Michael Brody
Former Contributor

WRITTEN BY Michael Brody

Lords of Dogtown

In Lords of Dogtown, fans of the “extreme” are treated not only to a sensory overload of skateboarding stunts, but the origins of the skateboarding phenomenon, before Tony Hawk, the most popular skater of all time, was old enough to do those kickflips and ollys. For them, this is the Episode III of skater movies. For the rest of us, it’s just a headache.


Downfall is a landmark in the history of German cinema: the first German film to approach the subject of Hitler and the Nazi party since the 1956 Der Letste Akt (The Last Act), a look at the notorious dictator’s last ten days from the viewpoint of a guardsman. Similarly, Downfall chronicles the Third Reich’s collapse amid bombing and treachery, except the film is seen through the eyes of several followers holed up in Hitler’s bunker.

The Phantom of the Opera

The film, much like the play, is about what lies beneath the surface. Beneath the opera house lays the dark, unsettling Phantom, and beneath his silky, featureless white mask is a face horribly deformed. Yet, for all of its references to the deceptions of appearance, there’s actually nothing underneath the surface of this film.

Conspiracy of Silence

Celibacy has been one of the most controversial subjects in the Catholic Church since its establishment more than two thousand years ago. Many have questioned whether the rule was made so that a Catholic priest’s bond with God would be a direct relationship (and all that more unique) or for the Church itself to obtain the land of its loyal servants after they died. You see, priests used to be able to marry. Conspiracy of Silence does not profess to answer the question of celibacy; it merely asks it.

A Very Long Engagement

This is rich, candid storytelling. The opening minutes offer flashbacks of the five men before the war, yet avoid any standard wartime clichés (such as the long goodbye at a smoky train station) and show them in a realistic, humorous light. Sure, most of them had questionable professions before the war (one is a pimp), but they are still good, honest men.

Surviving Christmas

The message behind the film seems to be that emotional train wrecks can make good holiday company, or that you can put a price tag on anything or anyone. Whatever. Surviving Christmas fails as a dark comedy because it’s not all that dark and not good-hearted enough to be heart-warming. Maybe the producers brought this movie out more than two months before Christmas to prevent themselves from spoiling it.

Around the Bend

There is good drama trying to make its way to the surface in Around the Bend: a story about a patriarchal family tying together loose ends, forgiving each other for the past, and taking a new, better direction. But the miscasting of Caine is crucial, and the clichéd character dynamics prevent the film from navigating around any bend.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell marked the renaissance of the “cyber-punk” era. Whereas it began in films like the classic Blade Runner and arguably the most popular anime of all time, Akira, Ghost in the Shell rejuvenated the bizarre, hard-edged, high-tech science-fiction sub-genre and asked the questions that films before it had only hinted at. What is our role in the universe and will we outlast technology? Nine years later, the sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence asks similar questions. Only now, they aren’t making any sense.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

The blind swordsman Zatoichi is to Japanese cinema what James Bond is to American cinema: an iconic hero whose long-running presence has made him a staple of the country’s cinematic history. The difference, though, is that unlike James Bond, who has been replaced by different actors every few years, the role of Zatoichi was consistently played by Japanese actor Shintarô Katsu from 1963 to 1989 on twenty separate occasions.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Harold Lee (John Cho) is a meek, mistreated investment banker who has been handed over his lazy supervisor’s workload for the weekend. Because of his dedication to building himself up in the company, he accepts the job. His best friend and roommate, Kumar (Kal Penn), is the polar opposite: lackadaisical, outspoken, and carefree. What they do share in common is a love for the finest illegal herbs in the country…and the expected appetite that follows.

Man on Fire

Man on Fire is a vicious, uncompromising look at the effects of a kidnapping in Latin America. It is also a heartfelt character study about the relationship between a young girl (Dakota Fanning) and her bodyguard (Denzel Washington). The film represents a new direction for flashy action auteur Tony Scott, whose hard-hitting films (most recently Spy Game and Enemy of the State) are typically soulless.

Chicago (2002)

The movie musical has been dead since classics like Grease disappeared from the marquee and unbearable oddities such as Xanadu and The Village People's Can't Stop The Music appeared in its place. There was one attempt in 1992 to resurrect the beloved feelings that these films evoked when Disney introduced its high concept mega flop, Newsies, about the paperboy strike in turn-of-the-century New York. The film failed to remind critics or audiences of how special a musical can be. Since then, this famed genre has rested, awaiting a film to signal its rebirth. Like a shot of adrenaline pounded straight into the heart, Chicago is the musical that devotees have dreamt of for more than two decades. Unlike last year's winningly hyper-kinetic Moulin Rouge, which brought the modern musical into today’s mainstream by juicing it up with pop hits, Chicago does not try to update the genre. The film is unabashedly old-fashioned without being corny or clichéd because the themes of greed and corruption are timeless. The roaring 20's still seem fresh thanks to Director Rob Marshall’s approach to the story.

