Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
I, Robot (2004)
Four Stars (Out of Five)
Purists be damned, I, Robot rocks. I've never read a single word written by Isaac Asimov. I'm sure he's a fascinating writer and all but I've just never felt like reading his work would make my life anymore complete. That being said, I do know a little something about I, Robot, the book that the movie of the same name got its inspiration from. I'm not exactly sure when the book was originally published, but I do know it's a collection of 9 short stories that are based around three laws given to robots by their creators. The laws are as follows:
1.) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2.) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3.) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
I, Robot the movie actually started off as a screenplay called Hardwired by Jeff Vintar (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) that floated around Hollywood as one of those great, unproduced scripts that is the talk of the town. When director Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) and producer John Davis (Predator) got their hands on the script, they found within its pages a kinship with Asimov's writings. They hired screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) to incorporate elements of I, Robot (specifically the three laws) and other Asimov works into the script as Davis owned the rights to the book. The result is fantastically fun and smart summer movie that may have Asimov purists bitching but us normal folk will have a grand IL' time with it.
The movie's plot revolves around Det. Spooner (Smith), a police officer from Chicago in the year 2035. Spooner, for reasons later revealed, hates the robots that are rapidly becoming a normal part of everyday life. On a day just like any other, Spooner gets a call from Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell), the co-founder of US Robotics, the biggest manufacturer of robots in the world. In fact, it's not Lanning but a holographic device that is programmed to call Spooner if Lanning dies. The cause of death is an apparent suicide but further investigation from the detective leads to the discovery of Sonny (Tudyk), a unique NS-5 model robot. Spooner believes the robot to be the culprit of the crime but those around him insist that a robot can't kill a human, as that would violate the three laws. As the evidence against both Sonny and US Robotics builds, Spooner is made to look more and more paranoid and insane to his colleagues. With the help of a US Robotics employee (Moynahan), Spooner sets out to prove his theory right and find the truth behind Lanning's death.
There are two performances that will stand out in I, Robot. The first is Will Smith's. Either you will feel that he has finally matured as an actor or you will be annoyed by his antics. I felt he did a fabulous job as Spooner and that he had finally rose above the level of summer schlock he had been stuck in since Wild, Wild West. A fellow manager however pretty much wanted to reach through the screen and rip his head off. Oh well, to each his own. We did, however, agree about Alan Tudyk (Joss Whedon's short-live Firefly), he's outstanding as both the voice and motion capture body of Sonny. Sonny, the robot, was made in a computer but his performance and mannerisms are all Tudyk. He brings a sense of humanity, dignity and even pity to what is essentially a soulless machine. He helps further the question of what a machine can or can't be. The rest of the cast is fine as well. Moynahan plays here role well but she doesn't really stand out much in your mind afterwards. Greenwood, as US Robotics CEO Lawrence Robertson, has been better (Thirteen Days, Below) but he's also been worse (Swept Away) so I guess I can't really complain. Cromwell's role is minor, but important, and he does what he can with it. Rounding out the cast is the always solid Chi McBride, doing what he does best. What more can you ask for?
The direction by Proyas is a mixed, but overall positive, bag. He keeps a good pace going throughout the movie's nearly two hour running time and the action is very well staged and exciting. However, it's in that action that he sometimes manages to drop the ball. There is often an over emphasis on flash such as Matrix-like camera moves and Hong Kong style gunplay (Smith jumping off a motorcycle in mid-air whilst pulling out two guns). I'm a fan of HK-style action but it just seems so clichéd nowadays since The Matrix made it a staple in the US five years ago. It doesn't make the movie any more exciting than it would have been without it. Also, some of the CG-enhanced, gimmicky camera work is annoying and, sometimes, nauseating. The screenplay, by Vintar and Goldsman, has a lot of great set pieces and a great storyline but the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, those set pieces might be the brainchild of Proyas and a lot of the dialogue might have been improv'd by Smith, so who knows?
