

So don't worry about the cliche's or the common plot. This is just a flat-out enjoyable film experience. And one that requires viewing on a big screen (like most SF and Fantasy films).

Click here for the Serenity movie trailer!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


A Shark! Shark Tale Movie Directed by Bibo Bergeron
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


Having grown up watching one or two dimensional stylized cartoons (Bugs Bunny, The Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, etc.), I was pleased to see studios take a recent interest in animation again. SHREK blew me away. I loved THE INCREDIBLES. Even MONSTERS, INC. was funny and put a cool spin on old themes.

But SHARK TALE fell flat on its face. Although the animation was decent, the script was horribly cliche-riddled and barely allows for a few chuckles. This was equally depressing considering how many "names" gave their voices to characters.

Will Smith (I, ROBOT) takes the lead as Oscar, a little fish in a a big ocean who's nearby when a shark gets killed by a falling anchor. Everyone thinks he killed the shark, and he becomes known as "The Shark Slayer" (ala, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER). A hidden love interest, Angie, voiced by Renee Zellweger (NURSE BETTY), becomes disenfranchised with him after his rise to fame and his abrupt involvement with a lusty-looking femme-fish fatale named Lola (Angelina Jolie, TOMB RAIDER). But little Oscar is in for some big trouble. The falling anchor killed the son of shark mobster Don Lino (Robert De Niro, MEET THE FOCKERS) and The Don is out to get Oscar.

All of this happens around Oscars job, The Whale Wash, allowing for some terrible reminisence involving the 1976 smash disco hit Car Wash by Rose Royce.


I'm sure the actors read the script before signing on to do the voices, which made me feel surpised that they did (Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, Peter Falk, Katie Couric, and many, many others)

SHARK TALE tries to incorporate too much of the not-so-enjoyable 70s music and culture (bright colors, early rap beats, over-the-top hair styles, etc.), and to some extent it succeeds. But the script is so lame and unimaginative that it becomes a chore to watch, especially when the gags were sub-par or overly done.

Click here for the Shark Tale movie trailer!


River Phoenix My Own Private Idaho Movie Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring River Phoenix
by Byron Merritt

Undecided Rating

Film Review Rating: Undecided ...

I tend to enjoy Indie films. Many of them break away from standard Hollywood fodder which can make for a refreshing change whenever watching one on the silver screen or cuddling up on the sofa to check out a movie you know very little about.

But this one's a bit beyond that, which demands some praise ...and caution.

This film is basically about two young men, Scott, played by a very young
Keanu Reeves who likes to break out into stints of Shakespearean dialogue in the telling of this modern day tragedy. Scott comes from a wealthy family but acts like a homosexual vagabond just to piss them off.

Mike, played by
River Phoenix, gives an excellent performance as a homeless, narcoleptic, male prostitute who's in love with Scott but can't seem to make their relationship happen. Scott constantly comes to his rescue whenever sleep forces itself on Mike.

Against these characters Portland, Oregon lives, they travel around, looking form Mike's mother, who'd abandoned him as a child. Mike has never gotten over the trauma of this and anytime he's asked to have sex with a woman, his mind reels back to images of his mother and he goes into one of his narcoleptic spells (stress-related).


There seems to be no specific plot given to the story. We're thrown around the film as if someone has opened up a photo album and are making us stare at pictures of their family vacation. That is to say, this film is choppy like that.

Story flow is tossed to the wind in favor of snappy dialogue, excellent filming (the panoramic shots of open spaces are breathtakingly beautiful), and some great acting.

But after finishing the film (I was able to finish watching it) I wondered about its message. What was the point of showing us these damaged people? What were the film makers trying to get across to the audience?

These are pretty important questions, and I feel that
Gus Van Sant (Director) didn't answer them.

Click here for My Own Private Idaho movie trailer!


Will Smith Hitch Movie Directed by Andy Tennant
Starring Will Smith
Reviewed by Byron MerrittJust About Your Average Flick

Film Review Rating: Just About Average...

Hitch is a feel good movie that'd be a safe bet to watch on a first date. With its gently rolling presence, slapstick humor and decent acting, it'll tickle you without going into crudeness.

Will Smith (MEN IN BLACK) stars as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (aka The Date Doctor), who's sole purpose is to help loser guys gain access to the love of their lives. Hitch does this by training men to behave on dates and how to handle women in the early stages of a relationship. But when a CPA named Albert (Kevin James, THE KING OF QUEENS) comes to Hitch with a serious crush on a famous and wealthy woman his company works for, things spiral out of control ...for Hitch, that is.

HITCH takes a look at relationships through both genders' eyes as Will Smith's character meets up with Sara (Eva Mendes, TRAINING DAY), a gossip columnist for a local New York newspaper. Hitch has met his match and is forced to delve deeper into a nurturing relationship than he'd ever planned.


Although the acting was good and the film didn't lag, it also was predictable and smaltzy. I knew what was going to happen in the film's finale ten minutes after it started.

So sit down and enjoy it during a first date, but don't expect any intellectual stimulation to get the ...uh ...juices flowing. Cerebral juices that is!

