2004: Movies Sorted By Tier
Submitted by jim on Tue, 05/25/2004 - 01:47
The Aviator... Is it heretical to name this as my favorite Martin Scorsese movie? Nonetheless, I think I have to do it. I bet if I were to rewatch Goodfellas it would jump back to the top, but really it comes down to those two. Marty did good sticking with DiCaprio for one more movie as he does a better job with this material than for Gangs of New York (not that he was bad there). Probably his best role since his breakout in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Suddenly, I can't wait for The Departed. Cate Blanchett was similarly magnificent. Finally, irrelevantly, IMBb trivia says Kate Beckinsale put on 20 pounds to play Ava Gardner, and she's never looked better. Not that any woman should listen to me (or any other jackass) for body image cues, but I bet most actresses would be similarly improved by similar weight gains. I'll take healthy over skinny any day of the week, and on Sundays too.
Before Sunset... They had me at "hello." As satisfying as the ending is, I think my favorite part was the beginning, where Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy perfectly capture the awkwardness of unexpectedly encountering an old acquaintance, floundering to establish a rapport, and then finding it like you'd never lost it. Second favorite part comes wrapped up in the first part, and is the revelations (to us and to each other) as to what happened to their planned "six months later" meeting set up in the first movie. Oo, and my third favorite was probably Hawke's book signing with flashbacks. Okay, all my favorites happened in the first 20 minutes, but the rest of the movie was pretty darn great too. A sequel that exceeds the original, but would not have reached such heights without the original serving as launch pad.
The Bourne Supremacy... I'd compare this to the original, but they are like apples and oranges. Where the first chapter was an action movie first, spy thriller second, this is the converse. Where the first movie had heart and humor, this movie very carefully excises those elements to leave behind one of the darker summer blockbusters in my recollection. The clean and smooth set pieces and choreography of The Bourne Identity are gone, and are replaced with a muddled, jerky, grainy style of action direction that I usually hate, but found breathtakingly effective here. In one claustrophobic fight to the death, you have to struggle to see what's going on, but there's no question from the sound and images that many painful blows are being doled out, and the camera is treated as a third combatant, giving the whole sequence (and others) a very personal sense of urgency. There are a few too many narrow escapes, and in a few moments the pace falters, but all is forgiveable, as this is one of the best spy thrillers I've seen (and with a super car chase to boot). Between Identity being one of the best action movies and Supremacy being one of the best spy thrillers, the two make for, perhaps, the best one-two punch in spy movie history. There. Take those unreasonably high expectations, go forth and be disappointed. You have no one to blame but me.
Crash... I was so prepared to find this overrated. And as good as the dialog is, it's still hard not to find the opening act a bit overwrought and filled with characters I doubted I would ever be able to warm to. Like any anthology, some stories are better than others. But man, more than enough of the tales carry their weight. And I cried, which is rare enough to be remarkable. In the intertwined stories arena, this one crushes Magnolia and 21 Grams like bugs. Like bugs, I tell you! Update: I have to add (and expand upon) a note I'd posted elsewhere on Listology: I expect most folks to dislike this movie (actually, I think that's been bourne out at this point). Folks that don't take their movies seriously won't care for the subject matter and folks that do take their movies seriously will resent being so overtly manipulated. Fair enough. I don't know why it didn't bother me, I don't know why I was so hooked, and I don't know why, recogizing as I do the blatant manipulation, I don't move this to "Guilty Pleasures." But I ain't gonna!
The Incredibles... Pixar's just grandstanding now. As if it weren't enough to flaunt a dazzling critical and financial undefeated streak, now they have to tackle the notoriously difficult superhero genre and make what may very well be the new best of breed? If that's not a gratuitous endzone dance, I don't know what is. It's the stories that make all Pixar movies good, but it's the little things that make them great. That they nail the voice talent is a huge plus as well. Whoever cast Holly Hunter should get a raise (move over Jessica Rabbit! (I stole that line from someone, can't remember who)). There is more action here than in any other Pixar movie, with perhaps a touch less heart, but really, who cares when the ride is so much fun?
Million Dollar Baby... First of all, my mom, who hates boxing, still liked this movie. The acting was perfect. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman turn in great performances, and Hilary Swank tops them. Now that is saying something. A movie that wrenched me around enough emotionally that I couldn't get to sleep, and I never have trouble sleeping. So that's saying something too. Loved it.
Sideways... I'm not often a fan of what I'll call, for lack of a better term, "loser movies", as usually I grow impatient with the characters. I'll dismissively mutter, "Gah, what a loser" and my engagement is shattered (the irony of muttering this alone, in the dark, in front of yet another movie is not lost on me). I had worried that this pointed to some character flaw in myself; some unearned, condescending sense of superiority. But now that I see what a great loser movie looks like, I feel better. These are realistic losers, not characters with contrived flaws in mere service to the plot. They are funny and pathetic in ways we all are. Never would have thought Alexander Payne had it in him. And yes, Giamatti was robbed. Not even a nomination?! For shame.
Cellular... Put your disbelief on a hook, and run it up to the ceiling! While you're at it, put my credibility on a hook and beat it with a tennis racket. Shockingly watchable. Much like Phone Booth, a gimmick movie that works. Our hero is credibly distressed and nervy as he tries to find ways to stay ahead of the bad guys and not lose the call. I've seen plenty of so-called action movies where I watch the clock more than the movie, but this one flew by. It's a genre picture, not high art, but it easily does what it sets out to do, and hey, William H. Macy must have seen something in the script too, right? Beyond the paycheck, that is? Okay, fine, you can stop rolling your eyes now.
Closer... I really thought one of the four leads would disappoint (my money was on Jude Law, even though I usually like him), but they were all top-notch. Great dialog, and a surprisingly watchable trainwreck of cruelty. Often this kind of movie leaves me cold. "Just leave that scumbag(ette)" is my frequent dismissive thought for such movies, but not this one. Now if you'll excuse me, I must bathe.