I love this movie and I won't apologize. Asimov fans can bitch all they want but I don't really care. Books are books and movies are movies and if they can't figure that out, they can sit in their rooms and read the damn book all day for all I care. The special effects are fantastic, the action exciting and the story great. It's a fantastic movie, especially for a summer movie. If you've already seen Spider-Man 2, get in line to check out the best sci-fi movie since Minority Report and the best robot movie since A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. If you haven't seen Spider-Man 2, get your ass in gear and see it ... then see this.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Five Stars (Out of Five)
Spider-Man is considered by many to be the first comic book movie to truly get it right. It also holds the record for biggest opening weekend ever and went on to gross more than $400 million in the US alone. It comes as no surprise then that a little over two years later, Spider-Man 2 is making its way into theaters to tear up the box office again. What may surprise many is that the second entry in the web slinging series so easily outdoes it predecessor as to almost be criminal. It's funnier, smarter and just all around a better movie.
Two years have passed since good IL' Peter Parker (Maguire), aka Spider-Man, defeated Green Goblin. He's living on his own in New York City in a crummy apartment that he can barely afford. It doesn't help that he's just been fired from his pizza delivery job and is on the verge of losing his job as freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle. And, on top of all this, he's dangerously close to flunking out of college. On the other hand, the love of his life Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) is a fairly successful stage actress who is dating an astronaut (Daniel Gillies) who just happens to be the son of J. Jonah Jameson (Simmons), Parker's boss at the Bugle. His friend Harry Osbourne (Franco) has successfully taken over OsCorp after his father's death, where he is now funding a fusion experiment being performed by Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina). When that experiment goes horribly wrong, Octavius becomes the disturbed Doctor Octopus who becomes the new villain of the piece. There's a lot more to the story but it would take a lot longer to write than I care to spend on it. Also, I wouldn't want to ruin anything for ya.
Spider-Man 2 manages to take everything that worked about the first, while fixing everything that didn't and in the process the audience gets a much richer and deeper experience. The acting is aces above the first with Maguire in particular shining, showing all of us who doubted him why he's so perfect for this role. Being only slightly overshadowed by Maguire but nonetheless turning in a masterful performance is Molina. He manages to make Octavius a deeply compelling villain that you'll be sympathizing with just as much as you'll be rooting for Spidey to kick his ass. Dunst is better as well but here role is still too Lois Lane and not as close to its comic book sister for my satisfaction. Franco is another surprise as I didn't care much for him in the first but I found myself secretly rooting for him here.
I must say, though, the real star of this picture is director Raimi. He's the glue that holds this mammoth production together and he's perfectly up for the task. Raimi has claimed he had complete control of the first picture and as wonderful as it was, it wasn't quite Raimi-esque. The same cannot be said for the sequel, which contains a lot more of Raimi especially his trademark camera work. The camera work is amazing in this baby, becoming almost another character within itself without calling attention. Much of the acting improvements can probably be credited to Raimi as well, who has always had an uncanny knack to get the most out of his actors. He lets the characters have more time to grow and breathe, and hence his actors have more room as well.
The next in our list of usual suspects to look at are the screenwriters. Wonder Boys author Chabon and Smallville creates Gough and Millar all took cracks at the screenplay and now share screen story credits. If asking Chabon to write the screenplay wasn't odd enough, we have the final screenplay credit going to Alvin Sargent who wrote very, very non-comic book movies with the likes of Ordinary People and Unfaithful. But, this all adds up to a screenplay that devotes as much time (maybe more) to story and characters as it does to the action sequences, which are superb by the way. Some may find this off-putting but I'd venture to guess that those people probably have an attention span the size of a pinhead and should probably just go watch Van Helsing instead. Those of us who like to think will find the attention to story a welcome change of pace.
The last significant improvement in part 2 are the special effects. I would say that the biggest complaint many people had with the first Spider-Man was that Spider-Man often looked too cartoonish. I thought this added to the comic book feel of the movie but that's just me. Either way, the special effects are phenomenal in this one. It's hard to believe how far f/x have come in just two years but there's no denying the majesty present on screen.
This adds up to a lot of great effects set pieces that will have you staring at the screen in awe. It's truly a sight to behold and puts most f/x movies to shames (especially the aforementioned Van Hell-Stink).
There are a few problems with the film, mostly that it can be overly melodramatic and/or campy at times but these are small problems that are easily overshadowed by all the great things this masterpiece offers. It can proudly join the elite ranks of The Godfather Part II, Aliens and fellow comic brethren X2 in the category of movies that surpass the originals. It may just be the best comic book movie ever made but it's in close competition with the X-Men sequel. The acting, story, villain and special effects are all improvements over the original, which seems impossible but it happens. Many seeds are planted for the third movie, which looks to be last directed by Raimi. It'll be a shame to see him go.
