Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in ‘My Left Foot’

[rating=3]Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Ray McAnally, Brenda Fricker, Fiona Shaw, Adrian Dubar, Ruth McCabe, Cyril Cusack, Hugh O’Connor
Director(s): Jim Sheridan
Writer(s): Screenplay by Shane Connaughton, Jim Sheridan; Based upon the novel by Christy Brown

Daniel Day-Lewis in 'My Left Foot'
Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘My Left Foot’

In 1989 the United States was introduced to Irish cinema with My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day Lewis and directed by Jim Sheridan (no relation, although I met him once in a bar in the Village here in NewYork City). Lewis walked away with the Oscar for Best Actor that year, surprising many. His co-star, Brenda Fricker, also took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year.

I remember being surprised by the film when I first saw it in theaters that year. My mother had dragged me to it, because being 14 and stubborn, I had no interest in a film that didn’t have aliens, explosions, humor or nudity. But like many times in my life, I left the film feeling moved. My Left Foot is inspiring and touching, moving and emotional, and serves as a prime example that anything is possible.

Read moreDaniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in ‘My Left Foot’

In ‘The High and the Mighty’ John Wayne takes a long flight to nowhere

[rating=2]Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Robert Stack, Jan Sterling, Phil Harris, Robert Newton, David Brian, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Doe Avedon, Karen Sharpe, John Smith
Director(s): William A. Wellman
Writer(s): Ernest K. Gann

John Wayne stars with William Campbell in 'The High and the Mighty'
John Wayne stars with William Campbell in ‘The High and the Mighty’

This was the second of the John Wayne films I had elected to review recently, and while The High and the Mighty was more familiar to people than Island in the Sky, I think it pales in comparison.

The High and the Mighty is very much like an Irwin Allen disaster flick, but nothing much happens. It’s largely a series of conversations, only a few of them interesting, as each person on the plane deals with the possibly of dying.

Read moreIn ‘The High and the Mighty’ John Wayne takes a long flight to nowhere

Steve Martin’s ‘The Jerk’ is still funny 26 years later

Steve Martin drags his dog in 'The Jerk'
Steve Martin drags his dog in ‘The Jerk’

Watching the first few minutes of The Jerk I came to a funny realization — I’d never seen the movie unedited before. Although the film is nearly as old as I am, viewing this 26th Anniversary Edition was the very first time I’d seen it completely intact, with all the cursing and in a widescreen presentation.

All my life I thought the dog’s name was actually, “Stupid”.

Anyway, Steve Martin made his big screen debut with this film, which he developed from one of his stage acts. The story follows a white man named Navin who grew up with a black family, and has never felt like he quite fit in — he has no rhythm, loves Twinkies, and… well, is white.

Read moreSteve Martin’s ‘The Jerk’ is still funny 26 years later

John Wayne sours in ‘Island in the Sky’

[rating=3]Starring: John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness, Andy Devine, Harry Carey, Jr.
Director(s): William A. Wellman
Writer(s): Ernest K. Gann

John Wayne (left) headlines 'Island in the Sky'
John Wayne (left) headlines ‘Island in the Sky’

In the last few years I’ve developed a real respect for John Wayne films. The stories are often good, and while Wayne generally plays the same character, there are enough slight variations on the theme to keep it interesting.

What drew me to want to review Island in the Skywas the idea that it had never been released on VHS or DVD. Part of the recent slew of special edition DVDs — fully restored and looking beautiful — that have come out in the last month for Wayne’s movies, the story seemed intriguing. This old black and white from 1953 features an all-star cast, and while it’s probably a little longer than it needed to be, Sky is a strong feature about survival.

Read moreJohn Wayne sours in ‘Island in the Sky’

‘The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’ has its moments

[rating=3]Starring: Ashanti, Jeffrey Tambor, Quentin Tarantino, David Alan Grier, Queen Latifah, Kermit the Frog, Miss. Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great
Director(s): Kirk R. Thatcher
Writer(s): Teleplay by Debra Frank, Steve Hayes, Tom Martin, Adam F. Goldberg; Television Story by Debra Frank, Steve Hayes; Based upon the novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

Ashanti accompanies (l. to r.) Gonzo, Pepe, Kermit and Fozzy down the yellow-brick road in 'Muppets’ Wizard of Oz'
Ashanti accompanies (l. to r.) Gonzo, Pepe, Kermit and Fozzy down the yellow-brick road in ‘Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’

To be honest, it has been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed a Muppet movie. I briefly caught some bits and pieces of The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz when it aired on ABC, and can’t say that I was that impressed. But watching it in its entirety on DVD, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. There are some good scenes, with bits of clever humor throughout, but nothing even remotely comparing to the magic of the early Muppet movies.

What holds Oz down is its star, Ashanti. She has a lovely singing voice, but acting is clearly not her profession. Perhaps it was the fact that she was acting largely against puppets, but her awkward delivery really hinders the film. I understand why they wanted to cast a singer in the role, but they could have looked at someone with a little more acting experience (heck, Disney would probably have done better casting Raven Simone from their own series, That’s So Raven!).

