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Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)
Worst of the year list
I checked this out on DVD because I have liked Romola Garai in her costume drama appearances and I figured the music and dancing would be good. The best thing I can say about Havana Nights is that, with fast forward, it only lasts 45 minutes.
It is just awful. The music and dancing are often inauthentic to the period, and the plot and dialogue are juvenile. The dancing isn't even that great. Someone phoned in the script after replacing "Catskills" with "Havana". You get two basic endless interminable scenes: 1) Garai and her Cuban busboy (who is terrible) shock people with their dance moves and/or practice their dance moves, 2) Garai carries on interminable conversations on the trivial plot points with her dad, her mom, her busboy, etc. There are a few lame moments about the Cuban revolution. Just to indicate how contrived this is, can you guess when the "latin dance final" is held? (If you picked New Year's Eve 1958, give yourself a gold star, then go rent Godfather 2.)
Mildly interesting segments on the teen Anglo community in Havana, and attractive location shots, are about the only parts I didn't fast forward. We didn't even get to see Romai in a swimsuit, much less a birthday suit (which would have provided a moment of relief).
The Music Man (2003)
Stale and inferior rehash
This remake falls far short of the original. There was plenty of room for improvement over the cheesy but loveable original. However, Disney sucked every ounce of charm out, while leaving the glaring shortcomings.
The killer is Matthew Broderick. Robert Preston's charismatic portrayal of Harold Hill filled the original with tension and fun. Would you be conned by Matthew Broderick? I don't think so. Preston's great charm, his slick and edgy patter, made the original movie great. Broderick is just a pretty boy, way too sweet, and he can't hold the screen like Preston. Think of Don Knotts trying to play Dirty Harry.
I was fully prepared to like the movie even with a second-rate Hill. Not only was Broderick was third-rate, however, but also the rest of the production largely fell short of the original.
There was plenty of room for improvement, but Disney didn't make it. The cheesy dance numbers and townspeople were all retained in their original horror. The mayor's daughter managed to be just as irritating in the remake -- I think if I hear "Ye Gods" one more time, my head will explode.
For one example: The barbershop quartet Disney used to replace the Buffalo Bills (who sang the part both on Broadway and the original movie) were rock-tight and solid. In this remake, the quartet was really fairly poor. I don't know how Disney could not manage to find a good barbershop quartet.
Every single actor is inferior to the counterpart in the original.
To give it the small amount of credit due, at least Kristin Chenoweth can sing. I really enjoyed her very different but generally excellent reinterpretations of Marian's songs. She cannot, however, act. Shirley Jones may not have been Meryl Streep, but she had basic film actress chops. Chenoweth is awkward, grating, and unconvincing.
The sets were generally better. The quality of the photography, especially the color, was better, but the cinematography was amazingly poor.
I give this remake an "F". I am amazed the Disney did not manage some improvements.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
How to Lose Your Lunch In 10 Minutes
Summary: Walked Out
It is interesting to speculate how long a super-hyped actress with almost no talent, like Kate Hudson, will continue to get big parts. Andie McDowell managed a pretty good career taking similar roles, and without much acting ability, but she had a great nose for a script (or else the best agent in Hollywood). Hudson, on the other hand, stumbled into one big winner, which she managed not to ruin, and has since been dead weight in sinking ships. How To Lose A Guy may not be as simply awful as Four Feathers, but it stinks.
Matthew McConnoughey, who is a pretty decent actor, is miserably miscast both as a high-tension Madison Avenue adman -- a part that sits badly with his down-home everyman charm -- and as a fluffy romantic lead. Bebe Neuwerth is a cartoon.
The inviting premise falls apart after five minutes. The acting is poor and the script and directing are, if possible, worse. Hudson's actions in her quest to get a man to dump her are unimaginative, haphazard, and childish.
Red Dragon (2002)
A Nice Surprise
I really disliked Hannibal and was reticent to see Red Dragon, but finally broke down and bought a ticket -- thank heaven. I loved it, and it should be seen on the big screen. Really, I liked it better than Silence of the Lambs.
First, the performances are outstanding from top to bottom. The characters are generally more understated, the plot is less sensational and more cerebral, and it depends a lot less on the combination of gore and Lecter's near-superpowers to propel it forward.
Hopkins actually seems human on occasion, instead of some devil-made-flesh. Norton earns his victory more than Clarisse did, and Fiennes is definitely a more human villain, struggling at times with his moral sense. The supporting roles by Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (the hometown journalist in "Almost Famous") are superb and, again, not severely overplayed as were so many parts of Silence of the Lambs.
** SPOILERS INCOMING **
I knew I was going to like it from the opening vignette, which shows Lecter wincing at a flautist's mistakes during a rendition of Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream", then cutting to Lecter having the symphony board at an elegant dinner party. The irony, although apparent, is painted with a brush instead of a roller, and Norton is allowed to discover Lecter's crime with good pacing and believable antecedents.
The photography is rich, lush and colorful, and the movie is heavily populated with active, living people, to give some backdrop and balance for the horrible crimes. I was reminded at several points of Edgar Allen Poe, and there is a hint of tragedy. Best of all, the volume of blood and guts shows some restraint, and there was a delightful absence of hysterical law enforcement personnel screaming at each other.