One Star (Out of Five)
I know there are people out there who think Will Ferrell is the absolute cat's meow, the savior of comedy. I'm here to set the record the straight ... yeah, he sucks. And, by the way, so does Anchorman. And, I'm not talking sucks in a "well, that wasn't good but I'll forget about it soon" sort of way. No, I'm talking about burning in the fiery pits of hell, excruciatingly painful sort of way. I saw this turd pile in a theater with 3 other fellow movie theater managers (who all hated it, too, by the way) and I was embarrassed to be watching it. I got stomach pains, a headache and numerous other ailments ... just from watching this movie.
OK, so you're still interested? Anchorman goes a little something like this ... Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is egotistical, womanizing anchorman in San Diego in the 1970's. He's adored by everyone he knows, including his boss (Willard) and his news cronies (Rudd, Carell, Koechner). But, the times they are a changin' and Burgundy's station hires a new female journalist (Applegate), which, of course, doesn't go over too well with the manly men of the news team. Burgundy, on the other hand, falls for Ms. Corning stone until she has to fill in for him as anchor when a ridiculously stupid event keeps Burgundy from showing up to work on time. And, you know what, that's all I'm gonna say about the "plot". Just typing about makes me want to take cyanide capsules and put myself out of my misery.
Will Ferrell can't act. Let's face it, he just can't do it. If Jim Carrey's over the top then I don't know what that makes Ferrell, as he makes Carrey look like a retard with a lobotomy. The flipside to all of this, of course, is that Carrey has proven he has dramatic chops as well. Ferrell is 100% himself in Anchorman, which had me cringing in my seat but will probably have his certifiable fans laughing until their sides hurt. If that's your thing, than this vile "movie" is a fitting punishment. As for the rest of the cast, it's sad to see favorites like Paul Rudd and Fred Willard wasting their talents in this overly stupid bore. I've heard a lot of people say that Applegate weighs down the "hilarious" Ferrell. To that, I say a.) Ferrell IS NOT funny ... not in the slightest little way is this man even remotely humorous and b.) Applegate is surely better than Ferrell, if not just in this movie.
As if Ferrell didn't do enough damage with his painfully unfunny lack of acting talent, he decides to sink his teeth into the screenplay as well. Co-written with fellow Saturday Night Live alumni McKay, the screenplay is a messy, unstructured, unfunny disaster. The plot is thin, to say the least, and only serves to string together an increasingly ridiculous and lame series of sketches, all culminating in the WORST scene to be put to film in recent memory. It involves the news team fighting Kodak bears (yes, you read that correctly) and being saved by Burgundy's dog, Baxter, who can communicate with the bears (I know, I know). McKay also sticks around to "direct" but he's more like a retard wrangler for the cast, pretty much making sure they don't go TOO FAR overboard (he fails). He doesn't seem to offer anything substantial in the way of any sort of direction.
What more can I say? This movie is terrible in every way. Some comedies can manage to not be very funny but at least they don't bore you. Anchorman achieves the rare hat trick of being unfunny, boring and uncomfortable. And, I liked Freddy Got Fingered so what does that tell ya? If you're a fan of Ferrell, I recommend you get some serious therapy. But, other than that, I suppose you'll find this movie (or Ferrell at least) "hilarious". I find it more hilarious (and fun) to consistently hit myself in the forehead with a hammer. I guess if you have to choose between watching this movie and having your lower intestine slowly removed without any pain killers whilst listening to Michael Bolton, my suggestion would be to go the intestine route. But, again, that's just me.
King Arthur (2004)
Two and a Half Stars (Out of Five)
King Arthur is a legend that has been told in countless mediums, countless times. King Arthur, the movie, however, purports to be the real story behind the legend. Well, considering there was no real King Arthur (he was a composite character made up of over twenty different people) and that characters like Guinevere and Lancelot were added centuries later to give the story weight and romance, this movie is a little hard to take seriously.
Guinevere being possessed by the spirit of Xena: Princess Warrior doesn't help much either. Still, it ain't all bad, I suppose.