The Safety of Objects

Some people love their possessions. They turn to them for guidance, or as just a shoulder to cry on. They know that no matter how bad a situation becomes, their home-theater system or large collection of fine china will take them through that difficult time. Tyler Durden, the theory-spouting anti-hero of Fight Club, once said that the things we own end up owning us. He was right. The Safety of Objects offers further proof.

The Avengers

Warner Bros. fantasies have always had a certain memorable flair. Dating back to films like Superman and Blade Runner, a viewer could always be guaranteed a journey into another world. The Avengers would have been the next big franchise for the 75-year old studio. The Bondian suavity and kick-ass heroine were just two elements that might have made this a rich fantasy-adventure. Too bad, then, that it has been so shoddily edited at the last minute. It should also be noted that this film had all the signs of a Thanksgiving turkey: The release date was hastily shifted from a franchise-friendly opening of late June to the cinematic garbage disposal of mid-August. So far, so bad. A poor edit of a potentially good movie and a foolish release date to boot. To guarantee doom for this summer opus, no screenings were held for critics. Note to studios: resist the temptation to hide a film from press screenings. We are going to see it, come hell or high water.

Metropolis (2002)

In the future, robots and humans live together, but not harmoniously. Powerful political mind Duke Red, the leader of a fascist organization known as the Mardu, plans to rule all robots (and thus the world) from a newly built art-deco tower known as The Ziggurat. He believes that his plan will succeed only if a supreme being, in the form of a robotic reincarnation of his deceased daughter, Tima, takes the throne to lead The Ziggurat to victory. When the scientist giving life to Tima is killed in a fire set by Duke Red’s adopted son Rock, Japanese detective Shunsaku Ban and his young nephew Kenichi set out to uncover the conspiracy.

Cradle 2 the Grave

Action movies are supposed to be simple. The plot should come down to a sentence or two, and then you should pretty much get right to the action. When an action movie equally dispenses confusion and stupidity, the only possibility of the film emerging a success lies with the quality of the action. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak and uber-producer Joel Silver, who brought us low-budget kung-fu trifles like Romeo Must Die and the Steven Seagal comeback hit Exit Wounds, choose the road less traveled and go for the plot. Unfortunately, Cradle 2 The Grave is so messily constructed and haphazardly edited that the only aspect left of merit is a few brief fight scenes.

Joe Somebody

Just in time for Christmas, a family comedy about...revenge? That’s the driving force behind Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen), a quiet, unassertive single father who has been stuck with the same low-level video communications job for more than a decade. His ex-wife (Kelly Lynch) has no regard for his feelings when she smooches with her new actor boyfriend and none of his life looks like it will ever get any better. On “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” Joe gets smacked around by the company bully (Patrick Warburton) over a space in the office parking lot. The man who didn’t think his life could get any more embarrassing now has to face the fact that he was beaten up in front of his twelve-year old girl (Hayden Panettiere).

The Matrix

When was the last time you used the word “awesome” to describe a film? Go back as far as you can remember, and wherever your memory takes you, it may equal the sensation you will have watching The Matrix. No detailed paragraphs or pun-happy blurbs, the only word I want to use is “awesome,” and simply leave it at that. The fifteen-year old in me is running the show now. But you know what? The rest of me is having a blast, too.

The Apple

To call The Apple the most stupendously awful movie of the century would be the understatement of the millennium. Taking an ill-advised cue from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Apple has set out to become the next mega-popular cult musical. But cinema-goers won’t remember 1980 solely for the unbearable badness that is The Apple. It will be remembered as the heyday of bad musicals. In a year that had already pummeled the public with Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu, did the world really need a film like this?

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

With all the top tier superheroes like Hulk and the X-Men lighting up the box-office over the past year, who would have thought that characters taken directly from classic adventure and horror literature would fit into that mold so well? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is not exactly a wham-bang superhero spectacular in the same vein as Spider-Man or Daredevil, but it is an undeniably interesting experience for a mid-July blockbuster. Like many popular movies of late, The League puts a new spin on an old story. Not an updated retelling, or a “re-imagining” as some filmmakers have put it (cough-Tim Burton-cough), but a meeting of several classic stories combined to create a fairly entertaining popcorn distraction.

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