2003: Movies Sorted By Tier (Part 2)
Submitted by jim on Wed, 08/03/2005 - 12:02
Could Have Missed
Anger Management... Despite Jack Nicholson and Marisa Tomei dressing up the place a bit, this is still more of a Happy Gilmore Adam Sandler outing rather than Punch-Drunk Love affair, so you should gauge your potential enjoyment of this along the appropriate Sandleresque lines. If you happen to like Adam Sandler, as I do (although not without some guilt), you'll find things to enjoy here. If you don't, I doubt this'll be the movie to turn you around. Still, there are enough good moments in this movie to make me think that it really could have been a noteworthy comedy, if not for the uneven script, complete with dead spots.
Blind Shaft... China. Coal mines. Two grifters have a scam where they get hired by the mine along with a random schlub who they pretend is a relative. They kill the schlub, fake a cave-in, and then get paid by the mine to avoid government enquiries into the cave-in. The drama unfolds when the more ruthless of the two picks a kid to be the next poor schlub. The less ruthless one has misgivings, which grow as they spend more time with the kid. The movie works on almost every level, acting, cinematography, plot, human relationships, social commentary, etc. Unfortunately the level on which it did not work was on its affect on me. I was bored, even if I thought the relationship between the kid and grifter #2 played out naturally and interestingly. I should have liked this more than I did. Perhaps you will appreciate it where I failed to.
Bruce Almighty... Can't help but suffer from the inevitable comparisons to the superb Groundhog Day, but it has its moments. If you like Jim Carrey you'll laugh out loud often enough to make this a fun time-spender, although one that's probably quickly forgotten. Surprisingly, the best bit of physical comedy goes to Steven Carell, who brought both Vicky and me to tears not once, but twice for the same scene (once in the movie and again in the outtakes/deleted scenes). Morgan Freeman doesn't have much to work with, but casting him as God was inspired nonetheless, and if any of the "Friends" cast had to have a successful movie career, I'm glad it looks like it'll be Aniston.
Calendar Girls... I do like Helen Mirren, and it's a fun true-life story, but it's also pretty forgettable.
Code 46... Call me crazy, but for no particular reason this felt like a failed Wong Kar Wai movie to me. Was I supposed to think Tim Robbins was aby the end? I don't think so.Spoiler: Highlight to viewworld class dick
The Cooler... Good movie, solid efforts from William H. Macy and Maria Bello, and an excellent one from Alec Baldwin. Still, I found myself expecting--and thus wanting--more from this tale of a man with contagious luck working a Vegas casino. I find myself with nothing to say, which might just be due to the lateness of the hour or the five other reviews I've cranked out this evening.
Elf... Palatable Will Ferrell, although I could have strangled Bob Newhart for that whole, "SOME people say there is no Santa, and it's the parents that do the presents" bit. Pretty damn risky for a PG movie. I think we got away with it, but sometimes our kids mull things like this over for months before springing the big question on us. We'll see. I have this vague recollection that a Listologist warned me about this back in '03, but I forget (and forgot). I'll admit I never really got Newhart, and this doesn't help.
Identity... Ten strangers--John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Rebecca DeMornay, and six red shirts, are trapped at a motel in a freak storm. Malevolent forces go to work. A name brand actor is picked off first, casting doubt on the natural order of things, and augmenting the already-decent tension and atmospherics. Since twists are obligatory these days, this movie has a goodly handful of 'em, but while some are telegraphed, none feel particularly forced. Even the twist that I anticipated, and was prepared to hate, was handled well. The holes I thought I found I was later able to explain, and the end result is a pretty tight plot, from the writer of Jack Frost *and* Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman no less! Whoda thunk it?
Intermission... A pile of interrelated Irish tales, converging around one couple's breakup, and Colin Farrell's planned heist. Spreads itself too thin, not really engaging.
Ju-On... Basically a series of shorts, tied together by the common theme of the curse/ghosts involved. We are introduced to a character, the tension builds creepily, something startles you (but only occasionally as well as it should), and the character meets an off-screen demise. The movie would have worked quite a bit better if these vignettes contributed to a larger, more meaningful plot, but really the plot is just an excuse to string together the vignettes, and that's rather disappointing. The disappointment is exacerbated by distracting thoughts along the lines of, "wait a minute, why'd that guy buy the farm?" Just how viral is this curse, anyway? Shouldn't everyone in Japan be dead by now, if that's all the contact you need?" The curse vectors are all over the map. Fortunately the movie is redeemed somewhat by the creepy atmosphere and visuals. I preferred The Ring to Ringu I wonder if I'll prefer The Grudge to Ju-On?
