Back Row Reviews: Movie Reviews by James Dawson

Back Row Reviews
James Dawson



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Jack and Jill
(Reviewed November 11, 2011, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"Jack and Jill" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: F


(Reviewed October 16, 2005, by James Dawson)

This is a not-bad "war is dehumanizing" exercise, about a young Marine's experiences during Bush the Elder's Persian Gulf fiasco. (Iraq may have surrendered quickly -- but 15 years later, it's pretty obvious that things didn't turn out to be "mission accomplished," huh?) "Jarhead"'s problem, however, is that it is too derivative of better movies to seem novel or even especially necessary.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for anything that might show potential present-day recruits what military service is like, in all of its soul-deadening savagery and sacrifice. But in a world where better movies such as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now" already exist, "Jarhead" seems kind of redundant, covering similar ground but substituting Mideast desert for Vietnam jungle.

"Jarhead" alludes only briefly to the idea that the war was more about protecting oil supplies than about liberating Kuwait, and that America itself had supplied Iraq with weapons. Unfortunately, the more troubling issue of whether American troops were whored out by Bush as if they were nothing more than mercenaries to protect Saudi Arabia and its monstrous royal family is never addressed. All of these things could have set the movie apart from its forebears, by emphasizing that this was a different kind of war.

"Jarhead" kicks off with a hardass-drill-instructor-barking-abuse scene that was better done as far back as "An Officer and a Gentlemen" (and was elevated to sadistic perfection in "Full Metal Jacket"), but it's always fun to watch a grown man in a funny hat go apoplectic. A later scene features narrator Jake Gyllenhaal and fellow Marines zestfully enjoying the "Ride of the Valkyries" helicopter-attack while watching "Apocalypse Now," which struck me as the unfortunate cinematic equivalent of sampling. Jake and his tentmates grow progressively more anxious, bored and unhinged, a la the cast of "Platoon," as they wait for something to happen.

Something I don't remember seeing in other war flicks is the "Wall of Shame" at the base camp, where photos of unfaithful spouses and girlfriends are added each time somebody gets a "Dear John." Also, a scene that's especially timely right now shows Marines being coached on how to answer a TV reporter's questions.

I could have done without the two music montages, set to T. Rex's "Bang a Gong" and C+C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now" (which also appears in Disney's "Chicken Little," proving how overused that song has become). A moody scene featuring Nirvana's "Something in the Way" works better, but still smacks too much of pimping a great song to sell a movie moment (paging Cameron Crowe!). Thomas Newman does his usual excellent job with the movie's score.

Jamie Foxx plays a staff sergeant who takes no crap -- or not much, anyway -- and Chris Cooper makes a couple of brief appearances as a gung-ho superior officer. Peter Sarsgaard does a good job as a laid-back Marine who, in the immortal words of Richard Gere, has "nowhere else to go."

There's not a whole lot of story here, because the movie is more like a bunch of separate scenes than a cohesive whole. Although "Jarhead" is directed by "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes, it feels more like a well-done made-for-cable project than a feature film.

Still, anything that might make even a single person think twice before putting his life in the hands of our current "welcome to the suck," lying, war-criminal president has to be judged worthwhile.

Back Row Grade: B-

J. Edgar
(Reviewed November 9, 2011, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"J. Edgar" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: C-

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
(Reviewed March 16, 2012, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: B+

Jennifer's Body

(Reviewed September 4, 2009)

Diablo Cody didn't deserve the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for last year's merely adequate "Juno," but it would have been nice if the award had inspired her to step up her game next time at bat. No such luck. "Jennifer's Body" is a typical tongue-in-cheek scary movie that could have been grunted out by any Hollywood hack, except that it's loaded full of Cody's annoying "honest to blog" attempts at slanganeering.

"Mamma Mia" bug-eyed blondie Amanda Seyfried is worried when her slutty mean-girl BFF Megan Fox goes off in a van with some suspicious and possibly Satanic band members. Fox reappears later covered in blood, spouting black goo and literally devouring classmates. Oh-oh.

Director Karyn Kusama's last flick was 2005's pretty/vacant "Aeon Flux," and she doesn't bring anything special to this semi-schlocky project.