Control Room... Fascinating look behind-the-scenes at Al Jazeera. No matter where you consume your news--Al Jazeera, Fox, or somewhere else--you should always bring your own salt shaker, but this is nonetheless a fascinating look at the Iraq war from an entirely different (and necessary) perspective. I was quite taken with the U.S. lieutenant's confession/revelation as to his gut reaction to horrible images of Arab victims vs. US victims.
Dead Man's Shoes... I worried a bit that this was just going to be vengeance porn, but I shouldn't have. First, Paddy Considine is simply bottled lightning. That guy should be a much bigger star. Also, the way the movie works the flashbacks in gives it a lot of emotional heft, and I thought the finale really underscored what monsters revenge can make us.
District B13... Much like a Jackie Chan movie, a good part of the appeal here is the physical talents of our hero, David Belle. Cyril Raffaelli is no slouch either, but when Belle jumps through that tiny little window above the door the contest is over before it even begins. Amazing. The movie's pretty fun too, in an Escape from New York kind of way.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind... I watched this under the worst possible conditions (very stressed about something unresolved, but that's all over now, so I'm good). Even under such circumstances (which undoubtly kept me from full appreciation) I liked it quite a bit. The cast is great, and the unravelling of perception, memory, and love from bloom to wilt is intelligent, touching, and even harrowing. I finally got my wish of a Kaufmann movie with heart.
Finding Neverland... Is it just me, or is this decade producing a particularly good crop of child actors? After seeing this and his Charlie Bucket, I'm thinking young Freddie Highmore might be leading the pack, but Thomas Sangster has certainly demonstrated he can bring it (Love Actually and Nanny McPhee). I was about to comment what a shame it was Rachel Hurd-Wood disappeared after Peter Pan, but I just noticed she's going to be in Tom Tykwer's new thriller, Perfume, so I can comfortably retreat back into my delusions of living in a just world. Hmm, all Brits... I'd put Dakota Fanning on there for Man on Fire, but there's that whole War of the Worlds problem (scroll way, way down)... See how cleverly I've avoided talking about the movie itself? That's my way of covering up for the fact I have nothing to say much beyond this being just good ol' fashioned solid filmmaking. Strong work all around, sweet without being sickly, and always tempering life's little triumphs with its tragedies nicely.
Friday Night Lights... Looking at various opinions around Listology, I expect this one will raise a few eyebrows. The acting and directing, which range from solid to very good, are not what won me over (although I loved a couple of the performances, the documentary feel, and the excellent sense of place derived from all those Texas landscape shots). What got me was sucking me into the alien world of Texas High School Football. I heard it was big, I heard it was akin to religion, but I didn't fully appreciate that before. An impressive attempt to show what happens when a coach, players, and entire town voluntarily throw themselves into a pressure cooker. A very good sports movie, and perhaps the best football movie going.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban... Chris Columbus is by no means a bad director. Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire were both very good in their own niches, but he lacks the darkness and the fantastic vision that these books deserved, and what we ended up with in the first two chapters were mere slavish, slightly workmanlike facsimiles of the books. Enjoyable, but nothing special. Alfonso Cuarón pours his own style into this movie, isn't afraid to interpret the books rather than merely copy them, and proves himself well-suited to the darker material. The look of the movie is beautiful, and the young cast is improving with age. My only real complaint is that he's not directing the next one. It'll be interesting to see how Mike "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Newell handles the task.
The Hidden Blade... It's not quite up there with The Twilight Samurai, but Yôji Yamada sure crafts some fine films, although it's probably a bit easier to string winners together when they are so similar (or does that make it harder?). In my mind, both movies manage to bend time. They are clearly recent films about medieval Japan, but they feel like they were made in the 50s. Anyway, if you want to watch movies about honor, you can't go wrong with either of these, but if you're only going to see one, make it The Twilight Samurai.
Hotel Rwanda... You know a PG-13 movie about genocide (ooh, sorry, the official state department line was "acts of genocide") is going to pull some major punches, but mostly this one gets away with it by instead focussing on Paul Rusesabagina's quiet heroics in giving over 1,200 people refuge at the hotel he manages, ultimately saving them from slaughter. Where this movie is truly wonderful is in making you question if you'd be so brave in the same situation. I'd like to think I would be, but in my heart I'm afraid I wouldn't be man enough. Don Cheadle, as always, gives a worthy, wonderful performance.
Howl's Moving Castle... It's a lot like Miyazaki made a Terry Gilliam movie, and not just in the animation of the eponymous castle itself. It's odder, the ends are looser, and I find myself with more questions than I am entirely comfortable with. Like a copy of a copy of a copy, I wonder if too much was lost going from the English book to the Japanese movie to the English dub? Nonetheless, a fantastically magical world I found myself immersed in, if a bit quizzically.
Layer Cake... A movie often compared to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Presumably this is because all modern Brit gansters movies are compared to LS&2SB, and because Matthew Vaughn was involved with both (there as a producer, here as director) . The comparision is not particularly apt though, as this story is played straight, at least as far as the humor is concerned (the plot takes plenty of turns). It's more like a Goodfellas. Daniel Craig is fantastic in the lead, and some clever IMDBer compared him to Steve McQueen, a comparison I'll go ahead and agree with. Actually though, while I enjoyed it, the movie's placement wasn't clinched for me until the final scene, which is perfect. I'd have to put it on a "best endings" list, were I to make one.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2... If nothing else, it's a shame this movie was split in two for presumably giving birth to that cringe-inducing fourth-wall breakage that opens this volume. I had hoped that little address was confined to the trailer, but alas. Fortunately the movie quickly recovers with the best chapter of the volume, the chapel massacre. But then it bogs down a bit. Whereas the first volume was the ultimate triumph of style over substance, this volume attempts to inject a bit of substance back in, but oddly I don't think it's the better for it. Still a blast though. The cast is uniformly wonderful, with Carradine and Thurman edging out the rest by a nose. The Thurman/Hannah fight is a treat, and it was nice to get a little backstory on Hannah's character. There's worlds more material to be mined from this universe Tarantino has going, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of it. I will close with this: I'm having a hard time reconciling my objections to cinematic revisionism with my desire to see a director's cut that deweinsteinifys the film, and stitches the two volumes back together.
