Spellbound & Freddy vs. Jason
Documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz follows 8 of the 249 finalists in the 1999 National Spelling Bee. Nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, the film lost out to Bowling for Columbine, which partly focused on students of another ilk. Though I was an admirer of Columbine's power, Spellbound has so much more to offer.
Blitz spends the first half of this brisk film providing background on this elite eight. He takes us to their homes, introduces us to their parents, and exposes us to the environment that nurtured them.
There's Angela Arenivar, the daughter of a ranch hand in Perryton, Texas, who came to the country illegally and who barely speaks English. Angela's success is the reason her father left his homeland. Ashley White, an African-American girl who comes from equally challenging circumstances, has been raised by a single mother in one of Washington's worst neighborhoods. Then there are Neil Kadakia and Emily Stagg, each of whom come from posh upbringings, yet because of their cloistered lives they elicit our sympathy. Neil's father pushes his son beyond reason to prepare for the bee. We can't help but feel that the boy's childhood is being held hostage. Emily's positive attitude and good cheer show that not all children raised with such privileges are brats.
Rounding out the finalists are April DeGideo from Ambler, Pennsylvania, whose working-class parents are overjoyed by their daughter's success but mystified by her intellect. Nupar Lala of Tampa, Florida, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is returning to the bee for the second year in a row. Her determination to mount a comeback is moving. Ted Bingham hails from rural Missouri, where his intelligence has made him a loner. In many ways, his ascent is the most daunting. Finally, there's Harry Altman of Glen Rock, New Jersey, whose nonstop prattling and lame jokes are a cry for attention.
By the time Blitz gets us to the pressure-packed National Bee, it's almost impossible to push for just a single contestant. Surprises await each one.
(Running time 1:35, rated G)
Freddy vs. Jason
Though it doesn't contain a single surprise, Freddy vs. Jason proved to be not nearly as bad as I expected. Keep in mind that this is a backhanded compliment, along the lines of saying, "Having my eyes dug out with hot metal pokers wasn't as bad as it could've been."
We're introduced to a group of horny teens in a dark house on a stormy night, just begging for a machete-wielding psychopath to stop by and knock on the door (they usually don't actually knock). Jason Vorhees (Ken Kirzinger), the hockey-masked butcher from Crystal Lake, is only too happy to pay a visit, having been recently released from Hell by Freddy (Robert Englund), the razor-blade-fingered killer who haunts victims by entering their dreams. Freddy wants to terrorize these teens from his old hood, but they have been nightmare-free for quite a while. Freddy's plan is that Jason will bring the bad dreams back so he can return to life.
The best thing I can say is I was never bored. Thanks to director Ronny Yu, the film hurtles toward its blood-drenched climax with style. Yu's approach is arresting, particularly during sequences in which Jason, who's been set on fire, goes on a rampage in a corn field and when Freddy enters his cohort's dreams and we get to see how the masked one views the world. As rote as it is, there's no denying the film is professionally made and occasionally shows signs of inspiration. The error Yu and writers Mark Swift and Damien Shannon make is that they've forgotten that Freddy and Jason have ceased to be scary a long time ago. It's time to have a little fun with them.
(Running time 1:41, rated R)
Parkway Pointe, Showplace
What other critics are saying . . .
American Wedding A comic weekend wedding, complete with bachelor party. "The grossest, least funny--and, here's hoping, the last--installment in the American Pie series." (Manhola Dargis, Los Angeles Times) Parkway Pointe, Showplace
Bruce Almighty Jim Carrey is granted sovereignty over his hometown by God. "A smart, surprisingly thought-through blockbuster, with a decent grasp of the theological implications of its idea." (Nev Pierce, BBCi) "A fable overwhelmed by special effects and outsized spectacle." (Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times) Esquire
Finding Nemo Animated underwater tale. "Visual imagination and sophisticated wit." (Stephen Holden, New York Times) " Finding Nemo smacks of looky-what-I-can-do virtuosity, and after the first 10 minutes or so, it's exhausting." (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com) Chuck Koplinski's grade: A. Showplace
Freaky Friday Remake of 1976 comedy in which a mother and daughter switch identities. "A funny, shrewd, no-bull family comedy." (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) Showplace, White Oaks
Grind About skateboarders. "If you stay awake, you'll certainly feel more than a little ground down after watching perhaps 15 minutes of skateboard footage padded out with nearly 90 minutes of strenuously unfunny toilet humor." (Lou Lumenick, New York Post) Showplace
Hollywood Homicide A veteran and rookie cop get their off-duty hobbies mixed up in a murder case. "One of the most lazily scripted, poorly structured, smugly stereotyped star vehicles in recent memory." (Ty Burr, Boston Globe) "It's a movie an audience can settle comfortably into . . ." (Mike LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle) Esquire, Rt. 66 Drive In
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 19th Century literary heroes come back to life. "The picture's violence is a snore and its massacres are soporific. . . it's an extraordinary waste of time." (Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune) "It works wonderfully as a popcorn picture." (Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel) Marty McKee's grade: B. Rt. 66 Drive In
A Mighty Wind Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman) spoof about a reunion concert of three 1960s folk bands. "Guest's previous films offer essential windows into the absurd and the lovable and, in its own way, so does his latest." (Vic Vogler, Denver Post). Marty's grade: B. Esquire
Open Range Western about cowboys fighting a greedy capitalist. "A ponderous drag." (A.O. Scott, New York Times) "A juicy, character-driven western with a real plot that spins a hypnotic narrative." (Rex Reed, New York Observer). Chuck's grade: B+. Showplace, White Oaks
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Johhny Depp is a pirate. "The most high-flying, jaw-dropping special effect of the summer is . . . Johnny Depp." (Ty Burr, Boston Globe) Chuck's grade: B+. Parkway Pointe, Showplace
Rugrats Go Wild Second feature based on the popular cartoon series about loud-mouthed babies. "Stick a fork in the Rugrats movie franchise. It's done." (Nancy Churnin, Dallas Morning News) Esquire
Seabiscuit The horse, its jockey, and the men who made them famous. "A Depression underdog saga, the movie also is standout alternative programming to an oft-deadly sequel summer." (Mike Clark, USA Today) Chuck's grade: A. Parkway Pointe
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over "Frontrunner for 2003's most mindless and physically offensive movie-going experience." (Nicholas Schager, Slant) "The Spy Kids movies have allowed [director Robert] Rodriguez to exercise his playful muscles, and the new one is no exception." (Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune) Chuck's grade: B+. White Oaks
S.W.A.T. Film version of the old television show. "Best suited for audiences who don't mind being pummeled into submission." (Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune) "Offers up the kind of pleasures that only a summer movie can." (Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post) Parkway Pointe, Showplace