This take on the legend drops the audience in the late 4th century, a time when Rome ruled much of Europe. Arthur (Owen), a half-British, Half-Roman knight, is in charge of a group of Sarmatian warriors who were basically kidnapped from their homes and forced to fight the last 15 years. They're about to get their walking papers but they find out they must complete one last mission for Rome before they can go on their way. Rome has decided to abandon their quest to conquer Britain, which has paved the way for The Saxons, a savage group who will kill any and everything in their path. The Knights of the Roundtable must safely transport a Roman family out of Britain before they can be free. Along the way, they'll be swept up in a clash between The Saxons and the locals who fight for their freedom.
Yeah, it's all a bunch of convoluted gobbaly-gook but it's held together by the presence and acting chops of Clive Owen as King Arthur. He brings humanity, depth and weight to a character who doesn't really deserve it. Without him, this movie would be a one and a half star fiasco, at best. The rest of the cast is all right with no real standouts. Keira Knightley does her job of looking beautiful but when it comes to acting, the same can't be said. Skarsgard is almost unrecognizable as the leader of The Saxons. He does his best but the role is underwhelming and you won't remember much about him after the credits role. The rest of the cast does what needs to be done I suppose, nothing more, nothing less.
The screenplay by Franzoni (who co-wrote Gladiator) is especially weak and is the bulk of most of the film's problems. The dialogue is especially pungent and Franzoni plays fast and loose with historical facts. Although he claims to be telling the "true" story of Arthur and his merry followers, he doesn't seem too interested in historical truth. Odd. Although, director Fuqua (Training Day) doesn't try very hard to fix the many flaws inherent to the script. He seems to be directing the movie on auto pilot, with his only real contribution being the "prettiness" of the movie. But, given his commercial / music video background this isn't surprising. He also manages to contribute more flaws to the movie like why it's cold enough to freeze a lake but not cold enough to produce steam from the characters' mouths. But, the Godfather of all of this ... the ring leader who ties it all together is producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Like Pearl Harbor, he manages to take a historical movie and botch it up royally with a cheesy romance and modern day sensibilities.
In the end, the movie is saved solely by Clive Owen's performance and the fact that it didn't bore me ... too much. The movie itself just isn't very good. It's yet another modern movie trying to hard to be an epic of yore and instead comes across as a bad Lord of the Rings clone. I almost even hate to give it even two and a half stars but, well, I've already mentioned Owen's performance enough. I guess if you get down to your local theater to see a movie and you've already seen Spider-Man 2, Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or any of the many other infinitely better summer movies, King Arthur won't be a complete waste of your time. But, make sure you get in at matinée prices.
Before Sunset (2004)
Five Stars (Out of Five)
In 1995, co-writer/director Richard Linklater, hot off the success of Dazed and Confused, made a little movie called Before Sunrise. It was a deceptively simple story of an American man and a French woman who meet on a train and spend a day together in Vienna. There wasn't much plot to speak of but the dialogue was wonderful, as were the characters. It was a romance for those who didn't necessarily like romantic movies. Nine years later, Linklater and his two leads, Hawke and Delpy, return with Before Sunset, a deceptively simple sequel.
Like its predecessor, Sunrise doesn't have much to offer in the way of plot but what little it has concerns Jesse (Hawke) writing a best seller about the events of the first film. Whilst in Paris on a publicity tour, he meets back up with Celine (Delpy), nine years after the first movie. At the end of Sunrise, the two had agreed to meet again in six months and didn't exchange phone numbers or addresses. Due to unforeseen events, that rendezvous never happened and the two now have about an hour and a half to get re-acquainted before Jesse has to leave for the airport.
Sunset is yet another rare sequel this year that is every bit as good, if not better, than what came before. Both Hawke and Delpy have matured as actors, which gives the characters that extra weight and depth. Although they are the only true "characters" in the movie, the city of Paris itself plays a major part in the film. Linklater takes full advantage of this with wonderful, sweeping camera moves that sometimes last for minutes on end. This not only allows the audience to take in the gorgeous scenery but also for the actors to be more natural with their delivery. This also comes as no surprise since the wonderful screenplay was co-written by Hawke and Delpy. The dialogue is spot-on again, making you believe that these two people really are just shooting the s**t rather than spouting out rehearsed lines.
This all adds up to a wonderfully adult film that will have anybody looking for a smart, funny movie fulfilled. In a season notorious for "dumbed down" movies, Sunset is that much needed kick to the groin. In concept, a sequel to Sunrise seems like an almost impossible task but Linkalter, Hawke and Delpy pull it off in spades. The movie's only in limited release right now but it's definitely worth seeking out. It might seem like more of the same but at the same time it feels so different that you'll be wanting to see it again after the credits have rolled. And, that's the highest praise I can think of for any movie.