Kung Fu Hustle... Can you watch a Stephen Chow movie and reasonably call any other movie "zany"? I think he's claimed that word for his own. Takes kung fu superpowers to their inevitable extreme (clearly his films take place in The Matrix), all in the slapstickiest of movies. Although it's not all comedy. The main thing that makes this movie work so much better than Shaolin Soccer is the darker moments. The bad guys are bad, and there are amputations and decapitations (albeit bloodless). Basically, this is the movie I was hoping Shaolin Soccer would be.
The Machinist... The problem with these puzzle movies often comes at the end, where the resolution fails to deliver what the buildup promises. Most often (and most disappointingly), the resolution obliterates any emotional involvement you felt during the film. "Oh. Well. It was a dream. Why should I care, then?" I watched this movie with a growing sense of dread that there was no way the ending could do the movie justice, and y'know what? I was wrong. Even more satisfying is the sense that I should have figured it all out in advance but didn't (most of you probably will, though). Christian Bale's performance goes beyond the downright grisly weight loss, although I am going to have to watch Batman Begins soon just to confirm with my own eyes that he pulled through okay.
Man on Fire... After endlessly mocking that godawful Christpher Walken line, "Creasy's art is death and he's about to paint his masterpiece", I'm a bit chagrined that the movie turned out so good (but still, what were they thinking putting the worst line in the trailer? perhaps the PR flacks forgot what trailers are for?). Tony Scott finally one-ups brother Ridley, doing Gladiator one better, while using what is practically the same theme to boot (even voiced by the same singer, Lisa Gerrard). Denzel Washington is a stronger lead and is given a better character arc (as much as I like Russell Crowe), he and Dakota Fanning work fabulously together during the lengthy setup/redemption story, and when we get to the revenge, the action is grim rather than exhilarating (which may be a negative for some). There are some cliches, the parents are weak links in the cast, and the rock-video opening doesn't inspire confidence, but the movie can hang with both Gladiator and The Professional. No small feat. That said, I expect this to be a minority opinion, so feel free to tell me I'm crazy.
Mean Creek... Carly Schroeder is the standout of this youthful and generally excellent cast. Apparently I'm not the only one that noticed, as one of her upcoming projects is a Harrison Ford/Virginia Madsen/Paul Bettany movie. Even though I loved Stand By Me I wish this didn't beg comparisons. There are too many similarities to ignore, but this had a more authentic feel, and is engrossing in a darker manner, as it lacks any amount of Wonder Years feel.
Outfoxed... Everybody should watch this movie. I'm sure that elicts eye-rolls from my Republican friends, but I say that not because I think watching it will send anybody running into the arms of the Democrats. Instead, just watch it to realize just how politicized the "news" is. Sure, the movie picks on FOX for taking propaganda to the next level, but all big media TV "news" is spin. If you're just getting your "news" from one place, you're doomed to never have an informed opinion. Diversity is a virtue, in news sources and just about everything else. Even diversity probably isn't enough these days. If you want U.S. news rather than "news", get it from overseas. As for the movie itself, the interstitials are too PowerPoint, but the footage taken straight from FOX broadcasts is simultaneously outrageous and sadly amusing, while the number of disgruntled employees they managed to dig up is impressive.
Shaun of the Dead... My favorite zombie movie so far (not that I've seen all that many). It's not straight horror, and is instead a zombie romantic comedy, laced with a touch of gore. Like any movie, genre-flick or otherwise, it works because it invests us in the characters. Pure fun, and I enjoyed watching how long it takes everyone to even notice the zombies. Scenes to watch for are Shaun groggily stumbling through his morning shamble to the convenience store, unaware of the apocalypse around him, and of course the fabulous vinyl album scene.
Spider-Man 2... Let me first say that J.K. Simmons is perfect (perfect!) as J. Jonah Jameson. I grinned from ear-to-ear every moment he was on-screen. As for the rest, the melodrama and sometimes-regrettable dialog are still here, and still not really bothering me. The character arcs are bit more interesting, and the CGI is much improved. This may mark the first time a CGI stand-in was done well enough for such extended periods that I was able to maintain a vicarious sense of danger. Spider-man has much greater weight and realistic fluidity to him, and his fight scenes with Doc Ock were excellent, particularly the train. Not perfect, but really well done. That said, I could never get over being distracted by the fact that only Doc's arms are superhuman. The rest of him is a doughy middle-aged scientist, and yet he is able to shrug off numerous crushing blows to the head and chest that should have turned him to goo. I guess I forgot to put that on the scaffold as I was suspending my disbelief.
Super Size Me... Sure we all knew fast food was unhealthy, but did we really have any idea it was THIS unhealthy? Hell, Spurlock's doctors didn't come anywhere close to predicting the precipitousness of his decline. Spurlock's larger messages--that obesity is not a mere question of lack of will, that fast food industries are selling an addictive dangerous product on par with cigarettes or other drugs, and that the industry ultimately does (or should) bear a big fatty globule of responsibility for this current health crisis--gets a bit lost in the gimmickry of watching Spurlock vomit, get fat, and have heart palpitations. But I don't know if these messages get a bit buried because of Spurlock's presentation, or because we are all just (wrongly) inclined to believe that fat people are fat by choice to a greater degree than victims of any other addiction. Of course, as a parent the school lunch stuff was particularly interesting, and incidentally, we let our 7 and 3-year-olds watch this, and they liked it. The part they wanted to watch twice? The gastric bypass surgery. Oh, I don't know if this was in theaters, but you definitely have to check out the the special feature, "The Smoking Fry". It's a simple experiment that demonstrates a rather interested property of McDonald's french fries.
