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Reviews for the Week of 11/30:

The Haunted Mansion



Rated PG | 99 mins


     There have been great movies, such as the recent Master and Commander, that I have disliked. The Haunted Mansion proves the converse of that statement—it’s certainly possible for me to enjoy a bad flick. And I don’t just mean like, I mean literally cherish. This movie has terrible acting, many clichéd elements, and some odd direction, to say the least. Some would call it a disaster. I’d call it an awful masterpiece that’s chocked full of success. The Haunted Mansion may be flawed, but it’s a fun experience that’s tremendously faithful to the ride in which is based upon. This, alone, is good enough for me.

     If the filmmakers had cut a few things, The Haunted Mansion could’ve been a truly masterful kids’ movie. Firstly, it would’ve been a wise decision to choose another lead actress; Marsha Thomason is absolutely dreadful. Despite the fantastic efforts of funny-man Eddie Murphy and the rest of the cast, she almost ruins the entire picture. Secondly, director Rob Minkoff should’ve cut many of the unnecessary conventional skits. When watching Murphy fall out of the second story of “the haunted mansion” onto his car, and gets backup without injury, I wanted to slap myself in the face. Lastly, the script needed a polishing. Even though I did admire the fact that screenwriter David Berenbaum attempted to create a real plot, some of the events that take place in it are far too absurd for their own good. However, flaws aside, The Haunted Mansion manages to be an entertaining film.

     The visuals are absolutely masterful. When viewing the movie, we are transported into the ride, which, ironically, is amazingly refreshing. Gazing at The Haunted Mansion is hypnotizing—the sets, special effects, and costumes are detailed and colorful—aesthetically pleasing in every aspect. These are worth the price of admission alone; you must see this film on the big-screen, it won’t seem to be half the movie that it is on video, because of the reduced size.
     I’ve been on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland three times before, and it remains one of my favorites in the whole park. It’s always had a wondrous feel and air to it that’s indescribable. We can be thankful that this movie does the experience justice.





Rated PG | 95 mins


     Elf is disgustingly sweet, sugar-filled and atrocious. By its end, we feel as though we’ve consumed a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts and are about to dive into another box. The first forty five minutes are enjoyable, but after that, the material becomes sickeningly intolerable. Elf does have its moments, most of which are very funny, but these are certainly not worth the price of a ticket. Once you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve witnessed pieces of almost every humorous skit. And the truth is that I’d rather sit through the trailer fifteen times in a row than see this movie again. I wish I could say more on its behalf.

     In my opinion, Will Farrell is one of the best comedians of our time. Whether you hate him or you love him, you must admit that he’s likeable, dopily amusing, and expressive when performing. Whether it be in Saturday Night Live skits or films, he knows how to make an audience laugh. He molds a handful of laughs in Elf and is about the only guy on the planet who could play this role, but the script is so insanely bad, he is rarely able to salvage the well-being of the picture. I hope that the second installment in the Old School franchise proves to be a better use of his many talents.

     In a year, Elf will be a fine Christmas rental for the whole family. Just make sure that your DVD player’s scene-skipper button isn’t broken.


The Human Stain



Rated R | 106 mins


     Now here’s a movie that’s got a great story, superb acting, and deep characters, but has one sole flaw. Even though the pacing isn’t horrible, and the film flows, the tempo in which director Robert Benton chooses to use is abominable. However, this is nothing that four Oscar nominees, two of them being winners, can’t save.

     And aside from the interesting and involving screenplay, it’s really only the acting that saves this one. The real highlight of the film is Ed Harris, who plays the psychotic ex-husband of Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious and closed woman who begins to have an affair with Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins). He is widower, twice her age, and quit from his profession as a Classics professor, after being accused of using a racial term, derogatorily. Coleman’s secret is the movie. Before it is unraveled, we feel as though the film will be conventional and dull—two things that this twist doesn’t allow. The Human Stain is really spectacular mostly because of Harris, Kidman, and Hopkins, as well as Wentworth Miller, who plays Coleman, in his college years.

     It’s also absurd that Benton tells us that Faunia and Coleman end up dying, in the very first scene. While he clearly wants to put emphasis on the material that comes after this event, and I can clearly see why, it wasn’t, by any means, an inspired move. However, the fantastic adaptation of the screenplay, by Nicholas Meyer, helps maintain the poignancy and punch of the final minutes of the movie. The Human Stain is an imperfect picture, with an effective story and bold performances. This is just enough for me to recommend it, without hesitation.


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