Paycheck... I was quite surprised by how much I liked 80% of this movie. But you know what they say, "the last 20% takes 80% of the effort." For the most part it's an effective Philip K. Dick adaptation, with the mystery, twists, paranoia, etc. intact. The action is not the main attraction, and in fact is a bit of a distraction. The ending flops hard, pretty much abandoning much of the logic that held together quite well for most of the movie (as much as you can have logic with these kinds of ouroborian tales, anyway). Uma Thurman is given nothing to do except look like Uma Thurman (happily, she's more than qualified for the job).
Something's Gotta Give... Frances McDormand appears for a scintillating 20 minutes or so at the beginning of the film, then she disappears for a heartbreakingly long 80 or 90 minutes. Then, just as I'd given up hope of her return, she appears like a ray of sunshine. She has no lines, but steals the scene from Diane Keaton merely by picking up a rock from the beach and then discarding it. The rest of the movie was fine, and I probably would have liked it better were it not from years of high school scarring wrought by watching nice girls end up with the wrong guy.
The Recruit... The past month has pretty much been a big Colin Farrell-fest for us, and happily he's the real deal. The other three of his movie came to us coincidentally, but this on I actually picked off the shelf: "Jeez, which of the five widescreen movies this store has interests me. Hmm, The Recruit. Mixed reviews, I think, but what the hell, I've seen everything else of note Farrell has done in the last few weeks." So that's how I cam to rent it, and it worked out pretty well. The plot was twisty enough, if a little nonsensical at times. I was sufficiently diverted.
Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines... Much better than the godawful trailers suggested, but still easily the weakest of the Terminator movies. Still, it's all here: the spectacular action, the cheesy lines, the portentous voiceover, the Governor himself, some fun little references back to the earlier chapters, etc. And yet it's all just a little too familiar and thus, sadly, lacking a bit in tension. You'd think I'd care that they prevent Judgement Day of all things, but where that worked in T2, I didn't really care here. I was just along to watch the fireworks. Maybe it was the brand new T-X Terminatrix that didn't cut it for me. Not to take anything away from Kristanna Loken who did a fine job, but Robert Patrick was simply perfect as the T-1000 and conveyed such a wonderful sense of *relentlessness* that is missing here. I blame the writer and the director and/or fight choreographer. The T-X is supposed to be an upgrade, and yet the T-1000 was nigh invulnerable being composed entirely of that nifty liquid metal stuff. Shatter him into a million pieces, and he's good as new 30 seconds later. The T-X has all these tiny moving parts! So for an upgrade you're taking something unbreakable and making it breakable? That's a mere quibble, but add to that all those moments when she just stands there and takes lots of "best shots", and then *finally* retaliates, and you just don't get a sense that she's bringing her best game. Why would an invulnerable killing machine ever pause? For the most part they let Patrick nail this relentlessness, but Loken isn't given the same chance. Too bad. Then again, maybe there's just something fundamentally terrifying about a pissed off traffic cop.Still, good action, some laughs, and it was kinda nice to re-visit the world I so enjoyed as an adolescent.Spoiler: Highlight to viewOh, and don't get me started on Arnie taking out his LAST battery to blow her up. How does he keep moving when the battery is disconnected? Would it have been so hard, when he's telling us how many batteries he contains, to add one to the tally?
Should Have Missed
21 Grams... Have so many truly great performances ever added up to so little? Non-stop pathos from beginning to end, but without any real establishment of character to really make it hit home. And Sean Penn's character supposedly feels gratitude for the heart transplant, and yet he just keeps puffing away like a chimney? How am I supposed to sympathize when all I can think about is how that heart could have gone to somebody that could have at least kicked the goddamn habit out of respect for the donor and everybody else on the mile-long waiting list. Cripes.
Brother Bear... Fair to middlin'. Disney hand animation goes out with a whimper instead of a bang. The movie was actually fairly enjoyable, with some fun moments and even a poignant moment here and there, but its largely forgettable.
Bulletproof Monk... Parts from The Golden Child, Remo Williams, and just about any American John Woo movie. Not necessarily the good parts though, and Chow Yun-Fat was only flying his trademark charisma at half-mast. Subpar, but mildly entertaining at times.
Daredevil... A superhero movie that falls just short of mediocre. Colin Farrell was enjoyable as Bullseye, but I can't at the moment recall any other above-average features of the movie. I thought Affleck had mastered the art of the adequate performance, but he falls short even by that dubious standard here as The Man Without Fear. The action scenes are only rarely interesting, and the voice-over is annoying. So it didn't totally suck, but it threatened to.