Uncovered: The War on Iraq... It's possible I could have gotten behind the Iraq war were the merits of conducting a humanitarian mission debated nationally, and sold to our allies internationally. But instead the administration went with the WMD and terrorism pack of lies to launch a "preemptive war", and it's a crying shame. This all relates to the movie, of course, which lays the lies bare. By now everybody knows the Iraq War sales pitch was the product of either gross incompetence or deliberate lies and distortions. I would have thought these facts alone would have swept this administration from office, and I find myself getting depressed all over again that somehow the majority of Americans didn't care about being sold a war (a war!) with a forged bill of goods.
A Very Long Engagement... The opening 10 minutes is masterful, as we are introduced to key characters in the trenches of WWI. You really appreciate how much it must suck to slog through shin deep muddy water 24/7, even though the filmmakers never overtly call attention to that little hell among the big hell. I do think I've now seen one too many Jeunet sex montages, so he can probably go ahead and retire that device. I felt like the movie bogged down a bit in the subsequent half-hour, and Audrey Tautou is surprisingly dour, but then the mystery and the romance grabbed me, and she (and the movie) really started to work for me.
The Woodsman... There are some directorial annoyances, the big one being that flash of Kevin Bacon beating himself up (just in case we couldn't tell where that rage was coming from), but Bacon is riveting, so those and other shortcomings hardly matter.
Glad I Saw
13 Going On 30... Big, but with way more cringing. For example, instead of the whimsically exhilarating piano scene, you have the cringe-inducing Thriller scene. Don't get me wrong, I *enjoyed* that scene, but it's a very different feeling (and you have to not mind movies where there's no problem 80s pop can't solve). But really the movie is all about Jennifer Garner, who carries the movie on her mighty shoulders (and I do mean mighty - I wish I had shoulders cut like that). She is amazingly game as she pulls off scene-after-scene that must have been quite embarrassing to film, but no hint of self-consciousness--which would have been crippling--is ever evident. In a way it's unfair to compare this to Big, as that movie handles a purely physical transformation, while this movie is an actual leap forward in time, and thus presents a very different set of problems for our heroine to overcome. My wife loved it, and I liked it. Another good movie to watch with donuts (if you can stand all the sweetness, but I have a whole mouthful of sweet teeth).
2046... Personally, from the neck up, I loved this movie. But shouldn't a movie so much about love hit me somewhere (anywhere) below the neck as well? I already knew why Tony Leung was such a big star, which left room for Zhang Ziyi's star to shine on my appreciative horizon. I thought she only had two speeds: beautiful and petulant, so witnessing the impressive range and vulnerability she displayed here was a treat.
3-Iron... Interesting, enjoyable, and watchable, but is "inscrutable" really the best choice for your characters' predominant trait? Still, a unique and almost dream-like experience, which the epilogue suggests was the point.
Born Into Brothels... "The women ask me, 'when are you going to join the line?' They say it won't be long." Great subject; heroic people; adorable, sympathetic, and talented kids. Somehow lacking as a compelling documentary though. Strange. I was very tired, so perhaps that's it. You know what amazed me the most? How truly awful some of the adults were (see earlier quote).
Collateral... In honor of James "we should all be dead / they must have done something to us" Cameron, one of the golden rules of moviemaking should be, "if you have a crippling plot hole, don't have one of your characters point it out." There is no good answer to the question "why didn't you just get a different cab driver", a problem that one can't shake throughout the movie, so really it's not a question Foxx's characters should ask out loud. It's a shame about that and various other implausibilities, including a big fat unbelieveable coincidence (not to mention the jarring lupine music video), because I liked the movie otherwise. Cruise makes a great villain.
Dawn of the Dead... Let's talk zombie taxonomy: on the one hand you've got your common, garden variety shamblers, and then on the other you've got yer sprinters. Man, I hope when the apocalypse comes we get shamblers. A better sprinter movie than 28 Days Later (are there other examples of this relatively rare breed?). The characters are all instantly recognizeable, but I didn't really mind the shorthand, and they are fleshed out well enough we hope for their survival (or painful demise). The first 10 minutes hits so fast and hard, and there are a few other brilliant sequences. Along for the ride are some cliches, groaner moves, and logical lapses, but hey, it's a zombie flick, and a pretty darn good one at that. A poor man's Aliens.
Fat Albert... What can I say? I liked it, and I don't even feel guilty about it! Standard disclaimers apply.
The Final Cut... Interesting idea: many folks get a prenatal implant that records all their experiences from birth to death. In the end a movie gets cut from the footage and shown at their funeral. The protest angle seems heavily forced (too bad it's key), but I do like mulling over what such a world would mean for interpersonal relations. Do you act differently when you think you might be filmed (implants are fairly common, but you don't find out if you have one until (if) your parents tell you about it)? Interesting despite its flaws.
Garden State... As pretty as she is, I'm not one of these guys that prostrates myself before the altar of Natalie Portman's beauty. She is, however, the linchpin of this movie, and I can't imagine it without her. I will make a mildly embarrassing confession and admit that I liked the movie a bit more once it started to descend into cliche.
Ginger Snaps: Unleashed... A sequel that outdoes the original in darkness and creepiness. I don't think it surpasses the original across the board, and mostly lacks that whole burgeoning sexuality metaphor that helped make the first one so interesting (not that they should have repeated themselves here), but it's certainly a worthy horror sequel. More work for Emily Perkins, please.
In Good Company... Had high hopes for this, given my love for About a Boy, but unfortunately it doesn't quite deliver. Still enjoyable, and I like Dennis Quaid in just about anything.
Maria Full of Grace... Who knew that Columbian "mules" were so pretty? The movie pretty effectively renders explicit (without being overly graphic) what women who transport drugs in their stomachs might go though but, while worth watching, it doesn't quite pack the emotional punch it should. Still worth a viewing though.