Here are the only two things I liked:

In a brazenly obvious grab for the Best Kiss prize at next year's MTV Movie Awards, Fox and Seyfried go full-Frenchal with each other on a bed. Hubba-hubba.

And during a climactic catfight, Fox responds to being rather badly stabbed by nonchalantly asking Seyfried if she has a tampon. Seyfried doesn't. Fox says, "Sorry, I thought you were pluggin'."

Throw enough Codyisms against a wall, and at least one of them has to shtick.

Back Row Grade: D

Jersey Girl

(Reviewed March 7, 2004, by James Dawson)

There is no point even pretending that anything else will have a shot at the "Worst Movie of 2004" title. "Jersey Girl" is not as bad as you may have heard...IT IS WORSE! MUCH, MUCH WORSE!

Here we have the tale of a successful, handsome music publicist (Ben Affleck) whose beautiful book-editor wife (Jennifer Lopez) has a movie-death while giving birth. (Translation: She turns her head to the side, closes her eyes, and croaks.) Conveniently for the plot, daddy is too stupid to realize he could hire a nanny to take care of his little precious. Of course, in anything resembling the real world, he also could enlist the help of his dead wife's family...if this movie had bothered to give her one. That's right: Nowhere in the entire movie is the possibility raised that maybe, just maybe, dead J-Lo may have had relatives.

And so, in shamelessly sorry-ass bad-sitcom style, Ben must cart lil' newborn Gertie along to New York's Hard Rock Cafe for a huge publicity event, where he has a stressed-out, "daddy just can't handle all this" meltdown. First, however, he goes through the time-honored "I'm a complete imbecile" new-daddy ritual of having no clue how to change a diaper.

The good news: We are spared the traditional golden-fountain-of-baby-piss-in-daddy's-face scene. The bad news: Instead, we are treated to the sight of a very shit-filled diaper (in the restaurant's kitchen, no less). And do we really need those lingering shots of the baby's privates? Let the kid keep a little dignity, for Christ's sake! (Also along those lines: This movie has a very troubling obsession with the seven-year-old Gertie's plumbing as well. In addition to an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" scene, there are two shots of her using the toilet. Is the pedophile demographic that important a target audience these days?)

Continuing in the "we are expected to believe" vein: We are expected to believe that Ben, fired from his NYC big-bucks office job, moves with Gertie to a shithole small town in New Jersey to live with his dad...FOR THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS. WORKING AS A STREET SWEEPER. AND NOT DATING OR HAVING SEX. Then, in what can only be described as a fanboy wet-dream fantasy, Ben meets a sexy-dumb free-spirit (Liv Tyler) who finds him attractive...even though she is a clerk at a video store where Ben is renting porn. This isn't comedy, folks -- this is just plain sad.

Writer/director Kevin Smith cannot possibly be unaware that this movie is one cliche after another. "Jersey Girl" is such an embarrassingly transparent bid for mainstream acceptance that it should come with a "100-percent predigested and expelled" label. When I say that the movie is full of groaningly over-familiar moments, I'm not exaggerating. Example: When Ben is told that a long-awaited job interview falls on the same day as his daughter's school play, I could not help loudly uttering the words, "GOOD GOD!" Example: Just when you think there may be the tiniest hint of something original -- i.e., that Liv Tyler really may be only a friend who is not falling in love with Ben -- those hopes are instantly dashed when Liv subsequently breaks down in a girly crying jag. I could go on and on.

What's even worse, though, is that this movie is cynical as hell. As in, "Yes, daddy could take you back to New York and have a great new job and send you to all of the best schools and stop living with granddad...naaah, we'll be happier STAYING HERE IN SHITHOLE NEW JERSEY WHERE I WORK AS A GODDAMN STREET SWEEPER!" Excuse my language, but WHAT THE FUCK?

I haven't seen a movie pander so disgracefully to what Hollywood thinks of as the happy-to-be-poor salt-of-the-earth since the Nicolas Cage movie "Family Man." Is there some Orwellian government agency that funds this kind of patently false propaganda-for-proles, in order to make low-achieving losers content with their lousy lot in life? You know damned well that Messrs. Cage and Smith never would trade their Hollywood bank accounts for those of the blue-collar bubbas they want to con into thinking that money can't buy happiness.