Read more‘The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’ has its moments

‘Pom Poko’ turns raccoons into heroes

[rating=2]Starring: Maurice LaMarche, Jillian Bowen, Clancy Brown, J.K. Simmons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Andre Stojka
Director(s): Isao Takahata
Writer(s): Isao Takahata

Raccoons plot their next move in 'Pom Poko'
Raccoons plot their next move in ‘Pom Poko’

It’s been quite a few years since American television began its obsession with Japanese animation, and I’ve never quite understood it. Most of the shows are terrible and are generally gimmicks to sucker kids into buying silly toys or goofy card games. Some of the films, like Spirited Away are visually stunning and beautifully told, but other times the films are rather strange, occasionally confusing, and sometimes just too long.

Read more‘Pom Poko’ turns raccoons into heroes

‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe’ is too black-and-white, even for kids

[rating=2]Starring: Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Mosley, Anna Popplewell
Director(s): Andrew Adamson
Writer(s): Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Anna Popplewell (left), William Moseley and Georgie Henley are siblings who become rulers of a mystical land in 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe'
Anna Popplewell (left), William Moseley and Georgie Henley are siblings who become rulers of a mystical land in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’

The Chronicles of Narnia starts off well enough. The four engaging Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and the irrepressible young Lucy, huddle in their living room while Hitler’s bombers strafe London. As the explosions near, their panicked mum herds them into the cellar. Next thing they know, they’re boarding a train for the safety of the English countryside. As their mother tearfully sends them off in the crush of the station, their anguish is palpable. Unfortunately, it is just about the most moving scene in the film. Because it is human.

So, too, is the interplay between the siblings as they try to keep a stiff upper lip while making themselves at home in the huge country estate of the mysterious Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent in a role better suited to Christopher Lloyd.) While these scenes are slow, there is definite life to them, and the sets are rich, varied, and intriguing. And so we are hopeful when Lucy, having found the perfect place to secret herself during a game of hide and seek, discovers that the wardrobe she’s climbed into is actually the door to a snow covered forest. Our sense of wonder grows as she meets a friendly faun (a.k.a., satyr) who introduces himself as Mr. Tumnus. Vividly played by James McAvoy, we feel a thrilling pinprick of magic, and are both delighted, and a little fearful, when Lucy happily agrees to go to his house for tea. His home turns out to be a hobbit like cave in the side of a rock hill with an arched door, and as she enters the look in his eyes tells us that all is not as benign as it seems. While we know that she can’t actually be in the kind of danger this intimates, it is still riveting.

Read more‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe’ is too black-and-white, even for kids

‘Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo’ is darn funny

[rating=3]Starring: Rob Schneider, William Forsythe, Eddie Griffin, Arija Bareikis, Oded Fehr
Director(s): Mike Mitchell
Writer(s): Harris Goldberg, Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider in 'Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalo'
Rob Schneider in ‘Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo’

Since 1999, I think I’ve heard Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo used more often as way to criticize a film than compliment it. The title alone was ridiculed, so much so that the fact that they made a sequel so many years later (it came out in 2005), I was shocked. So, you can understand that I was a little reluctant to actually sit down and watch this flick, but I was in the need for a good laugh and took a chance.

I thought Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo was darn funny.

Perhaps it’s my weakness for Rob Schneider, who I think is a good comedic actor and suffers mostly because he’s stuck in Adam Sandler’s shadow. He’s clearly been helped by Sandler, I’m not knocking that, but the dude’s gotta break away. Either way, I think he’s a funny guy, and Male Gigolo showcases his charms. He’s the average Joe, easily relatable and sympathetic. That likeability makes you feel for the guy as he goes through each humiliating experience.

Read more‘Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo’ is darn funny

‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ gets ‘special’ treatment on DVD

[rating=3]Starring: John Goodman, David Spade, Patrick Warburton, Eartha Kitt
Director(s): Saul Andrew Blinkoff, Elliot M. Bour
Writer(s): Screenplay by David Reynolds; Story by Chris Williams, Mark Dindal, Roger Allers, Matthew Jacobs

Pacha (left) and Kuzco are back-to-back in 'The Emperor’s New Groove'
Pacha (left) and Kuzco are back-to-back in ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’

The Emperor’s New Groove was one of those handful of Disney movies in recent years that I’ve seen in the theaters. I wasn’t really expecting much from it, because it’s been a while since I was all that impressed by Disney’s animated films. I was actually pleasantly surprised, because the film was pretty funny, with some outstanding animation work and memorable characters.

The story has a spoiled young emperor named Kuzco (David Spade), and a peasant named Pacha (John Goodman) in whose care Kuzco winds up after a failed assassination attempt turns him into a llama. This brat of an emperor must then rely on the kind-hearted Pacha to regain power, and ultimately save Pacha’s village from destruction.

Read more‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ gets ‘special’ treatment on DVD

‘The Muppet Movie’ retains its charm as Kermit turns 50

[rating=4]Starring: The Muppet Performers Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz
Director(s): James Frawley
Writer(s): Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns

Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie Bear get together to entertain in 'The Muppet Movie'
Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie Bear get together to entertain in ‘The Muppet Movie’

It’s hard to describe the magic of the Muppets to kids today. From my son’s perspective, he actually has very little interest in puppets on television. He’s more interested in cartoons and computer animated films. But put on the Muppets, and he’s off to his room to play with his toys.

I remember seeing The Muppet Movie for the first time on video when I was a kid. Not old enough to see it in the theaters, or remember doing so if I did, I remember loving the adventures of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. When I was younger, it was Kermit who I liked best, but over the years my attraction as shifted to his furry sidekick. There’s something about the wanna-be stand up comedian that makes me laugh all the time.

Read more‘The Muppet Movie’ retains its charm as Kermit turns 50