Back to the Reviews On The Side Homepage Reviews On The Side
In this episode: Spider-Man | Minority Report | The Sum of All Fears | The Bourne Identity

Reviews On The Side


So what does summer bring, aside from epithelial burns and icy-cold store-brand soft drinks? ACTION MOVIES! Yes, and this summer has been no exception. Witness the cold, emotionless whiz-bang of Episode II! The swoopy, giggly fun of Spider-Man! The "Why Isn't It December Yet?"ness of The Two Towers!

Yes, this summer's a doozy. In fact, I would like to spend this long-overdue episode of Reviews On The Side reviewing four—Yes, FOUR—summer action flicks: The Bourne Identity, The Sum of All Fears, Minority Report, and Spider-Man. And you thought I'd gone away. No, like the mysterious rash by my right eye, I keep coming back and coming back.

To be most fair, I will review these movies in alphabetical order of their cinematographers. No one can claim bias that way, now, can they? First up in this clever scheme would be:


Cinematography by Don Burgess

Sooper Smooth Spidey Yes, Spider-Man's been out for years now, but it was such a nice surprise, I just had to give it the ol' ROTS treatment.

This so was ready to be a flop. Not a flop based on box office grosses, of course, 'cause it was bound to do well no matter how much it, like a straw, sucked... No, a flop as in a bad movie. All the elements were there for floppiness. Usually, in a flop (AHH-Episode-CHOO!), all the elements are there for a movie to be a hit, but something goes horribly wrong. In Spider-Man, all the elements were there for it to be a flop, but something went horribly wrong.

Thank God.

This movie is an enjoyable collection of silliness, seriousness, ludicrousness, fantasy, wit, hipness, and charm. Sam Raimi was the one variable able to twist success out of the formulaic story laid out in front of us, and I'm so SO so glad he pulled it off. Sam has a knack for the bizarre, if you didn't know that already, and it's that touch that makes Spider-Man the happy fun time movie it is.

Tobey Maguire is also one to thank for his amusing take on Peter Parker. Truly no one would expect this guy to be a super hero, but no one would expect him to not be one either. You get my drift? I mean, Christopher Reeve's very funny Clark Kent was a caricature of a superhero in disguise. He was super nerdy, super shy, a super pushover... all the things you should be when you're trying not to look like Superman.

Tobey is something else. I know comic book super heroes have changed a lot in the last three decades, so Tobey could not have pulled a 1978 Clark Kent on us. Instead he's just... NORMAL. Nerdy and unloved by jockhead dorks, yes, but he's really normal, and, therefore, likable. And certainly not a super hero. The scene with Peter learning to use his new powers is great fun, thanks to Tobey. And the wrestling match? Man, what a hoot.

The whole wrestling scene, in fact, can stand alone as a demonstration on why this movie worked. First of all, the element of Peter going there to win money to buy a car to impress Mary Jane is goofy movie nonsense, but it's just weird and funny enough to propel the story in a new direction without losing the audience. And once we're at the wrestling match, the combination of the outrageous but nearly believable setting, the embarrassing costume Peter ends up having created for himself, the haphazard origin of his Spider-Man name, Peter's opponent, the crowd, Bruce Campbell, all these things come together with a camouflaged artistry to make the scene one of those you'd never tire of watching again.

The other actors also do a fine job in the movie. Kirsten Dunst, who, I have to admit, is not as great an actress as I thought she was back in the day, is a fine Mary Jane. James Franco, who did the whole James Dean thing on TV this year (I didn't see it), projects more angst and confusion on screen in this melodramatic feast than a single hair in Hayden Christensen's Padawan ponytail. Then there's Willem Dafoe. Yes, this man can play Jesus and a crazy who dresses in green futuro-military armor to kill innocent people. Willem takes a rather dull role and not only pulls out all the stops but yanks them violently away, ties them up, and throws them into the icy seas of conservative acting.