The Punisher (2004)
One Star (Out of Five)
For those of you who don't know me, let me just tell you that I'm a fan of comics and have been for close to ten years now. This means that every time a movie based on a comic comes out, I get excited. Of course, this wasn't always the case. I remember a time when comic book movies were synonymous with crap. The Batman sequels (to some extent, Tim Burton's original, as well), the unreleased Fantastic Four movie, the early 90's Captain America debacle, etc. Fans waited until their favorites (X-Men, Spider-Man, etc.) could make it to the big screen, but due to budgetary reasons, it seemed impossible. Of course, this was all rectified with the release of X-Men in 2000, which was followed by the fantastic likes of Spider-Man, From Hell, Blade, Blade II, Hulk, X2 and Hellboy. Even Daredevil and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen managed to be entertaining. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for The Punisher, a truly awful comic adaptation that is neither faithful to its roots nor a good movie.
The Punisher tells the story of Frank Castle (Jane), a retired FBI agent who accidentally killed the son of Howard Saint (Travolta) on his final undercover assignment. Saint, like all Hollywood villains, takes this personally and decides to not only whack Castle, his wife and his child, but also his entire family. Castle and 30 or so of his closest family members are chillin' in Puerto Rico when Saint's posse, led by Quentin Glass (Patton) guns down everybody. They leave Castle for dead, with a bullet hole in his chest and one helluva a headache. He survives the massacre and decides to get vengeance on those who killed his family and took away his life.
On paper, The Punisher sounds like your typical revenge tale and, in its movie form, it is. In fact, the movie pales so much in comparison to the comic book that it's based on, it almost seems criminal to claim that this is The Punisher at all. Sure, you got Frank Castle, and he's got a skull on his chest but he sure don't act like the Punisher I know and love. The most blatantly non-Punisher thing that the movie version of Castle does is give away the fact that he is, indeed, still alive. In the comics (and even the Dolph Lundgren 80's adaptation), The Punisher is a myth, a legend. There are very few people who believe that Castle is still alive and even fewer who think he's now some vigilante. In this movie, however, Castle shows up at a press conference in front of city hall and announces to the whole world that not only is he alive but that he will soon do what the police couldn't ... in other words, he's going to get vengeance (oh, sorry ... punishment). I was expecting him to start leaving business cards at all his crime scenes and maybe even donate a "Punish Signal" to the police department so they could call on him when they needed him ... sheesh.
If that weren't bad enough, The Punisher is now some loser who sits around his dingy apartment all day, drinking Wild Turkey and feeling sorry for himself. Rather than being a bad-ass, on the edge mofo with suicidal tendencies who kicks any and every ass that gets in his way, he's a wuss who plays mind games and looks angrily at his enemies a lot. He manages to make friends with the fellow tenants in his building and even has dinner with them. I don't remember The Punisher having friends, let alone going to social gatherings. It's all so lame and even for those who know nothing of the comic, it's still just poorly written schlock.
What little action there is in this "action" movie is poorly staged and not exciting in the least. The blame for this atrocity can be placed solely on the shoulders of co-screenwriter / director Hensleigh, who makes his directorial debut here. With the exception of Die Hard with a Vengeance, Hensleigh is mostly a hack writer, responsible for hack action movies. He can now be officially listed as a hack director, as well ... responsible for yet another hack action movie. His pacing is wildly uneven and what tries to pass as character development in his script falls flat on its face.
If the work behind the camera is awful, the work in front of it doesn't fare much better. Thomas Jane is a talented actor, as proven by films like 61* but he is given little to do here but be the aforementioned whiny little bitch. Still, it should be the job of the actor to take what he has and expand on it ... and Jane decides to just take the easy way out. John Travolta can also be a talented actor when he chooses to be but his choice of projects seems to rather limit this ability. The character of Howard Saint is no exception. The role is rather small and two-dimensional and the character is so freakin' dumb that you just want to reach through the screen and slap some sense into him. None of the other actors stand much of a chance either, with zero memorable performances shining through the fog of crap ... sad really.