The Manchurian Candidate... What a difference a cast can make! Denzel Washington really is the best thing going these days, and here shows remarkable restraint in not overplaying our hero's addled (to say the least) mental state. Liev Schreiber turns in similarly good work. I do think Meryl Streep was over the top though, as much as it pains me to give her anything less than a glowing review. Cast aside, and with the chips down, I have to say it's another remake that doesn't quite bring enough to the table, even if it does go in a couple new and interesting directions. Not nearly the "why remake such a great movie?" travesty I was expecting.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster... I can see where you'd compare this to Spinal Tap if you simply think all heavy metal (or Metallica in particular) is a joke. I didn't really have a Spinal Tap experience with this movie though. It's clear these guys are all passionate about their work, and the clash of egos, therapy double-speak, and passive-aggressive tactics were all fascinating. There are a bunch of great, raw moments in the doc: Dave Mustaine appearing to lay bare his feelings about getting kicked out of Metallica and subsequent years of feeling inadequate and inferior, Lars Ulrich's "fuck" rant directed at James Hetfield, and poor Kirk Hammett, playing the doe-eyed kid stuck between two warring parents. Of course, lyrics like "my lifestyle determines my deathstyle" makes it tempting to watch this as one big parody, but for me it was still more of a human drama.
Millions... It's entirely possible I liked this even more than I think I did, as it was my second movie of the day and I was sick as a dog watching it. A sweet and poignant tale, not overwrought, and nice interplay between the two boys. For me it's best captured in a scene dismissed by some as gratuitous on the IMDb boards. Anthony (older brother) tells Damien (younger brother) to shut the door, as he's going to show him something naughty on the Internet. He goes to a lingerie page (his Dad must have good filters on that computer). It starts off as oh-so-mildly sexual, but quickly changes to something else upon Damien's reaction. It's amazing how the kid has that effect.
Miracle... If nothing else, this movie underscores the importance of a having good goalie. But it also serves as a good-enough telling of a great story; yet another example of a story that you'd roll your eyes at were it fiction. Even as the 1980 Olympic hockey team swallowed their egos to play a team game, so too with the actors here, who just give themselves over to the service of the story, with very little in the way of showy theatrics. Even Kurt Russell disappears into his role, and I don't think I've ever seen him do that before.
National Treasure... I thought this would be a guilty pleasure at best, but the movie works much better than it deserves to. Nicholas Cage has pretty much got this particular class of hero role down pat, and Helen Kruger works much better as an uber-librarian than as Helen of Troy. Very good genre heroine, actually. More believably intelligent that a certain Bond girl/physicist, to say the least. One particularly nice thing about this one was that everyone behaves intelligently. Bad guys don't get caught monologging, and are on the heels of the good guys through reasonable actions. Also, if you don't mind guns and explosions, it's otherwise enjoyable family fare. Our foursome all liked it.
Shrek 2... A very pleasant surprise, especially since I thought this was going to be a dog. While the original has fallen over time from "great" to "merely good" in my estimation, this sequel lives up to that lowered bar. There's no need to waste time with character development since that was all laid out a movie ago, so we can get right into the gags and the plot. The story is entertaining, and flows naturally from the conclusion of the original. The animation is richer, but strangely the body english seemed a touch off at times, something I didn't notice in the first one. Eddie Murphy does not steal the show this time around, probably because he doesn't have as much to work with here. Happily this leaves the show-stealing niche open for Antonio Banderas, who fills it to the brim. Finally, the moral of the story here doesn't share the inconsistencies of the original.
Troy... This one plays pretty fast and loose with Homer's source material, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you're going to take liberties I don't really understand why one would choose to tackle the central problem of rendering the Iliad for a modern audience head on and have it knock you back on your ass. Namely, it is possible to sell going to war over a woman in mytho-poetic literary history, but it is not possible (so far, anyway) to sell it cinematically without it being deeply troubling. Constant nagging thoughts along the lines of "she's not worth it", "he's a moron", and "oh, he's a moron too" tend to detract from the experience. The Achilles/Briseis relationship doesn't really fly either, and Hector/Andromache are not given enough screen time to develop properly. Come to think of it, all the women get short shrift. But Pitt's Achilles manages to be an appropriate mix of formidable, arrogant, petulant, childish, and cynical, apropos of being the rock star/killing machine Homer makes him, and Bana's Hector gets enough moments with his babies and those soulful eyes to imbue his story with pathos. Bana's performance wasn't powerful - I'm not even sure it was particularly good - but for me it was effective. What we really needed was more screen time for Peter O'Toole (nails Priam's appeal to Achilles), Sean Bean (milks his bit-part Odysseus for all it's worth. Man, talk about underrated and underused - has this guy ever been anything but great?), and Troy in general (the sack of Troy was disheartening, but it could have been wrenching). This just occurred to me: believe it or not, I wish it had been longer. If we could have spent more time in Troy with her people, we would have gone beyond entertainment to tragedy. Boy, what a lot of grousing over a movie I liked!
Two Brothers... Surprisingly good. I had a hard time getting into it as I was too preoccupied with reassuring my daughters in the wake of one Bambiesque tragedy after another. Dark and perhaps complex for a kids movie, but I'm probably just underestimating the young'uns again.
Around the World in 80 Days... Fun for the whole family. My family, anyway. I don't know about your family.
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator... Not as bad as I feared, but pretty bad, happily in a highly heckleable way. My wife watched the beginning of this with me, and it was more fun when she was there to banter with, but after the movie (or I) drove her away the fun lagged. The finale is actually pretty strong, even if the final punchline is incredibly lame. Speaking of lame, they did that Predator invisibility effect much better in 1987. And has anyone else noticed that Lance Henriksen's voice is not as interesting as it once was? I've made this sound awful, and the nonsensicalness of it pretty much is, but there's fun to be had.