Or, in more lofty academic terms: What a load of happy horse shit!

The only worthwhile segment of the entire movie is a musical number from "Sweeney Todd." Note to aspiring filmmakers: If your movie blows, crib from something good to lend the crap a touch of class.

Leaving a screening of this utterly execrable movie, I was told by a stranger that he had seen an earlier, half-hour-longer version. I wittily remarked that Smith should have cut another 90 minutes...a comment that was met by stony silence. I later was told that the guy runs Kevin Smith's website.

And I wonder why I'm not invited to parties.

Back Row Grade: F-minus, minus, minus to infinity

Jesus Henry Christ
(Reviewed April 19, 2012, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"Jesus Henry Christ" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: C+

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains

(Reviewed October 26, 2007)

Former President Jimmy Carter's book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" brought him a lot of flak for daring to suggest that Israel was mistreating Palestinians by stealing their land with "security walls" that encroach into Palestinian territory, diverting their resources, and totally isolating them from the rest of the world. This documentary by director Jonathan Demme follows Carter during a few weeks of Carter's book tour in late 2006 and early 2007, during which he has to put up with interviewers who haven't read his book, pro-Israel protesters who seem to think any criticism whatsoever of Israel is automatically unwarranted...and a lot of people who realize he actually makes some pretty good points.

Back Row Grade: C+

Joe Dirt
(Reviewed February 9, 2001, by James Dawson)

David Spade never fully commits to getting in touch with his inner Joe Dirt -- he always seems to want to turn to the camera and smirk, "This guy I'm playing is pretty pathetic, huh?" -- but there are more than a few laughs in this story of the ultimate white-trash, mullet-wearing, butt-rock loving loser on a quest to find his long-lost parents. The framing device of Dirt telling his story to radio talk-show host Dennis Miller is annoying (as is Mr. Miller), and the whole movie has a slap-dash, one-take quality. But what the hell, it also has a knockout halter-wearing blond in the cast, Christopher Walken is his usual deliciously demented self, and any movie with "Rocky Mountain Way" and "Hold Your Head Up" on the soundtrack automatically gets extra points. Oh, no! Now my inner Joe Dirt is showing!

Back Row Grade: B-

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

(Reviewed October 28, 2007)

This documentary about former Clash frontman Joe Strummer has a tragic, anger-inducingly frustrating flaw. Director Julien Temple never identifies any of the people we see talking on camera about Strummer during recently filmed reminiscences.

Because the years have not been kind to most of those punk-rock survivors, it's impossible to tell who they are, or to know why we should care any more about their recollections than about those of any other greying old geezers who used to wear safety pins in their anarchy T-shirts.

The archival footage of Strummer, though, is fascinating. The most interesting aspect of his life comes early in his career, when he ditches his first band and re-invents himself as a politically-minded punk after meeting Mick Jones and forming the Clash. The rest, as they say, is history.

Clash fans are sure to enjoy footage of the group in performance, backstage and in interviews. A couple of the identifiable present-day interviewees are Johnny Depp and Matt Dillon. Sure would have been nice to know who the rest of them are, though.

Temple did a Q&A after the screening I saw in Hollywood. He defended his decision to leave everyone anonymous by saying that IDing them onscreen would take viewers out of the movie experience, and that the audience should have to do a little work to figure out who the people were, or some such contradictory claptrap.

I'll tell you what took ME out of the movie experience: The obese , wheezing stranger in the seat beside me took out a syringe and injected himself in the stomach before the lights went down. I'm hoping/assuming he was a diabetic, but still, the sight of a needle that nearby is enough to give one pause no matter what its contents happen to be. The guy spent at least half of the movie's running time asleep and snoring. He woke up once to put his hand down the front of his pants, scratch himself, then sniff his fingertips. During the Q&A, he put up his hand, making me wonder what the hell a guy who didn't even see most of the film possibly could ask that wouldn't be stupid.

His question: "Is that the same Mick Jones who was in Foreigner?"

The look on Temple's face was priceless.

Back Row Grade: C

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars

(Reviewed August 5, 2001, by James Dawson)

This movie has an incredibly boring setup, lots of general dumbness, and a flabbergastingly unsatisfying non-ending, but God knows it was more entertaining than the other movie I saw the same night ("American Outlaws"), so I can't be too hard on it.