All in all, at the end of the day, The Punisher is a pathetic, silly and lame movie that is easily the worst comic book adaptation since 1997's Batman and Robin. Fans of the comic should downright hate this and those looking for a good revenge / action picture will ultimately be disappointed as well. With the exception of maybe two deaths involving knives, this movie has nothing to offer that would make me recommend it to even the most forgiving of movie-goers. Simply put, skip this trash and see Kill Bill: Vol. 2 instead ... you'll thank me for it afterwards.
Man on Fire (2004)
Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)
Guess what? It's another remake! I know, I know, like that's surprising, right? Hollywood seems to have dried up the "original idea well". Granted, the 1987 original starring Scott Glen in the role of Creasy is, admittedly, obscure. The original also took place in, I believe, Italy and was a French/Italian co-production. Whether or not the new version is any more faithful to the original novel, I have no idea as I haven't seen the original movie nor have I read the book. So, unfortunately, the review of this movie will stand alone as I can make no comparisons to previous incarnations.
The plot of the 2004 version of Man on Fire finds Denzel Washington playing Creasy, an ex-Marine who is down on his luck and deep into the bottle. His friend, Rayburn (masterfully portrayed by Walken), manages to finagle Creasy a job as a bodyguard for Pita (Fanning), the daughter of a rich Mexican father and American mother. You see, the family lives in Mexico City where kidnappings run rampant, all headed by a secret society of policemen and politicians who offer protection to these criminals in exchange for boatloads of cash. One day, this group makes the bad decision of kidnapping Pita. When the deal goes south, Creasy comes back into the fold to take revenge on any, and every, body who was involved (or profited in any way) from her kidnapping / death.
The movie takes its time (about an hour) to develop the relationship between Creasy and Pita. You see, Pita eventually breaks Creasy's cold exterior and kick starts his heart (and his life) all over again. It's a necessary stage so that the audience can truly relate to Creasy when he goes on his uncompromising trail of revenge. Although necessary, it is also a bit too long and some more time spent in the editing room really could've trimmed some of the fat that hangs around the edges. The same can be said for Creasy's blood tale of revenge. It starts off exciting and brings a smile to your face but it lasts for well over an hour and, by the end, you wish they had shortened it in a few places.
Throughout, however, the screenplay by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) sparkles with exquisite dialogue and intriguing characters. Said characters are all performed marvelously by a top notch cast at the top of their game. It's director Tony Scott that drops the ball. His camera and editing choices are fairly poor at times, with lots of gimmicky bullshit thrown in that adds absolutely nothing to the storytelling. His use of color/hue saturation, flashy subtitles (even when characters are speaking English), quick cuts, freeze frames, etc., etc. starts to grate on one's nerves a long time before this bad boy reaches the finish line. His direction of his actors is top notch though, which makes it even sadder when you think about his faults on this movie.
Scott was always one of my favorite directors but he's really starting to go downhill lately. First, there was Spy Game, a movie with a fairly intriguing plot and great acting that was brought down by Scott's choice of visuals. The same thing happened with his short Beat the Devil from the BMW The Hire series. And, now, we have Man on Fire ... which, yup, continues to suffer from this flashy MTV-style bullshit. This isn't avant-garde or gritty or any of those other words that pseudo movie intellectuals might throw about. It's just bullshit, plain and simple.
All in all, Man on Fire is saved by screenwriter Helgeland and it's able cast. Without them, the movie would collapse under its director's pretentiousness and bad visual ideas. It's too bad because if it was handled slightly better, it really could've been one of the year's best. As it stands in 2004's plethora of revenge flicks, it manages to tower over The Punisher (a rather easy feat) but fails to reach the masterful heights of Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Still, if you have almost two and a half hours to kill and you're looking for a good (but not great) action/drama, you could do worse than Man on Fire.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Three and a Half Stars (Out of Five)
The Day After Tomorrow is the best disaster flick since Armageddon, and that's not an insult. For those of you who don't know me, I love Armageddon. Sure, it's not very realistic and it's fairly hokey at times but it's also immensely entertaining. The same things can be said for The Day After Tomorrow. The special effects are freakin' awesome and the characters are good enough to hold your interest when tidal waves, tornadoes, etc. aren't destroying stuff. The dialogue and acting won't win any awards but, again, they get the job done.