Final Destination 2... The main thing the original Final Destination had going for it was the fairly new idea of an unseen reaper man obsessed with keeping his books straight, and who has a penchant for Rube Goldberg-style executions. The sequel subjects our heros to the same convoluted, tension-provoking contraptions/contrivances (some quite spectacular and morbidly entertaining), but the "been there, done that" feel affected me more than I thought it would. My recollection is fuzzy (or perhaps just obscured by a blood-red haze), but I'm pretty sure the sequel is quite a bit gorier than the original. All rather cartoonishly so, though (one guy gets cut into three pieces so swiftly that he stands there for a few moments before kinda sliding apart). I have been bothered by gore in the past, but here it didn't affect me, for the most part.
The Haunted Mansion... At least the kids liked it.
The Hulk... Ang Lee walks a fine line with his emotional depictions. On one side of the line he's subtle and understated, and on the other side of the line he's flat and and clinical. This one's the latter, eclipsing even The Ice Storm as an emotional failure. That's pretty much a death blow for this movie since I think Lee set out to make the most brooding, introspective superhero movie ever. A very tough row to hoe, and I applaud him shooting for the moon, but I think it would have been almost impossible to pull off. Add to that a script which makes Sam Elliot's General Ross oscillate between wildly restrictive and conservative to provoke responses from his daughter (and us) and ridiculously permissive (to allow an absurd reunion at the end, among other major security lapses) and you've pretty much got a loser, despite obvious higher ambitions. Too bad. On the bright side, the thing I was *expecting* to be disappointed by surprised me. The CGI Hulk largely worked! It wasn't perfect by any means which I guess means it's another flaw, but it was a damn good try, and downright impressive at times.
The Hunted... Although I'm sure Friedkin had higher aspirations for this movie, let's tell it like it is: this is a Rambo remake. You can dress it up with better actors, more sweeping vistas, and fewer baby-oiled muscles, but it's still Rambo. Here the damaged-goods unstoppable killing machine is not Stallone, but Benicio Del Toro, and his mentor is Tommy Lee Jones rather than Richard Crenna. A step up in both spots, although one step is significantly higher than the other. The script tries to give us some method to Del Toro's madness--to make him a tortured figure--but ultimately it doesn't work. His various screeds against hunters, the goverment, and the horrors he's seen seem forced. So what we really have is the hunt, and watching our killing machine kill efficiently, and somehow rooting for him AND his mentorly pursuer (Jones in slightly softer Fugitive mode). Why oh why do I get pleasure out of such a movie? It disturbs me that I do, but there ya go; I enjoyed it, I wanted to see how it turned out, and I liked watching Del Toro be an efficient killer.
Intolerable Cruelty... So do I put an average movie that disappointed me under "Average" or "Disppointing." The successes this movie enjoys come entirely from George Clooney and the other actors playing lawyers. Clooney is a surprising comic genius, and can mug with the best of them, and Richard Jenkins reduced my wife and I to helpless gales of laughter with his explanation of what happened to "Wheezy Joe." But aside from Clooney, that line, and the chuckles that get spread among the lawyers, this movie's potential wall-to-wall fun is largely tarred over by swathes of boredom. No 1:40 movie should drag.
The Jungle Book 2... My daughter and I went to see The Jungle Book 2 in the theater today, which was only her third of fourth theater experience, and it's so much fun to see how exciting it is for her. She *ran* to the popcorn line, and when the lights dimmed in the theater she covered her mouth with her hand in a gesture of great surprise and excitement. As the movie began she literally wouldn't take her eyes off the screen; I watched her slowly reach with both hands to get her drink out of the cupholder and guide the straw to her mouth without once looking away from the movie. It feels so good to see things with fresh eyes, albeit vicariously. Oh, the movie was okay, even if they recycled a couple songs from the original (actually, the recycled songs beat the pants off any of the new songs).
Looney Tunes: Back in Action... You'd think the technology of putting an animated character into live action would have improved in the 15+ years since Roger Rabbit, but I swear this movie integrates worse than that one. That, and Bob Hoskins' ability to focus convincingly on something that isn't there is unparalleled. You just have to watch how poorly Fraser and Elfman do it here to underscore how *believable* Hoskins was. He probably should have gotten an Oscar just for degree-of-difficulty alone. Anyway, I might have guessed this movie would be dumb, but I wouldn't necessarily have guessed it'd be boring too. Amelia (six) claimed to like it, but she only laughed once, and didn't ask to see it again the next day (very rare, in the kids movies we rent).
Piglet's Big Movie... A gentle movie from the gentlest of the Pooh characters. Good for the kids, but not much there for we grownups (which it appropriate for little kid movies, as much as I appreciate all the efforts by moviemakers to entertain me as the attending parent).