Okay, maybe that's a little too much, so let's just say Willem was a pleasure to watch. His whole dual-personality thing with the mirror was great. Maybe he was not the first actor to pop into your mind as The Green Goblin—I know no one popped into my mind for the role because I generally care less about super heroes and more about what new flavor of Oreo creme Nabisco will introduce this week—but Willem was quite the right choice in the end. Besides, he looks like he could be James' father.

Now, about those effects... Well, I have to say this is one of those very rare times when I can calm down about the pretty crummy effects because I enjoyed the movie so much. Yes, yes, yes, the man on the street will say, after his words are tweaked by Marketing, that the dynamic, kinetic, frenetic effects of Spidey swinging through the city made for heart-stopping, pulse-pounding action! Okay, they gave the illusion of such, but the effects themselves were low Q. Nothing looked realistic in this movie, and perhaps that was the point, but such anti-realism is better suited when a movie is entirely created in that vein. Tim Burton creates completely artificial worlds, for example, into which the effects of Spider-Man might have fit in nicely. But when you combine the solid realism of location shooting in NYC with the rubbery fakiness of these effects, well, it's just gonna look pretty crappy.

As I said, however, I enjoyed the movie so much, I didn't find this to be a negative.

In the box office, Spider-Man is still kicking Episode II's Force-clad ass—by almost $110 million as of Monday. This pleases me to no end. Spider-Man is an example of a movie where characters and story actually play an important role in the movie and therefore become something more than Styrofoam. I saw it twice, whereas I have yet to pay to see Episode II at all. I have let my money vote for me this summer.

On to Spider-Man II!



To Top of Page


Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski

Run, Cruise, Run!

It's never good to start a review with a heaving sigh, but I'm afraid I have no choice.


Spider-Man was not a movie I was looking forward to, and look what happened. A nice surprise, and the most fun movie of the summer (aside from Lilo & Stitch, of course!). I was looking forward to Minority Report, and look what happened. Something better than A.I., but still not great.

I was with this movie. I was enjoying myself. Then the old lady in the Greenhouse of Horrors showed up, and I went took a fast plane into "God Dammit!" Land. Let me share with you why this happened.

The script is God-awful bad. Really. If you loved this movie, as many people seem to, watch it again. Once you get past the cool special effects, the fascinating premise, the two neat action sequences, and Tom Cruise, you have pap. Pap, I tell you! PAP! Why? Because barely a single plot point is allowed to develop without a character saying something completely unnatural just to emphasize the point for the pap-brained audience. It's a script for idiots. Precrime for Dummies.

I don't know what Steven Spielberg is doing. With Minority Report, he seems to be treating us all like children with learning disabilities. He allows us to view this fascinating, stylish, futuristic world of his (and Philip K. Dick's) creation, to sample the conundrum of the film's premise, but then he explains every detail to us, as if it would all be just too much for us to handle on our own. Best he hold our hands through the whole movie.

Why did I give up specifically at the Green house of Horrors? The script was bad way before that, but it was moving, moving, moving. Stuff of all kinds was happening, and my mind, though keyed into the crappy dialogue (what's that nonsense Colin Ferrell spouts out while he's in the "Cathedral"?), was engaged with the shiny, shiny beads. At the greenhouse, the movie just stops, and we all get to sit there while the doctor explains everything purely through dialogue. The scene seems to go on forever, and when finally she hints that Tom must find his Minority Report and he figures out he has to find his Minority Report, well, I just couldn't get over it. The movie turned into a "We must get our hands on that floppy disk!" yarn. Yawn.

In the scene with the eye-replacing doctor, there is not a single ounce of subtlety. Peter Stormare's character spells out every letter of what we're meant to know about both the eye-replacement and his history with Tom. The history with Tom does not serve to add depth to the story because it's only being spewed out in dialogue form. It only comes in handy for the not-so-clever joke when Tom walks into The Gap later on in the movie. And the repetition in echoey V/O that Tom has to wait 12 hours or HE WILL GO BLIND may as well have been printed on a hammer for use in pummeling our heads. Ugh!