Ninety-nine percent of the story is told in flashback by Natasha Henstridge, the bounteously big-busted blond babe who stiffened the world in "Species" a few years back. She is leaner, harder-edged and less sexy-for-sexy's-sake this time around, with absolutely ZERO nudity and only one very brief underwear scene. (That sentence probably has convinced every straight male over 17 who had any interest in seeing "Ghosts of Mars" to stay home, but I'll keep going just because the alternative would be doing something productive with my time.)

The plot is basically "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" meets "Aliens" meets "Night of the Living Dead," except that those movies were a whole lot better. Miners on Mars are being taken over by a previously dormant life form that converts them into bloodthirsty members of what looks like the KISS army, following a Marilyn Manson lookalike who has a penchant for decapitation. Natasha and company hole up in a police station in one of the zombie-overrun mining outposts, then spend all of their time ah, ah, ah, ah stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

If you are keen on seeing thousands of rounds of ammo expended; plenty o' big, fakey Hollywood explosions; lots of hand-to-hand WWF-style fighting; and several non-state-of-the-art shots of a mining train choo-chooing across a dark Martian landscape that appears to have been built on a family room card-table (okay, I'm exaggerating, but the FX really aren't very impressive), this is the flick for you!

Personally, I wish Natasha had felt the need to take some long, soapy, self-exploring showers every now and then amongst the incredibly loud scenes of carnage and destruction. But then, I'm very shallow.

Back Row Grade: C-

John Carter
(Reviewed March 9, 2012, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"John Carter" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: C

Johnny English

(Reviewed June 19, 2003, by James Dawson)

This should have been a "gimme" for the studio. I mean, how can you go wrong with the idea of Rowan Atkinson ("Bean," "Blackadder") in a James Bond spoof?

But go wrong they most certainly did. Every joke is telegraphed so far in advance that even small children will groan. Every scene goes on too long. You won't believe that a movie this unfunny and unclever could be made in a world that already has seen three infinitely superior "Austin Powers" movies. (One trying-to-pull-off-face-mask-that-isn't-really-a-mask scene, in fact, is stolen directly from the Austin Powers "That's a man, baby!" scene.)

There's one okay chase scene of Atkinson in a sportscar suspended from a tow-truck. And pop star Natalie Imbruglia looks cute, with her big blue eyes and all, playing a fellow spy..but not cute enough to save this bomb from an "F."

Back Row Grade: F

Johnny English Reborn
(Reviewed October 21, 2011, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"Johnny English Reborn" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: B-

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D

(Reviewed June 4, 2008, by James Dawson)

Brendan Fraser is all wrong as the lead (Dudley Do-Right as a university-professor scientist? Come on!) The draggy, aboveground first half of the movie looks "made for cable" cheesy and plays like a bad sitcom about male bonding. The boy who plays Fraser's 13-year-old nephew (Josh Hutcherson) is an annoying "Hollywood kid." Anita Briem, as the hot Icelandic tour guide who falls to the center of the earth with Fraser and Hutcherson, should have been more animated than a blond robot in sexy stretch pants. And there's never a real sense of genuine story involvement that should have made the three characters' desperate predicament (namely, being stranded in a secret world at the earth's core) more emotionally dramatic.

Still, the special effects and action scenes in this movie are so flat-out cool that it's a great thrill ride. A "mining car on roller-coaster train tracks" bit is shamelessly swiped from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," but it's much better done here. There are carnivorous plants, fanged prehistoric fish, sea serpents, dinosaurs and some of the most convincing fantasy-world landscapes you'll ever see. My favorite scene featured floating stepping-stone boulders hovering in mid-air over a miles-deep chasm.

Director Eric Brevig might not have much of a handle on getting the most out of the human talent, but the visuals in this film are absolutely amazing.

As for the 3D aspect, regular Back Row Reviews readers know that I'm no fan of any technology that involves putting glasses on top of my existing glasses. Having said that, the effect worked pretty well in this movie. There's some zoetrope-style "trailing" of fast-moving elements, and the shaded lenses make the movie look annoyingly dark, but things never get headache-inducing. (Wow, talk about damning with faint praise...)

