[Books & Culture, September-October 2005] Ungawa! Tarzan's timber-rattling call defies transcription, so we'll fall back on this all-purpose locution to salute this fine new box set of MGM's six Tarzan films. Ungawa is the perfect choice whenever you can't think of the right thing to say. It appears to mean Come here, Go away, Look out, Jump, and There's a cobra behind you. Just think how a sharply enunciated “Ungawa!” could clear a Starbucks when you don't want to wait in line. However, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan's inventor, did not write “Ungawa.”
[Unpublished] I don’t know when I’ve felt so ambivalent about a film. Let me first warn that it’s relentlessly foul and vulgar, so don’t think I’m encouraging you to run out and rent it. The DVD has been extended 17 min, so it’s even more raw than the film shown in theaters. But at the time of the Oscar nominations a couple of critics said that, if the Academy didn’t have indie-itis, and if comedies in general were not regarded as lesser films, this should have been considered for best film. If you could somehow filter out the crudity, it would indeed be very funny. And it actually has some interesting and appealing characters. Yeah, if it wasn’t so raunchy, it would be a very likeable movie.
[NationalReview Online, June 30, 2005] I didn't think it was possible to make movies like this any more. 'War of the Worlds' is an almost perfectly realized movie of the classic aliens-attack type: satisfying, believable, and very, very scary. It comes so close to perfection that a long list of accolades are going to have to be cleared out of the way before we get around to that 'almost.' Ray Ferrier, a dockworker, has just gotten charge of his kids for the weekend, as his ex-wife and her new husband head off for a weekend at her mom's. The teenaged son, Robbie (Justin Chatwin), is resentful and rude; the 10-year-old daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning), is a bit too world-weary for someone still carrying plastic ponies around.
[National Review Online, June 26, 2005] Screenwriter Nora Ephron has a distinctive touch: “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), and “You've Got Mail” (1998) all display a common sophisticated, if not neurotic, sense of humor. Woody Allen does something similar, but Ephron beats him at the character-development game, and dithery, double-taking Meg Ryan made these roles shine. A sourpuss could say that her wide-eyed wondering is contrived and overly sweet, but most of us find her pretty hard not to watch. She's just plain appealing.
[National Review Online, June 9, 2005] Every child's cartoon needs a villain, or better yet a villainess. Her colors are dark purple and black, she is of an uncertain age, and she wears a great deal of makeup. She may be statuesque and austere (Cinderella's wicked stepmother), or gorgeous and malevolent (Snow White's Evil Queen) or gross and malevolent (the Little Mermaid's sea witch), but one thing's for sure - she's gonna get hers in the end. We are encouraged to fear and hate her, and to relish her destruction. In “Howl's Moving Castle,” the latest feature by beloved Japanese anime (animation) director Hayao Miyazaki,
[National Review Online, June 3, 2005] He's the Bulldog of Bergen, the Pride of New Jersey, the Hope of the Irish: James J. Braddock, has-been, might-have-been, and struggling breadwinner. As Russell Crowe portrays this real-life figure from the Depression era, he lopes down the sidewalk with his eyebrows tented in mild surprise and his mouth hanging slightly ajar. This Cinderella still has dust behind his ears. Braddock is no ball of fire. He not motivated by a passion for boxing, like Maggie in last fall's hit, “Million Dollar Baby.” He doesn't even have the horsy competitiveness of Seabiscuit, subject of Hollywood's last inspirational-underdog-of-the-Depression venture.
[National Review Online, May 19, 2005] Well, that's a relief. This last of six films in the Star Wars saga, that monument of American myth-making, is finished - and it is good. There was danger that things would turn out differently, and the tale of these characters would have been eclipsed by the tale of their maker: a young man who started out brilliantly, then hesitated, then fumbled, and wound up being an object-lesson himself. Instead, the applause George Lucas receives for “Revenge of the Sith” will be genuine and sincere. That's got to be gratifying to him, and a relief to us. Readers who have a vague sense that there have been some movies called “Star Wars” (or is it “Star Trek”? Maybe that's on TV) should prepare to get further confused.
[National Review Online, April 29, 2005] What's wrong with this picture? Take your red crayon and draw a circle around the whale falling through space. Now draw a circle around the bowl of petunias falling beside him. A whale and a bowl of flowers falling through endless space are not impossible-they're merely *improbable*, which is how they happened to get there. The spaceship Heart of Gold has an Improbability Drive. It would be improbable for this elegantly minimalist spaceship to leap from one end of hyperspace to another, so if you push the big Improbability button on the dashboard, that's what will happen. Other improbable things happen too: the two missiles pursuing the spaceship are changed into a whale and a bowl of petunias. The people inside the spaceship might be changed into anything. When the Heart of Gold first picks up the hitchhikers Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, they arrive in the form of sofas. In a later scene, the whole crew is turned into yarn-doll copies of themselves. Arthur, spacesick, emits a brilliant flow of multicolored yarn.
[National Review Online, April 5, 2005] You'd be excused for thinking that the storyline of “Millions,” while appealing, is not all that exceptional. A pair of brothers have recently lost their mom, and moved with their dad to a home in a brand-new development. The younger boy, Damian (Alexander Etel), a charmer with a freckled, open face, is playing in a grassy field near his home when a gym bag thrown from a passing train crashes through his cardboard fort. The bag contains a lot of lot of cash.
[National Review Online, March 14, 2005] Towards the end of “Robots,” a character resembling the Tin Man of Oz clutches his chest and says, “Now I know I have a heart, because I can feel it breaking.” Better check again. This animated feature has just about every pounding, clanking, or squeaking mechanism imaginable, but nothing in the shape of a heart. What it's mostly got going for it is an extraordinary look, and that look is undeniably a humdinger. This movie's visual style is so appealing you can't gobble up the screen fast enough.