But enough examples of that. By the time the movie deteriorated into a Monsters, Inc.-type storyline [SKIP THIS IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHODUNIT] (The old, trusting mentor who runs the company did it!), and Tom's wife used the ol' "I never told you she drowned!" line, and Tom's eyes were handy in the bin of belongings for his wife to use, my neck was already more toned and muscular from shaking my head so much. (Max von Sydow's character, Lamar, would have been smart enough to sidestep the "drowned" trap by saying, "Oh, well, John told me that." Simple.)

I love the concept of the film, that people can be stopped from committing murder before they do it. I could have a great two-hour conversation with friends about that topic and get more out of it than Minority Report provides. I will grant that the conversation would not involve a jet pack chase or a Michael-Bay-style fight in a futuristic Lexus factory, but that would not be a minus since such a jet pack chase would require me to physically take part and I'd no doubt get some nasty boo-boos as a result.

Perhaps more eerie than the idea of knowing people's thoughts in advance of committing murder is the terrifying invasion of advertising the movie shows us. It's terrifying because, of everything futuristic and strange Minority Report shows us, the invasive personalized advertising on every scrap of spare anything is the most likely to come true. We all see it happening around us as the years progress, so we can't doubt the Minority Report vision will come true. Probably with very little difference, either. I know I'd have to run around with my eyes shut or, if facial recognition software keeps making strides, cover my heads with a bucket to avoid being told how very much Steven Lekowicz would enjoy new Mocha Guava Glitter Creme Oreos.

The advertising thing was scary. But for me, the rest of the movie crumbled under the bad script. Minority Report can not really be classified as a bad movie, just an okay one. If the story had been more cleverly presented and there had been more subtlety to the proceedings, I would have liked it a lot more.



To Top of Page


Cinematography by John Lindley

No One Likes Poor Little Ben I rather liked this one. It was tight, fast-paced, pseudo-plausible, and had Alan Bates in it. I know Alan Bates from King of Hearts, a great French film from the '60s. After seeing The Sum of All Fears, I watched Gosford Park, and there he was again! How cool to see Alan in more movies these days. Though he's looking a little old. (HA HA HA! I love people who say that about aging actors! HA HA HA!)

Okay, I have to confess here, right now, in front of everyone, that I like Ben Affleck. He's got this huge cult of hatred that berates him with much bile, yet I don't understand why. He's not great. He's not sublime. He's not an artiste. But I think he's perfectly fine in movies like this. Perhaps his smirk gets in the way sometimes, I don't know, but after hearing weeks of Ben bashing from different camps, I was waiting to dislike him in The Sum of All Fears and I never did. Maybe I'll invite him to a party sometime. If everyone else hates him so much these days, he might have nothing better to do. We could hang out and eat Oreos.

The Sum of All Fears is pretty much like the other Jack Ryan movies in its skeletal structure, meaning it takes many elements from your average action movie but ends up being a better film. This version of Jack, however, is young and just starting his rise at the CIA. No matter that it's 2002 and the other movies took place in past years. I'm sure it can all be explained away with cloning and genetically altered foods.

The timing of the movie is relevant, I guess, since it deals with terrorists—non-Muslim extremists though they be—attacking the U.S. The movie is not jam-packed with action, like you may expect, but it's an engaging story. How Alan Bates manages to blow up a nuke in Baltimore is quite an interesting tale, and thanks to the usual Tom Clancy details, it appears entirely plausible. The big cast are all very good, especially Morgan Freeman, who would be interesting to watch just contemplating about perhaps maybe reading the phone book. I also enjoyed seeing Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) ride Air Force One.