The Chronicles of Riddick... You could make a respectable drinking game out of watching for Vin Diesel making a slow turn over his left shoulder and casting a menacing stare. You could also get a good buzz going if you drank every time a character's line was designed solely to remind the audience of some earlier plot point, lest they get lost. The dialog is always portentous, and sprinkled liberally with unintentional howlers. And yet I must admit I enjoyed the big dumb lug (I'm still talking about the movie) even beyond using it as hecklin' fodder. But if that's all you get out of it, fine. It's a GREAT movie to heckle. I'll give you an advance tip: when one of the bad guys starts monologging about the "second 'verse", you can slip in "same as the first, little bit louder and a little bit worse" to devastating effect.
Dodgeball... I actually wasn't feeling all that much guilt until the movie was over and my wife turned to me and said, "you know how people talk about chick flicks? Well that was the biggest guy movie I've ever seen." She's seen her fair share (okay, probably more than her share) of Bruckheimer and Farrelly Brothers movies, and has never expressed such a sentiment to me, so I'm attaching particular significance to Dodgeball getting singled out. She thought it was stupid, I thought it was hilarious. Needless to say, your mileage may vary. I think she'd at least agree with me that Justin Long was very funny, and a comedic actor to watch. Check the special feature where he gets beaned over and over and over. It's impossible to tell when he's acting, and when he's genuinely asking for mercy from the crew. I found his torment side-splitting, a fact which probably doesn't speak well of me. Oh, my wife and I do agree that the movie is worth renting for the Lance Armstrong cameo alone. It really is that funny.
The Forgotten... I was going to list this as good, but then I read Roger Ebert's review and now I feel all guilty.
Night Watch... I wish Roger Ebert a speedy recovery, so he can come back to writing gems like this: "I confess to a flagging interest in the struggle between the forces of Light and Darkness. It's like Super Sunday in a sport I do not follow, like tetherball." For me, the dig is even more apt when applied to the vampire vs. werewolf "action" in the Underworld movies, as this was more like a sport I don't follow, but is fun to watch anyway, like badminton.
Saw... I can almost overlook the dazzling array of improbabilities that leads to such a fun ending. Otherwise, not bad. Certainly not as bad as many critics would have me believe. It wasn't even as gory as I thought it would be (or I've just grown numb). I'm also kinda surprised by the Cary Elwes complaints I've read, as I'd be more inclined to attribute any problems there to the script rather than the actor.
Starsky & Hutch... Committed to an evening of junk, I picked this up to go with the donuts as my wife took the evening off from her studies. Just about perfect, for our purposes. Biggest shock is that Snoop Dogg is the best thing about the movie, and yet it's watchable. I'm sure it also helps that we like Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller. If you don't like them, this is not the movie to turn you around.
Without a Paddle... Our three leads are fun enough to make this a guilty pleasure, even if it flirts with going too heavy on the guilt, too light on the pleasure at times. If the trailer made you laugh, the movie probably will too.
Could Have Missed
50 First Dates... What an incredibly frustrating movie. Really good mainstream romantic comedies are so few and far between, and here we have one! It's there, right on the screen, for all to see! And yet it's sweetness is obfusticated by puerile, distracting humor that overshadows the entire first act, and continues to taint the rest of the movie (thankfully to a much smaller degree). Compounding the frustration is that these issues could have been completely solved in the editing room. Dump the East European she-male and dial back Rob Schneider and you've got a winner. Argh! Even so, when the movie works it successfully blends Memento and Groundhog Day in a delicious gooey treat. They must have read Tarantino's observation about Memento's big flaw ("Good movie! But there's a hole, okay? And it's this! How, okay, does he remember... his own fuckin' condition?"), because they steer clear of that here, and I was surprised and elated that the ending didn't cop out. Almost good, but could have been very good.
Ella Enchanted... "The curse of obedience" is a decent plot device, Anne Hathaway and Cary Elwes are good, and the kids loved it.
Hellboy... Right on the cusp of being good, but I checked my watch a few too many times. I can't really put my finger on where it went wrong for me. Perhaps the the failure was in the Hellboy/Myers relationship, which never really gets that "buddy cop" vibe going. Hellboy himself doesn't have much of a character arc (although Ron Perlman does the best possible job with the material), and the ending is pretty uninspiring (I rarely enjoy film fights where the size mismatch is so huge as to eliminate the possibility of hand-to-hand combat). Well, with all the establishing shots accomplished, maybe the sequel will deliver. I have to admit, even after this mediocre outing, I'm looking forward to it.
I, Robot... Some of the action suffers from the video game effect, where the tension is drained by the subliminal impression that the worst fate Will Smith can suffer is a blinking GAME OVER emblazoned across the screen should he be overcome. Still, much of the CGI is surprisingly satisfying, especially in the almost diaphanous rendering of the robots. You can almost imagine you see the ghost in the shell yourself. There's a good movie here, but frustratingly they don't quite hit the mark. The bigotry themes are clunky, the pacing lags, and Smith doesn't have the range to play tortured without just seeming like he's angry all the time.
Intimate Strangers... A shame, as I just got through talking up My Best Friend and Patrice Leconte in general, so my wife joined me for this one, and of course it was the first sub-par Leconte movie I've seen. Ah well, it wasn't bad.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events... Between Jude Law (inspired casting) and Billy Connelly, this is a movie with some pretty darn good voices. As much as I generally enjoy Jim Carrey, I thought he was a pretty major distraction. The kids were great (both as actors and characters), and the movie had all the makings of a delightfully dark new fable, but the tone shift every time Carrey showed up really undermined that. Not to mention Cedric the Entertainer or Dustin Hoffman, of whose casting I can make no sense. The don't really get to do anything, so all you get is the flash of recognition bouncing you out of the moment. Maybe they have big plans for them in the sequel, if they make one.
