None of these movies are actually in the theater. They were seen either on DVD or courtesy of United Airlines during coast-to-coast flights. Watching movies on airlines exposes me to movies I would not otherwise see. You can only read a book so long on a five-hour flight. Even mediocre movies are likely to get eyeball time.
But first a note on watching the movie Sideways during a coast-to-coast flight. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie in the theater. My wife says it is one of the worst movies she has ever seen. To show an R rated movie on an airline flight unfortunately requires a lot of sanitizing. In short the swear words, sex and sometimes the violence get edited out. For me watching bits and pieces of the airline version of Sideways turned a B movie into a C movie. While I am not a huge fan of profanity, without the profanity it was like drinking Boones Farm wine instead of the Pinot Noir that Miles favored. And it was especially irksome to note that the modest sex scenes, such as they were, were edited out. Remember the scene where Miles goes to the house of that Los Olivos waitress? He sneaks into the house to retrieve Jack’s wallet and finds the waitress and her husband going at it hot and heavy (if memory serves me right) in the rear entry position. Naturally you see him go in and retrieve the wallet, but you don’t see the sex scene and go to a quick cut. So it loses all of its humor just to be inoffensive. Yet the scene where Stephanie breaks Jack’s nose in the hotel parking lot with her oversize purse is still intact, minus the swear words. Geez, who edits these things, a bunch of Mormons?
This is the story of the inspirational coach Ken Carter who brings a high school basketball team from Richmond, California to the state championship game. Carter is played by Samuel Jackson, who has a terrific performance as a man determined not just to win games, but to get his players to graduate high school and go on to college. Apparently Richmond is one nasty school where academic expectations are ultra low and teenage pregnancies are very high. So this is a “tough coach” movie where the plot is fairly transparent. While Jackson’s performance is excellent, the performance of the various players is a mixed bag. But they generally succeed in acting emotionally immature and looking vacant, which is perhaps the point. Eventually Carter begins forfeiting games even though they are on winning streak. Why? Because the players didn’t live up to their academic agreements to maintain a 2.3 average. This brings him a lot of publicity and, well, you can figure out the rest of the plot from here. If you like movies about a guy standing tall and inspiring people you will enjoy the movie. If you don’t, give it a pass. 2.8 on my 4.0 scale.
This is a movie about a preacher’s girl who takes in an estranged dog. The dog was found running wild around the local Winn Dixie supermarket. The girl, Opal, is played by an ultra-coquettish Annasophia Robb. You can bet the casting director had to search high and low for a young actress with such a flawless face, blonde hair, perky demeanor and large, irresistible eyes. Her eyes are dangerous to look at. How dangerous? Think Elijah Wood. But don’t be under the illusion that she is also a good actress. One thing is for sure, this dog Winn Dixie is one ugly dog and is no Lassie in the brains department either. This is the last dog I would have befriended. If I owned a shotgun I would have put the dog out of its misery. Opal’s preacher father (Jeff Daniels) is a single parent. His wife apparently had a problem with the bottle. She bolted when Opal was very young. Naturally Opal is curious about her mother. Over the course of the movie she learns the sad truth. The town she moved to though seems to be very dispirited. Basically no one talks to one another. On this thin reed hangs what passes for a plot. Opal meets a number of curious eccentrics including an ex-con illegally running a pet store (played by Dave Matthews) and a nearly blind woman (from alcoholism) who lives alone and is thought of locally as a witch, played by Cicely Tyson. She befriends them individually then tries to hold a party to bring the community back together. The dog gets freaked out by lightning storms and ends up lost a couple times. A big storm happens in the middle of her party so off the mutt goes. You expect a happy ending and you sort of get it because Winn Dixie, unlike Opal’s mother, eventually comes home. The movie ends unexpectedly and abruptly, as if they ran out of ideas or realized this was a pretty lame movie, which it is. Perhaps if I were under age 10 I would appreciate this movie, otherwise give it wide berth. 2.0 is probably more than it deserves on my 4.0 scale.
Tim Burton’s films have a certain film noir that is hard to mistake once you’ve seen a few of them. This movie, based extremely loosely on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (to the point where Washington Irving truly should turn over in his grave) was one of the films wherein he perfected his style. He seems to prefer Johnny Depp in his movies, and we see him in this one playing the earnest Ichabod Crane. Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to figure out why so many of its citizens are decapitated by a crazed and mysterious headless horseman. Sleepy Hollow seems to be perennially bathed in morning mist. Burton succeeds in rendering a convincing early American village, and populates the movie with lots of well-established character actors. The costumes look extremely authentic. Christina Ricci was about 19 when she played the part of Katrina Van Tassel but I swear she looks about 12 in this movie. She is serious jailbait. You will see decapitations in this movie, so many that you begin to lose count. The decapitations though have a rather cartoon quality about them, so they didn’t really ick me out. The same was true with all the blood in the movie: poor Ichabod was always getting squirted with cadaver blood. I hope Johnny Depp got hazard pay for those scenes. Depp is competent in the role. But really the whole movie instead of feeling real feels just surreal, as is true of most of Burton’s films. While exquisitely crafted, amusing at times, dashed with some cool special effects and more than a bit icky, ultimately it is just a fluff movie. Unless you just love Tim Burton or Johnny Depp you can find better ways to spend your time. It does get a 3.0 on my 4.0 scale though, mainly for a consistent vision and style, and generally fine acting. It’s just too bad the plot doesn’t draw you in.