Monday, November 14, 2005


Adrien Brody The Jacket Movie Directed by John Maybury
Starring Adrien Brody
Reviewed by Byron Merritt
Jack Starks is in the Gulf War when he receives a serious head wound from a gunshot. Initially presumed dead, a nurse suddenly realizes he's still alive when he blinks. His body is saved, but his mind is still severely traumatized. Rocked with distortions of time and events, Jack struggles to become a normal member of Amercian society upon release from the military hospital.

But things quickly go strangely awry for Jack. While hitchhiking across the U.S. he runs into a mother and daughter sitting alongside the road next to their broken down truck. The daughter, a sweet young girl, helps Jack fix the truck while the girl's drugged-out mother pukes in the bushes nearby. After the truck is started, the mother pushes past Jack, inserts her daughter into the truck, and abruptly and rudely leaves.

Then Jack gets picked up by a young man in a station wagon who ends up killing a cop while Jack is traveling with him, and since Jack can't remember a lot of things (remember, he's got some brain damage from the gunshot wound to his head), he's arrested and sent to an asylum for the criminally insane run by actor
Kris Kristofferson.

During all of this there are fragments of Jack's mind that seep onto the screen in very surreal ways (punctuations of color, blast pieces of the war, etc.), and Jack's not all that sure WHEN he is. Is it 1992?

In a brutal method to try and "help" Jack, Kristofferson's character drugs him and places him in a straight jacket then into a morgue box for isolation. During these "sessions", Jack seems to travel into the future. To 2007 to be exact. But why? Apparently this time holds some significance and the audience is slowly let in on it as the film progresses. In 2007, he meets up with the same young girl turned young woman that he'd met alongside the road years before and helped get their truck started. A race to save those that he loves in the past soon takes place from what he learns in the future. But is it all real, or is it just another fracture in his mind?


This film has been SERIOUSLY MISLABELED as a thriller. It is not a thriller or even a horror-stylized film. If you had to categorize it, I'd say it's a Sci Fi Drama. Even the insipid tagline for the film, "Terror has a new name," is horribly misleading.

In the vein of
MOMENTO and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, this film has a lot going for it, even above those two other movies (which I also enjoyed by the way). But where THE JACKET succeeds is in coherency, while MOMENTO and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT kind of left me wanting.

The acting was also stellar. Keira Knightley (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) plays the young woman who Jack meets in 2007 and begins to believe that he may very well be time-traveling. I never thought Knightley could perform in such a starkly different role than the upbeat films I've seen her in, but she does so very admirably here. Adrien Brody (THE PIANIST) plays the lead role of Jack Starks and does so with understated grace. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kris Kristofferson, and Brad Renfro all pull in strong supporting roles, too.

So if you're not a big thriller fan, don't worry about it. Pick up this film and enjoy it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Stephanie Leonidas MirrorMask Movie Directed by Dave McKean
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


With a little help from Neil Gaiman's masterful writing, and Dave McKean's able artistry and direction, the Jim Henson Company makes a fantasy-filled return to the silver screen.

I was a big fan of The Labyrinth and, even more so, The Dark Crystal in the `80's. The excellent puppetry work combined with human characters was a novel idea, far beyond Sesame Street, and formatted more for the adult who has a kid's mentality. I was curious to see how The Henson Company might have advanced in the intervening years, and I wasn't disappointed. Gone are the puppets (to the chagrin of some) and in their place are CGI screens that boggle the mind - a living tapestry that slowly trundles by.

Creating screen shots that mimic a painter's canvas, this movie is pure eye-candy (think Alice In Wonderland meets Van Gogh). Although the opening few minutes felt more TV-esque than magical, they were quickly whisked away by the sumptuous middle and ending of the film.

The story: Helena, a teenage circus performer along with her mother and father, is having the usual surges of defiance. She doesn't want to be in the circus anymore, and she and her mother have a heated argument in which Helena wishes her mother dead. And during the evenings performance under the big top, Joanne, Helena's mother, collapses and falls into a coma. It is quickly discovered that she has something seriously wrong with her (although it's never defined, a brain tumor is easily surmised). Helena is riddled with guilt over her nasty words and falls asleep one night, and wakes up in a world of muted colors and magical creatures. Giant stone beings, masked love-interests, idiot cat-sphinxes, and a growing darkness that threatens to envelope this alternate world.

As Helena moves her way through this strange land, we begin to understand that she isn't asleep nor dreaming. This is real. But she's traded places with another, less likable Helena who is destroying her life back in the "normal" world. Helena sees this "other her" through the drawings she's done that decorate her bedroom wall. She looks through sketched windows, watching helplessly as the "bad" Helena argues with her father, makes out with a boy on her bed, and generally wreaks havoc.

It is soon discovered that the reason the world the good Helena now inhabits is falling into darkness is because of the imbalance created by the trading of places by the two Helenas, and our heroine has to find something called the MirrorMask to help set things right. The search is a puzzling heroes journey that pulls her deeper and closer to a wickedly dark queen. Helena struggles with growing up and becoming a stronger person as she walks, runs, and flies through this surreal landscape, trying to get back to her family and, most importantly, to her mother's sickbed.

This is a great movie for adults to take their teens to. It'll give them something to discuss as their children grow and have to face the muted colors of adulthood.

Click here for the MirrorMask movie trailer!