The Rundown... The first third is one of the better Schwarzenegger movies never made (like maybe if he'd starred in Midnight Run rather than De Niro). The Rock is a steady--even likeable--straight man to Seann William Scott's fun-then-gradually-grating goofball, and some of the action sequences are quite enjoyable (particularly the first fight in El Dorado). Unfortunately the movie starts running on fumes about halfway through, the tank is long past empty by the end, and the climax is too silly, even for me. I'm all for a good bullwhip fight, but Indy taught us long ago that you just pull out the pistol when appropriate. You'd think a movie that borrows from Raiders would take that lesson away as well. Anyway, it was quite fun in stretches, and the perfect movie to watch when down with the stomach flu, but not quite the baton passer that an early cameo suggests.
The Shape of Things... A thoroughly engrossing movie that is, in the final analysis, a failure. Paul Rudd begins dating art student Rachel Weisz. He's a bit overweight, unconfident, etc. She begins making him over via various "suggestions", coercing him with emotional and sexual pressure. While it's true its pretty easy to twist somebody around with such manipulations, we never really buy just how crumbly our hero is. Did he learn NOTHING from all those books he references throughout the movie? But this is not the film's central failing. It's central failing is that a guy who Gretchen Mol obviously liked for a long time leading up to the events of the movie could still be spineless putty. No no, just kidding. Where it goes really wrong is in its driving theme (admittedly presented by someone of dubious moral judgement): namely that our hero gets morally uglier as he gets physically more attractive. We as viewers can easily discard this idea, as he was clearly blinded by love and insecurity rather than being driven to these acts by dropping 20 pounds. But our hero is unable to articulate even such a simple defense of his behavior, so we're only really presented with the absurd notion that maybe Rudd really did get uglier because he got prettier. Aren't we really supposed to believe this critique of beauty that given the title, and the LA setting? Perhaps not, but alternative views get short shrift, making it feel like a forced tragedy rather than a natural one. It's hard to make such a watchable and interesting movie a disappointment, but unfortunately LaBute found a way.
Underworld... Apparently the defining characteristic of a vampire is a dour seriousness that can only lead one to believe immortality is overrated. We are constantly reminded via some interesting and effective animatronic work (good choice not to CGI 'em) what makes a werewolf a werewolf, but the vampires are decidedly unvampirish. Bunch of gun-wielding Olympic high jumpers is what we have here. That they are supposed to be the dominant species is proclaimed, but all evidence is to the contrary. Anyway, the movie is bookended by godawful portentous Beckinsale voiceovers, and at times I thought the movie was in danger of making Blade look like Dracula. I wasn't surprised at how much the look of the movie was ripped from The Matrix, but I was a bit taken aback at them lifting the sound editing as well. It wasn't all bad, though; large swaths were mildly entertaining. Apparently a sequel is set for release in 2005, which means between that, this, and Van Helsing, Beckinsale will appear in vampire movies in three consecutive years. History will decide if that is a good career move.
El Sucko Grande
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle... Cripes, what was I thinking? You might say, "Hmm, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore... Netflix carries the unrated DVD version... I KNOW what you were thinking", but you'd be wrong. They each have their charms, but they're not really my type (Vicky and I had a discussion on the way home from Return of the King as to which actresses I *do* find particularly attractive, but that will keep for another time). Anyway, it's a sequel to a movie that was already a parody of a joke, and it looks like fun, has it's moments, etc., but boy, talk about absurd. I'm going to quietly move the original from one of my action movies lists to my "guilty pleasures" list and hope nobody notices.
The Medallion... Even the eight-year-old was too bored to make it past the first hour. We shut it off with only 30 minutes to go and with the medallion's powers just revealed. Sorry Jackie! (hey, wait, shouldn't he be apologizing to me?)
S.W.A.T.... Panned here.
Last Life in the Universe... Rather than review this properly, I'm going to quote from an e-mail I sent another Listologist: "I just watched a movie that I'm convinced you will love. Oddly enough though, I don't think I'm going to be able to rank it yet because I was too tired and frankly rather bored by it. I suspect it's right up your alley though, and bet it would be right up my alley upon a rewatch. It's kinda like if Takeshi Kitano directed a movie titled "In the Mood for Being Lost in Translation". But instead it's a Thai movie called Last Life in the Universe. Netflix has it. I will be heartily surprised if you don't love it. I'd even guess you'll prefer it to The Twilight Samurai [which I also recommended]. Kinda funny to have such a strong feeling about a movie I almost didn't make it though.