The plot, what there is of it, concerns a climatologist, Jack Hall (Quaid), who believes the planet is on the verge of another ice age. He's not sure when it will happen but is fairly certain it will be in the next 100 years. Very few people at The Global Warming Conference in New Dehlie believe him, including the US Vice President. Meanwhile, Terry Rapson (Holm) realizes something isn't quite right along The North Atlantic Current. Together, the two access that Hall's theory of a new ice age is correct, albeit off by a hundred years or so. Tornadoes rip up Los Angeles, floods dessimate New York, hail storms smash Tokyo, Scotland literally freezes and the entire Northern Hemisphere is thrown into chaos. Hall's son gets trapped in New York City, struggling to survive as the temperature rapidly drops. While the President evacuates citizens from the Southern states into Mexico, Jack treks across the frozen tundra from Washington D.C. to New York to save his son and any other survivors still alive.
There's not much there but it works surprisingly well. As I mentioned before, the acting isn't outstanding but it isn't terrible either (as my friend stated after seeing the movie). Quaid has never been the strongest actor in the world but he is fairly convincing as a father who has neglected his son for his work. When faced with the prospect of losing him, though, he "cowboys up" and does what he feels he must. I've always like Gyllenhaal and although it's slightly disheartening to see him drop his indie roots for such and obviously crass Hollywood production, he plays his part well. You understand why the other survivors look to him as a leader and he plays off his action scenes rather well, convincing me that he could make an unlikely action star some day. Holm has little to do but stare at monitors and make comments about "it being too late" and, by the end of the movie, you tend to forget his character even existed in the first place. The rest of the cast is a mix of newbies and veteran character actors. With the exception of maybe Rossum as Gyllenhaal's love interest, they all do admirable work in a movie that doesn't demand much of them. Rossum on the other hand sticks out in my mind as someone who couldn't hold her own amongst the sea of special effects.
As also stated above, the writing is mediocre at best but what else can you expect from the man who co-wrote Independence Day and the Godzilla remake. Emmerich brings his usual mix of greatness and weakness to both the screenplay and the direction. The special effects and the scenes involving them are as spectacular as ever, but as usual the film lacks depth in both character and story. It also, unfortunately, contains the requisite Emmerich schmaltz, which he mistakes for humanity. But, Emmerich is a popcorn director in the end and he succeeds in that department so I guess kudos to him.
All in all, The Day After Tomorrow is a great time at the cinema. It doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights of popcorn greatest that Emmerich's best film, Independence Day, did but it's a great time, nonetheless. It's got great special effects, a good pace and passable enough characters ... which is all a big summer movie really needs. Van Helsing lacked all those things and The Day After Tomorrow trumps it in every way. If you're not too picky or artsy, you should get a kick out of the end of the world.
Two Stars (Out of Five)
All right, boys and girls, it's time for Ben Stiller 2004 Movie #3!! Yay! This guy turns out more movies a year than a trailer trash mom turns out kids. I mean, Jesus Christ, man! Take a vacation already! And, on top of that, he's got at least 3 more movies before the year lets out. I often wonder if Still turns down anything. He's already made me suffer through Along Came Polly this year. Then, he made up for it with Starsky & Hutch, and now he's right back in the s****er with this turd. Oy ...
Envy is the tale of two best friends who work a rather dead-end job at 3M. They live across the street from each other, have cookouts together and drive to work together. Tim (Stiller) lives life by the books while Nick (Black) is a dreamer who's constantly coming up with wacky ideas. One day, he comes up with such an idea for a spray that makes dog shit disappear, no more messy business. Tim laughs the idea off until Nick becomes a millionaire off the successful final product. This causes the envy of the title as Stiller sees how pathetic his life is compared to his friend's (who has, at this point, built the next White House across the street). Stiller meets the J-Man (Walken) who imparts words of wisdom on his new found buddy.
He convinces him to take his anger out on Nick and, of course (like always), wackiness ensues.
Unfortunately, hilarity does not. This movie runs an hour and 39 minutes, but it's not a brisk hour and 39 minutes. OK, that might be a bit harsh as there were a few scant moments that I found myself laughing. And, considering the pedigree of the cast and director, this is more than a little bit disappointing. I've already mentioned that Stiller's a mixed bag for me. I used to really like the guy, but he makes so much crap that I just find myself wanting to slap him upside his head. He plays the same character her he always plays so I don't have much to say about him either way. I do, however, love Jack Black. He's front man of The D, for Christ's sake! Still, he can't save this movie and he doesn't even seem to be trying. Walken rules and he gives this turkey its few redeeming moments. I thank him for keeping me awake. As for Mr. Levinson, how the mighty have fallen. The director of Diner and Rainman is now forced to direct dreck like this?! In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "Did we lose a war? That's not America, that's not even Mexico!" 'Tis a sad day indeed.