I don't think the movie will be available in theaters without 3D (the fact that "3D" is in the title could be considered a clue), so there apparently won't be a choice in the matter until it shows up on cable or DVD. Oh, well.

Back Row Grade: C+

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
(Reviewed January 29, 2012, by James Dawson)

I reviewed this movie for the website, and you can read that review by clicking the link below:
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" Review

Back Row Reviews Grade: B

Joy Ride

(Reviewed September 19, 2001, by James Dawson)

I know this will sound hard to believe, because you will be thinking from the advertising that this movie must be a piece of schlocky teenage junk, but "Joy Ride" is terrific!

It has a slow start, but once "Joy Ride" gets up to speed it is every bit as suspenseful and adrenaline-triggering as the movie it most closely resembles: Steven Spielberg's classic "Duel." Like that film, "Joy Ride" essentially is the story of a car pursued by a maniac. It also includes the staggeringly beautiful, long-and-lean, big-busted teen-dream actress Leelee Sobieski, who gladdens the hearts of every male viewer by forgetting to wear a bra for the duration. Life is sweet!

There are a couple of dumb plot points, but so what? "Joy Ride" moves fast, it's so tense it is thrilling, and it even looks good (with more than one shot evoking, of all people, David Lynch--and when was the last time you saw him evoked by an action movie?).

Don't take my word for it. Go!

Back Row Grade: B+


(Reviewed by James Dawson)

I wrote this review for the website, where you can read it by clicking this link:
"Julia" review

Back Row Grade: B

Julie & Julia (Julie and Julia)

(Reviewed August 4, 2009)

Not nourishing enough to be filling, yet too artificially sweet for an intriguing dessert, "Julie & Julia" is light but bland fare that doesn't quite hit the spot.

Director/screenwriter Nora Ephron intercuts a based-on-true-events tale about chef and author Julia Child (Meryl Streep) with that of blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who set out in 2002 to cook all of Child's 524 cookbook recipes in a single year.

Julia's half of the movie begins in 1949, when she and husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) moved to Paris. As the unemployed wife of a foreign service worker, Julia wants something to do other than sit around a luxurious home that she describes as looking like Versailles. (Then as now, American government workers obviously were grossly overpaid and disgustingly overindulged. But I digress.) Julia develops a passion for the culinary arts, enrolls as a student in Le Cordon Bleu and eventually meets two French women who enlist her help in getting their cookbook published.

Half a century away, 21st-century Julie has a job fielding calls from family members of 9/11 victims. Needing a purpose as a would-be writer, and requiring a hard deadline to ensure that she will stick to her goal, she creates a blog to document her year-long attempt to master "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The dumpy apartment over a pizzeria in Queens that she shares with her husband is no palace, but she's spunky and determined.

The cast's weak link is Chris Messina as Julie's husband Eric. Messina has no onscreen chemistry with Adams, yet also can't pull off a believable argument with her that leads to the couple's brief breakup. Worst of all, considering the movie's subject matter, Messina eats as if his lower jaw has a demented mind of its own. Like some kind of uncouth caveman, he makes weird suckface contortions as he chews. Seriously, the guy could get work as one of those lowbrow, lip-smacking mooks in a Carl's Jr. commercial. It's like watching a gorilla with bad teeth eat caramel taffy.

Also, scenes in which Julia/Paul and Julie/Eric get horny and start masticating each other's faces -- aka kissing -- are forced and unconvincing to the point of embarrassment.

Julie is saddled with three better-off one-dimensional friends who thankfully appear in only one scene, but otherwise her low-income half of the movie is more reality-based than Julia's fairytale-fabulous France. In fact, when McCarthyism raises its head in Julia's colorfully tasty world, the intrusion seems as inappropriate as red wine with fish.

While "Julie & Julia" does feel a little long at just over two hours, it's basically an inoffensive experience. The movie does make an unforgivable plot fumble near the end, however.

(Minor spoiler ahead.)

After Julie learns that the still-living Julia Child has heard of her project, we don't see her make any attempt whatsoever to contact her hero/muse/spiritual mentor. Neither do we see her make any excuse for not doing so. Julie simply takes the word of a newspaper reporter about Julia's opinion of the project, without bothering to try finding out if the guy has misquoted Julia, and without attempting to explain herself to the woman she idolizes.