Napoleon Dynamite... An excellent example of why you should always finish what you start. There were a few points where I almost gave in and went to bed, but then I would have missed our hero's moment in the sun, and it sure is worth it. I started to enjoy the movie a bit more around halfway through, when I figured there must be some kind of self-esteem inversion going on. In high school you were almost certainly hypersensitive about being some kind of uber-misfit, even though you weren't. In this movie, our hero IS an uber-misfit, but is less sensitive to it. Said another way, he's the geek everybody thinks they are, but somehow with more confidence.
Sleepover... Not really my thing, has a very made-for-TV feel, but Alexa Vega makes a nice heroine, it's a fine tweener movie, and the girls liked it, so who am I to judge?
Should Have Missed
Birth... The bottom line is that I just didn't care about anybody in this movie.
Garfield... Nothing here for me, but the kids loved it. Especially the three-year-old, who was probably more engrossed by this than anything else she's seen (Super Size Me is her runner-up :-).
Home on the Range... I recently wrote of Brother Bear, "Disney hand animation goes out with a whimper instead of a bang." My bad, I forgot about Home on the Range. If the former was the whimper, then this is the death rattle. The voice casting ranges from uninspired to abrasive, and as long as I'm lazily cobbling together snippets from earlier reviews, let me repeat the comment I made upon learning Judi Densch was going to be in The Chronicles of Riddick: "Never give a serious British actor an Oscar, I say. Not if you want them to stay that way, anyway. Well, I guess they stay British." As for the animation itself, if Disney were on the rise, the Samurai Jackish style would be bold, but with their fortunes waning it just looks like they made the movie on the cheap. On the bright side, Amelia liked it.
Catch that Kid... The kids liked it, and I have to cringe and admit I liked the schmaltzy ending.
Harold and Kumar go to White Castle... Just didn't strike my funny bone, although I did think the DVD menu was quite amusing, and I was engaged enough with our titular heroes to enjoy the ending.
House of Flying Daggers... Well, I suppose if you keep a favorite director long enough it's inevitable that he'll disappoint you. While still my favorite, Zhang Yimou is no longer undefeated in my book. The dialogue is either awful, or loses much more in translation than your typical subtitled film. The romance simply doesn't work. Some of the plot twists are interesting, but they come far too late to make a difference in the opinion I'd already formed. "Dialogue, romance, plot? So what, it's a kung fu movie, what about the action?" Fair question. I found the action disappointing as well, at the very least in relation to the excellent Hero. The lack of martial artists in the cast shows in the number of cuts, there's no real tension, and most of the fights are unsatisflying resolved by some unseen powerful third party. Even Zhang's famed painterly eye let me down a bit here, as the clash of color and texture was too busy for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, it's still prettier than 99% of the movies out there, but not up to his usual standards. Ah well, hopefully this is just a one-picture stumble, and he'll regain his feet in his next outing.
Mean Girls... Give me 48 hours and I will forget this movie entirely. Let's just pretend that happened already. I will say that the cast was pretty good though.
The Punisher... Read my Payback review, but imagine how it would have read without Mel Gibson in it. I'd probably write something like that here.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow... The movie could have done with a cast inversion, moving the more interesting Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi to the fore and shoving Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow to the back. I kept hoping that Paltrow's maddening character would suffer a quick demise during any one of her MANY trips back into peril to retrieve her camera,(I can't imagine that's really a spoiler unless this happens to be the first movie you're watching in your life). I admire the chutzpah required to make a classic science fiction movie without a trace of irony, but at the same time I think such a quest is Quixotic at best. The CGI art deco sets and sequences are indeed beautiful (when they aren't underlit), but y'know what? I wasn't all that crazy about art deco in the first place, and the action is uninvolving, as is so often the case with these Mary Poppinsian CGI efforts.Spoiler: Highlight to viewbut it never happens
Spanglish... Tea Leoni does a great job playing a terrible role. I'm sure Brooks and the script dictated she play a Frankenshrew, a caricature of a bundle of cringe-inducing neuroses, but to what end? Is it a romantic comedy centered around a maniac? The movie did keep my attention, as I watched the other characters try to deal with this alien in their midst, so that's something.
The Stepford Wives... Actually not a bad comedy in the first half, although Nicole Kidman employs a bit too much arm-waving in her various states of being tightly wound or vigorously unspooled. There's really no thrills, so attempts to make a comedo-thriller fail, and I can't help but be irritated by the doppleganger bodies being completely pointless. As near as I can tell they exist only for that one scene from the trailer where the one on the slab opens its empty eye sockets and everybody fails to jump. Ah well, there was still some fun to be had, just not enough of it.
The Terminal... The light given off by Tom Hanks is sucked away by several gaping black holes. I mean, most of the movie feels like it's written by the Forrest Gump guy (a movie I enjoyed, even if I greatly resent its "Best Picture" win), except for Catherine Zeta-Jones' part. Why they pulled some worm out from under a rock just to write her part, I have no idea. Stanley Tucci does as much as he can with not very much.
Thunderbirds... If this movie depended on the Tracy family (our ostensible heroes) it would truly belong in the sub-basement. None of them, nor any of the big(ish) name actors hit the campy tone right, and by missing the mark manage to nail personal worsts. The supporting cast provides some saving grace though, particularly Lady Penelope, Parker, and Tin-tin. Thank God for women and butlers.
Wimbledon... Has a mushy first serve. I actually thought I might have been enjoying this. Here's what went through my head: "Wow, this isn't bad, this is crackling right alone, really. I'm probably in the home stretch now. Let me just steal a glace at the clock.... WHAT?! I've only been sitting here for 40 minutes? How can that be? How the hell are they going to fill the last hour?!" Indeed, that problem plagued me for the next hour. It's not a bad movie, it just feels stretched out, even at a perfectly reasonable running time. It does have its moments though; the scenes with the ballboy were handled with a surprisingly light touch, and I still like Paul Bettany, and wouldn't yet rule him out as leading man material (albeit probably in the niche formerly occupied by Hugh Grant before he vacated it for more caddish fare). Heck, if you're looking for a romantic comedy and you've already seen the 20 or so legitimately good ones in existence, you might want to consider this one next.