My one question is this: Should Harrison Ford have been equipped with sores and lesions typical of radiation poisoning as the older Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger? Younger Ryan Ben soaks up some mighty doses, even if he does ostensibly stay out of the path of the fallout. He's running all over that damn place at the end of the film, so you can't tell me he doesn't get radiated. Well, maybe it's that cloning thing. Or genetically enhanced soy protein is a miracle cure for radiation sickness. Alert Whole Foods!

The Sum of All Fears is a solid and engaging movie. Entertaining to watch. Sorta spooky in its implications. It may not enter any record books for "Kick-Assiest Movie," but I'd see it again on DVD.



To Top of Page


Cinematography by Oliver Wood

Run, Franke, Run! "Matt Damon is Jason Bourne," shouted the marketing campaign for this movie, and I made the mistake of grousing to my friend Marcy, "Who cares? That's like saying, 'Julia Roberts is Shirley Lupnowsky, the Waitress at the Sizzler Near Where You Work!'" In direct correlation to my uppitiness, she corrected me with a cowing tone. I now understand that Jason Bourne is to Robert Ludlum fans as Jack Ryan is to Tom Clancy's. I guess we all have to have our heroes. Mine is Oreos. Yum!

Whereas The Sum of All Fears was a good but typical political action thriller movie, The Bourne Identity is more than that. There is much more originality to this film. The CIA are the good guys in Sum, but here, they turn out to be the baddies. That's not original in itself, I guess, but in this day of Don't Question Authority Unless It's Corporate, I'm glad a movie still has the guts to make some Federal dudes bad.

Really original, though, was the character of Marie, played by Run Lola Run actress Franka Potente. Franka plays the character just right, with a nice combination of independence and helplessness. Not that I believe women characters in these movies should have an element of helplessness to them, but in this case, her character really is helpless. So is Matt's, for that matter. I bought Marie as a person, which was a perfect balance to offset Matt Damon's genetic cyber whateverheis character.

Matt is good, too. His balance between "What in the EU is happening to me?" and "I attack now without question BLAM!" is well played. I think some people hate Matt as an actor, but apparently not as many as hate Ben. Matt is a better actor, and this character requires that. I like him as well.

The movie unfolds almost organically, letting you know just enough information as needs arise. Of course there's explication, but unlike Minority Report, it fits well within the framework of the movie and does not patronize. The premise may be less interesting than Minority Report's, and its genetically/psychologically-altered soldier subject has been covered before, including on The X-Files, but there's an almost warm, human touch to the movie.

The human touch comes partly from the relationship between Jason and Marie, partly from Jason's confusion over who he is and why he's lost his memory, and partly from the interaction between the main characters and more secondary ones. When Marie's ex-boyfriend has to hide in the basement of his country house with his small children, the moment is genuinely tense and sad. And skip this if you want to remain uninformed, but the few lines between Clive Owen (from Croupier but also in Gosford Park, BTW) and Matt in the field as Clive is dying punch home a strange emotion that is attached directly to the movie's theme.

A true high point of the movie is the chase between the Paris police, on motorcycles and small, modern European cars, and Jason and Marie, in her beat-up old Mini. It's a great chase scene, thanks to the hero being in something other than a fast, expensive car for once.

The Bourne Identity is a clever, well-made movie. It was directed by Doug Liman, who did Swingers. Huh? Yeah, my reaction, too. Well, he did a nice job. Perhaps there will be more of these Jason Bourne movies, and he can get younger and younger each time. Maybe Jake Lloyd can play Jason next time 'round. Wouldn't that be a treat?



To Top of Page


I hope you enjoyed


Have a hoopy Fourth. I'll be back some day with another exciting installment of Reviews On The Side. Maybe when The Two Towers comes out. That's timeliness for you!



To Top of Page


Buy Videos and DVDs at
Buy Videos at


©2002 Steven Lekowicz except
Spider-Man art ®© Marvel Characters and ©Sony Pictures;
Minority Report art ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks LLC;
The SUm of All Fears photo ©2002 Paramount Pictures;
and The Bourne Identity photo ©2002 Universal Studios.