(Frankly, it's difficult to believe that Julie would not have attempted to contact Julia well before that time. After all, Julia's project already had been written up in the New York Times, and her blog is the third most popular on So it's not as if she's a nobody-level fan.)

If the real-life Julie really never attempted to reach out to Julia, we needed some explanation of why she didn't at least try getting on her hero's good side. And if she tried but was rebuffed, we should have seen that. As it is, the audience is left wondering why sweet, self-empowering Julie would be content to believe something hurtful that she is told by a third party who -- for all she knows -- may only have wanted to start a juicy in-print feud.

We also are left with a sour aftertaste regarding Julia that is completely at odds with the eternally optimistic and cheerful character we have seen in the rest of the movie. Did she really turn bitter and bitchy at life's end?

It's a shame when such a light souffle falls flat just before it's finished.

Back Row Grade: C+


(Reviewed December 10, 2007, by James Dawson)

A little deadpan-sarcasm goes a long way. Thora Birch, in the excellent "Ghost World," was able to make her acidly cynical, disaffected-teen character seem stylized but realistically vulnerable by not falling into the one-note tiresomeness of, for example, those goddamned monotone-motormouth Gilmore Girls.

Ellen Page, as a knocked-up high-schooler named Juno, falls somewhere between those extremes. She's too one-dimensionally smartass to be convincing as more than a construct, spouting a non-stop stream of unlikely pop-culture references and generally snarky snidery. Her situation is one that automatically engenders sympathy, however, which makes it hard not to care what happens to her.

Michael Cera is the meek, track-obsessed teenage father of Juno's baby. Unfortunately, we see no reason whatsoever why the tough and assertive Juno would be attracted to an utter wuss like him, unless "opposites attract" is sufficient cause.

The surprise here is the touchingly understated performance by Jennifer Garner, as the everything-just-so childless wife who wants to adopt Juno's baby. Garner stands out as the only completely believable human being in the movie, grounding it to a reality that transcends the easy laughs and often witty wordplay.

Jason Bateman is her Peter-Pan-syndrome husband, whose feelings about fatherhood are ambivalent at best.

"Juno" takes an interesting turn near the end that you probably won't see coming, one that makes it much more satisfying than a typical fluffy teen comedy.

Some critics have made the mistake of overpraising this movie as if it's some kind of masterpiece, with at least one reviewer going so far as to say that Page should get an Oscar nomination. Don't believe the hype -- but it's still worth seeing.

POSTSCRIPT ADDED JANUARY 5, 2008: I just saw a newspaper ad in which Roger Ebert proclaimed "Juno" as the best picture of the year. As I shook my head in sad disbelief, I wondered how some reviewers can completely abandon their critical faculties to jump on bandwagons for okay-but-nothing-great movies like this one. Also, anyone who declares a script like "Juno"'s to be "brilliant" has a much higher tolerance for trying-too-hard witticisms than I do. (The screenplay lost me when one character says to another, "Honest to blog?" Ugh.)

It's too bad that cheerleaders like Ebert lead people to believe they will be seeing a transcendent masterpiece, instead of simply being honest and saying a movie is good but not magnificent. The same kind of overpraising is going on right now for a suspense/horror movie called "The Orphanage"; it's an acceptable little "B" movie, but some reviewers are bent on convincing the public at large that it is this year's "Pan's Labyrinth." It ain't.

End of rant.

Back Row Grade: B-

Jurassic Park III

(Reviewed July 16, 2001, by James Dawson)

This gets such a high grade mainly because it delivers exactly what anyone who pays to see it will want to see: lots of "people running from cool-looking computer-generated dinosaurs." Also, Tea Leoni is so radiantly beautiful that she looks good even carrying around some extra post real-life-pregnancy poundage. Yum! And Sam Neill is totally in on the joke this time around, playing his character just slightly tongue-in-cheek, to the point where you halfway expect the guy to turn to the camera and wink.