There's not much more to say about this car wreck of a movie. It breaks all the rules of comedy by not only being unfunny, but by being boring on top of it all. Word on the street was this clunker was headed direct-to-video until School of Rock raked in the dough at the box office. As much as I love School of Rock, part of me wishes it had tanked so I could've avoided wasting my time at the cinema. It may not be the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's hard not to be so harsh on a product that (on paper anyway) had a helluva lot of potential. There's nothing worse than wasted potential. On the upside, if a script like this can get made than there's hope for my career in the movies yet. My advice, skip this, if you need to see it, wait for video. Otherwise, spend you nine bucks on something more worthwhile.
Shrek 2 (2004)
Four Stars (Out of Five)
The original Shrek took a lot of people by surprise, even going so far as to win the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Shrek was the second collaboration between PDI and DreamWorks, with Antz being their first. Although Antz was undeniably charming, it didn't do much to take the "King of CGI Animation" crown from Pixar / Disney. Shrek, on the other hand, gave Pixar a run for its money. Although it definitely had a message about excepting people for who they are, not how they look, it was definitely more concerned with striking your funny bone with a non-stop barrage of sight gags and movie parodies. Shrek 2 returns with the same tried-and-true formula that benefited its predecessor, and although this would normally bring a sequel down for me, it still works so more power to 'em.
Shrek's (Myers) second adventure finds him and his new bride, Fiona (Diaz), returning to their swamp to find Donkey (Murphy)a love-sick mess after having a fight with Dragon, the love of his life. They also find a troupe of men who announce that Fiona's parents - the King (Cleese) and Queen (Andrews) of Far, Far Away - will be holding a wedding ball for the happy couple. The problem is Fiona's parents don't know that their daughter has married an ogre ... or that she's become one herself, so you can imagine the shock they experience. The King hires a feline assassin by the name of Puss in Boots (Banderas) to "whack" Shrek so Fiona can become human again and marry Prince Charming (Everett), the son of The Fairy Godmother (Saunders). Puss in Boots fails to kill Shrek and instead joins him and Donkey on their quest to get Shrek's true love back before it's too late.
As I mentioned before, Shrek 2 works on the same level as the original. There are numerous movie parodies, fairy tale satire and a lot of humor that will please the adults in the audience. The monkey wrench thrown into the whole thing is the wonderful new character of Puss in Boots. Banderas is fantastic in his voice work and is given the chance to poke fun at the Zorro persona he portrayed wonderfully in The Mask of Zorro. There's an especially hilarious gag involving catnip and a Cops parody called Knights. Myers, Murphy and Diaz continue their excellent voice work from the first film with Murphy once again getting the majority of laughs (that is, until good IL' Puss shows up). It's hard to believe that Murphy used to be one of the funniest men alive but now he's only funny as CG Donkey. The remainder of the major voice work is rounded out by four splendid British actors. Funnyman Cleese continues to do great work as the King and is amply backed up by Andrews, who has less comedy but shines all the same. Everett manages to nail Charming's persona, which is that of a man so in love with himself that he can't see that everybody else despises him. Last, but not least, is Saunders (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) who's Fairy Godmother is certainly a shocking change from the way she's been portrayed in all previous incarnations.
Adamson is the sole returning director from the first film, but he is accompanied by two first-time directors. The three manage to do an excellent job of translating the equally excellent script to the screen. The humor, characters and story are the perfect compliment to the splendid animation that is presented on screen. Speaking of the animation, they've really upped the ante this time around. As visually impressive as the first was, the sequel tops it in every way. Just looking at little things like water and the fur on Puss shows just how far things have advanced since 2001.
At the end of the day, it's hard to say whether or not Shrek 2 is better than it's forefather. It's just as good to be sure, just as funny but it's undeniably more beautiful to look at. This would all seem to add up to a slightly superior film but I've seen the first film so many times that I'd hate to make any real comparisons until I've seen this one a few more times.
Either way, it's definitely a great times at the movie and the first great summer film of 2004. If you enjoyed the first, you're sure to get a lot of fun out of this go around.