I really enjoyed Red Dragon a lot, and was especially surprised at the restraint and complexity, given the di Laurentis involvement.
If they had really wanted to live up to the title "Trapped", they should have locked the theater doors. If I couldn't have walked out of this mess, there would have been some actual excitement.
It started out all right, but I knew there was trouble ahead when I realized I was rooting for the kidnappers. If you want to see a family trying to rescue their kidnapped daughter, rent "Don't Say a Word".
The dialogue was a joke, almost the entire ensemble was miscast, the directing straight out of made-for-television. It should die a quick death at the theaters -- not even the American public is stupid enough to support this kind of crud. (Which puts me in the bottom 1%, I suppose, LOL, since I actually paid $8 for a ticket.)
The heaven, "One Hour Photo" was playing right next door and started 5 minutes after I walked out of Trapped. (If you want to see a masterwork of suspense, I highly recommend One Hour Photo instead.)
One Hour Photo (2002)
This one gets an A+ from me. Stark terror in broad daylight. This is not an action movie, but very much a suspense movie in the Hitchcock tradition. Not for hyperkinetic teens -- no big gunfights, extended chase scenes, or fireballs -- but for adults who like suspense. It is like a Shyamalan film without the gore, and nothing like "Silence of the Lambs".
I am always amazed when Hollywood does something original. But this one managed to surprise me constantly -- I had no clue about what would happen next at the big plot turns.
BIT OF A SPOILER:
The appeal of One Hour Photo would be a lot broader if they could give away the fact that nothing horrible happens and there are no blood and intestines. (Well actually there is a chase scene.) In fact, it has a happy ending and is something of a "feel good" movie, albeit following an hour of nail-biting. Again, it is very much like The Sixth Sense, or Signs, in this regard.
I don't go for "artsie" movies, but One Hour Photo has a plot that kept me riveted from start to finish. This is really the best movie I have seen all year -- I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
I have disliked Robin Williams in every movie he has made for the past 5 or 10 years -- for me, this is his first major success in drama. He has returned to something closer to his character in "Fisher King" and it really suits him.
Pay It Forward (2000)
I will not be lengthy, as there has been a lot of commentary. I was disappointed, increasingly, as the movie progressed.
The "hook" story is excellent, that is, the tale of how the "pay it forward" movement got started, progressed, and the reporter's hunt to find it.
The drama began, also, promisingly enough, especially considering three fine actors in the lead roles. And it was cleverly woven into the hook. As the movie progressed, however, the drama bogged down into a long strong of cliches, recited in windy boring dialogues, without a single new wrinkle. Moreover, the amount of film time given to these paper-thin personal agonies made the personal drama the primary element of the film, shoving aside the more-interesting "pay it forward" story.
And by "cliches" I mean the worst in the business. They actually could have gotten away with Helen Hunt as a single mother of a child with problems, said child being helped by a handicapped stranger striving to overcome mental problems (ring a bell?). But the gratuitous estranged wife-beating father getting a second chance and reverting to form was gratuitous and just plain irritating. The "boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" stuff was agonizing.
The ending was just plain awful, a pseudo-religious cop-out.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
This movie is hilarious. I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes, and even when I wasn't laughing out loud, I was pretty well amused. Terrific performances from an unknown cast. Really a must see for anyone who really likes a belly laugh.
Don't let the bad title throw you off, this is a rare treat.
Le pacte des loups (2001)
Brotherhood of the Wolves is beautiful and riveting. Set in 18th century France, and steeped in the politics of brewing revolution, it concerns a legendary beast (thought to be a wolf) that terrorizes a small outlying province, slaughtering mostly women. It's bite marks, however, are twice the size of those a wolf would make, as the protagonist Fronsac (a natural historian sent to sketch the beast) immediately ascertains.
To call this film "atmospheric" is like calling Queen Elizabeth "rich". It has fabulous lush cinematography of the French countryside, candle-lit interiors of chateaux and hovels and dungeons (and a great velvet-and-gilt bordello), and a great hulking vicious monster always lurking somewhere.
The plot is absorbing, full of twists and turns, but coherent and satisfying at the end.
I really think this might be my favorite movie in what has been a very good winter. I like it perhaps even better than Lord of the Rings, which is saying a lot, although unlike Lord of the Rings it ultimately does not require a complete suspension of disbelief. And actually, if you stir Lord of the Rings together with Count of Monte Cristo, you would land pretty close to Brotherhood of the Wolves. Perhaps a dash of "Last of the Mohicans" also -- Fronsac has journeyed to "Nouvelle France" and brought back a Mohawk shaman as a companion.
The only flaw, for my taste, was the inclusion of "kung-fu" type fight sequences. But nothing could take away from the magic world created by this film. Outstanding!
The Anniversary Party (2001)
What a waste
If anyone doubts the peculiar talents needed to write/direct an ensemble drama, you need only see "Anniversary Party". Limp dialogue, somnorific pacing, and a complete lack of vision destroy a powerful cast. What can actors do, after all, when they have no lines, no artistic direction, and no editing?
This movie is just awful. And that, despite at least ten noble performances by one of the most promising crews ever assembled.
I have a feeling that Jennifer Jason Leigh owes a lot of people a lot of favors after this.