El Sucko Grande
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy... I can't. Believe. I watched. The. Whole. Thing.
Blade: Trinity... Damn, what's with all the cutsy names? "Nightstalkers", "Daystar", some other thing they call those UV-exploding tip projectiles, etc. And what kind of super-villain runs away upon first encounter with our hero? The newcomers try to breathe a little life into the franchise, but they don't have enough to work with and, as much as I like Wesley Snipes, they don't get any help either. The filmmaker's should have quit while they were ahead. They already got a good sequel break with Guillermo Del Toro's Blade II, and lightning doesn't strike twice. Oh, and vampires have the worst hair (and apparently, in this movie, have no real powers whatsoever).
Creep... Boy, you start off thinking our heroine is going to be the most annoying charcter, but she gets topped. Fortunately, that guy is only around for a few minutes, so he doesn't have to suffer the indignity of losing his title when our heroine turns up the annoyingness late in the game. Not really sure why you'd choose to make the bulk of your characters insufferable. It starts off well enough with the sewer guys, but then it's all downhill. There's one guy with a Scottish accent, so that's good, at least. Went from bad to sucky when they had the bad guy at their mercy and didn't finish him off not once, but twice. Really, it's a slasher movie that Franka Potente tricked me into watching. Until now, I've liked every movie I've seen her in. So much for that streak!
The Day After Tomorrow... My wife and I had quite a bit of fun watching this, but it was all at the expense of the movie. The science is ridiculous (of course), the characters and cliches are thinner and thicker (respectively) than even I would expect, and the big action set pieces play poorly enough on the small screen that I have to wonder if they came anywhere close to working on the big screen. I used to think I was the King of Schlock, and that I could derive non-ironic enjoyment from movies such as these, but either blockbusters are getting worse, or I've been poisoning my mind with too many classics. I should probably run out and rent Van Helsing before it's too late. On the bright side, I will be working the phrase "super-cooled air from the upper troposphere" into my day-to-day speech as much as possible. I've already blamed one foggy windshield and one under-performing Thanksgiving fire on that peculiar atmospheric phenomenon, so I'm off to a great start. My wife may disagree.
Flight of the Phoenix... In a brilliant move, the filmmakers make the sniping and backbiting among characters so annoying that we can't wait for them to start working on the damn plane so they'll shut the hell up already. Giovanni Ribisi's character has some perplexing psychotic interludes, but what do you expect from a guy that goes trekking around the world with big, full-color brochures from his employer tucked into his ruck sack? While our "heros" spend waaaay too much voluntary time in the sun, at least nobody drinks so thirstily that they spill water down their fronts, which really should be a bigger no-no in "lost in the desert" movies than it is.
Mulan II... Anybody that thinks there's a ghost of a chance Disney will do a good job making sequels of the Pixar movie they tragically have the rights to should have a couple kids, institute a family movie night, and then start working their way through the extant Disney sequels. You will then be able to witness first-hand how they are not only disappointing on their own merits, but manage to sully the originals. On the other hand, it's interesting to experience the Eddie Murphy imitator. What is it that Murphy does that makes him so funny, and this sound-alike not? Indefinable greatness. I should remember this next time I think any ol' shmoe can act, and movie stars are just lucky enough to have the opportunities.
Ocean's Twelve... Has much more in common with the 1960 original than the enjoyable first Soderbergh/Clooney outing. That is not a compliment. Like the Sinatra version, the only thing this movie has going for it is that the stars involved have charisma to burn, even when mailing it in (Roberts, Cheadle, and Damon came to play though). In 1960 we had Sinatra in friends getting paid to share in-jokes on-screen after club gigs, and 44 years later we have Clooney and pals getting paid to share in-jokes on screen while they see the sights in Europe. And in a few years (or right now), this one'll be just as dated and unwatchable as that one. A few good moments try to pull this one out of the basement (pulling Damon's leg, the impersonation scene, the guy in the suitcase (even though there was no reason for him to be in there, as near as I can tell)), but they can't hold on and it breaks its neck falling back down the stairs. Soderbergh's worst. I still love many of the players involved with this movie, but not for this, NOT for this.
Shark Tale... By halfway through our three-year-old started playing with toys, and at the end our seven-year-old assessed it as "kinda boring.". Most of the gags were stale and dated before the paint was dry on the first print. First Antz gets crushed by a Bug's Life and now this gets KO'd by Finding Nemo. Dreamworks should NOT be stepping into the ring with Pixar. Forget about skill, they don't even make the weight.
Throwdown... I really wanted to finish this so I could notch my first judo movie, but it sucked too hard and I had to turn it off. Even the old "fast-forward at time-and-a-half" trick couldn't make it go by quickly enough. Guess I'll have to wait for a better judo movie to come along.
Van Helsing... Van Boring. Then again, maybe I was watching a videogame and they forgot to give me the joystick with my rental.
Downfall... What I saw of this was excellent, but I fell asleep in the middle so only caught the first and last 45 minutes (I was overtired and knew I should have just gone to bed, but I was waiting up for my wife, who was working late). Kicking myself, because after seeing the beginning and the end I didn't feel like watching the whole thing again from top to bottom to get the full experience. I'll hit it again some day, when enough time has gone by.
Primer... I couldn't possibly rank this one without seeing it again. Perhaps the first "puzzle movie" to completely leave me in the dust. Even on second viewing, how would I rank a movie so impressive for its time-travel plotting and ultra-realistic acting, and yet so emotionally uninvolving? This is true fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, so perhaps suffers from the fact that most of us wouldn't come off as particularly interesting if you dropped cameras into our homes and spliced documentaries out of the footage, even if we are doing such heady work as inventing time travel in our garages. I admire this movie the way I admire the Rubik's Cube. But I've gone on far too long, as Seattle Maggie beat me to the punch, writing the review I would have written, only better.