If you want smart and fun, go see "Ghost World" (in which Thora Birch's Enid actually wears a "Raptor" T-shirt through a lot of the movie, perhaps knowing what she would be up against...). But if you want just plain fun (well, if you consider fleeing from hungry dinos fun, that is), you could do a lot worse than taking another trip back to Isla Sorna.

Back Row Grade: B

Just Looking
(Reviewed September 8, 2000, by James Dawson)

Imagine "Summer of '42" written by a Hebrew School dropout after a lobotomy. This cheap, Jewish-and-Catholic-and-Italian-stereotype-filled, badly acted bomb was directed (I use the term loosely) by Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" fame, who proves that he really should stick to acting. The boy who plays the lead character is so off-puttingly fake that he must have been conceived, born and raised in a TV sitcom production office. The wooden actor who plays his friend seems to be channeling Gary Coleman, except without even the pretense of charisma. The only actor in the entire movie with any appeal whatsoever is the lovely Gretchen Mol, who not only looks good but does not come off like a community theater reject.

As I butt-shifted and yawned through this boring snore, I was reminded of the absolutely horrible and thematically similar "Coming Soon." That movie was about a modern-day teenage girl in search of her first orgasm. This one is about a 1950s teenage boy obsessed with the idea of seeing people screw. Interestingly smutty premises, right? But both films manage to be so unappealing, unfunny and just plain dull that even I found them offensive and stupid--and I've written for porn magazines!

Also, everyone buying a ticket to either of these movies should bear in mind that they technically are watching kiddie porn, according to the US government's definition (children in sexual situations). Hey, look, Joe Lieberman, you fascist would-be censor! Kids talking about sex! Kids trying to watch people have sex! Kids using profanity to describe sex! Quick, notify the Justice Department, you free-speech-hating jackass!

(I hated this movie, but I have an even lower opinion of politicians who want to decide which bad movies I can have the opportunity to hate. VOTE LIBERTARIAN, PEOPLE!)

Back Row Grade: F

Just Married

(Reviewed January 9, 2003, by James Dawson)

On January 6, I saw the brain-hammeringly awful "A Guy Thing." On January 7, I saw the excruciatingly stupid "Kangaroo Jack." On January 8, I was supposed to attend a screening of "Just Married"...but I just could not bear the thought of seeing three surefire "F"-grade movies in a row. Go ahead, take away my license.

Look, just like any other guy, I think Brittany Murphy in one hot-and-nasty little minky. But the prospect of watching her slobber all over that complete tool Ashton Kutcher for 90 minutes filled my pants with dread. And when I heard that she does not grace the audience with any nudity whatsoever, I lost any possible reason for stepping into the theater.

For all I know, "Just Married" may be the comedy sensation of the century...but for some snobby, elitist, "That '70s Show"-hating reason, I very much doubt it.

Back Row Grade: N/A

Just Visiting
(Reviewed March 29, 2001, by James Dawson)

I never saw the original French version of this movie (which was titled "Les Visiteurs," with the same two actors in the roles of a Dark Ages nobleman and his servant who are transported to our time), so I can't make any comparisons between the two. Sorry. Oh, sure, I could go rent the thing, and thereby be able to write a proper review. But that would mean leaving the house and spending a couple of dollars, and God knows I'm not THAT dedicated to my critical craft.

What I can say is that when this movie isn't being dumb and obvious (possibly a result of the screenplay-adaptation input of John Hughes), it's actually pretty entertaining. The main reason for this is Christina Applegate, who is absolutely charming. Instead of reprising her stacked-and-dumb "Married With Children" act, she is likeable and sweet-natured and appealingly down-to-earth, more Renee Zellweger than Jenny McCarthy this time around.

Make no mistake, there are lots of things in "Just Visiting" that make it seem as if two different movies have collided head-on. I could have done without the entire Tara Reid subplot, for example. (She plays the neighbor's foxy but flakey live-in gardener, or something, and develops a baffling attraction to Andre the peasant.) I actually preferred the sentimental scenes between nobleman Jean Reno and Christina to the slapstick ones. In fact, the whole movie might have worked better if everything had been played straight, with only small touches of humor, instead of the other way around.

Still, it's a fun movie. And you will be pleasantly surprised at what a good actress little Kelly Bundy grew up to be.

Back Row Grade: B-