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Wedding Crashers (2005)
Predictable and somewhat mean-spirited
I didn't find Wedding Crashers to be the lark it appeared to be in promos. Call me old-fashioned, but when the basis of an activity is to lie in order to get something from someone else, then I don't find those who do that admirable or worthy of being the "good guys." The only way that works is is you give back to those you lied to in equal amounts, and that doesn't happen in Wedding Crashers. It is all about using others, and that isn't fun.
On top of that, Wedding Crashers was as predictable a movie as I have seen in the past 10 years. The opening collage of crashed weddings was too long, but it only took about 15 minutes to guess what would happen to the main characters who had spent years callously using others ... they would finally discover love. Duh. It would have been funnier if they had met some women who were better at using them than they were at using women.
Wedding Crashers creates a whole mythology that is interesting, but not really very funny. I gave it a 5.
Not as bad as feared, but incomplete
When Elektra was in theaters, the reviews I read trashed it. Daredevil wasn't very good, and most critics said this spin-off was worse. But when I finally caught up with Electra on HBO, it was better than I expected. It was just incomplete.
The story arc is almost elegant, in a way. (Spoilers) Elektra is a bitter woman whose anger from a childhood tragedy caused her martial arts teacher to boot her out of his school, so she can learn lessons by living them (vs. being taught). She apparently was too angry and therefore could not progress until she dealt with that.
Of course, being kicked out by the person she respects for reasons that to her are unclear just makes her more angry. So, Elektra becomes an assassin. We meet her sometime after she has been successful at her new craft. There is moral ambiguity here, because we don't learn what kinds of people she has killed. If she kills "bad people," then she can retain her innocence. It is hard to root for anyone who kills good people for hire. But what she has done in the past isn't clear. It is incomplete. And as we learn, someone on the side of good is involved with giving her her assignments (through her agent, of all things) ... so I suppose we should assume Elektra only assassinated bad people. That should have been better defined.
We do see her next contract - a father and his teenage daughter, who (not coincidentally) live in a lake cabin near where Elektra has been told to rent a house for a bit. Turns out the daughter is special, and thus ensues the main point of the film - Elektra learns she doesn't have to remain bitter, and does good deeds along the way.
I mention all this because it is classic redemption of a hero, but the holes left by the script don't close the loop. Neither does the ending, in which henchmen are eliminated but not the bosses in charge. No one seems concerned about that. With a tighter script, this movie could have been a 7. I gave it a 5.
The Island (2005)
Great start, then takes the wrong path
After a fascinating first 30 minutes or so, The Island goes big when it should have stayed spare.
Like Gattaca (one of my favorite movies), The Island presents us with a future that asks us questions about where we are headed in our real present. And it asks us to decide whether this future is what we want. Unlike Gattaca, which kept the chases to a minimum and instead capitalized on great performances by its actors as their actions gave us new insights, The Island becomes what seems like one, big chase scene broken into several different parts (depending on the vehicle being chased).
We figure out in the first quarter of the movie what is really going on here. That first quarter is very effective at intriguing and disgusting the viewer. Unfortunately, because we know so quickly what is happening, that leaves the next 90 minutes to essentially follow two characters as they are thrust into new and dangerous situations and then escape them. During all of this time, the viewer wonders when the movie will return to some of the central questions raised during its first 45 minutes. It eventually does, sort of.
The acting is excellent, if a bit disconcerting when characters who appear to be at least 30 years of age and some close to 40 seem to be at best young teenagers in the way they struggle to express questions about their environment and future. Even so, the main characters seem to learn about reality a bit too quickly. They act when they should still be asking questions, preferably when they had time to do so and weren't simply running.
And the movie succumbs to cheap impulses when it allows the security people at "The Institute," who know what is going on there, to laugh or taunt their victims. It would have been far creepier if those security forces had remained professional at all times, because that would have indicated these people were sincere in their support and not just paid lackeys.
If The Island had cut out 20 minutes of chases and replaced it with more discussion among the main characters about who they are and whether that is a feasible answer, it would have been better. As it was, we gave The Island a 6.
Alexander was closer to Clash of the Titans than any of Oliver Stone's typical films. Casting, acting, editing ... they were all sub par. Colin Farrell wasn't at all convincing as Alexander. He seemed more like a child demanding attention than an emperor to be. Angelina Jolie sounded like Morticia (was that her name?) from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Her scheming was mildly interesting, but each time she spoke it was hard not to laugh. In fact, it was hard not to laugh throughout the film, but more importantly, it was hard to be drawn into the film when every actor seemed like they were playing pretend. I always wonder when I see a movie this bad whether the actors knew it while they were making it. I get a sense they might have had an inkling early on. Something went wrong with this production, and it showed up on film. We gave it a 4.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Well done, scary, but ends with a whimper
War of the Worlds is at this point practically an archetype. It is "the" alien invasion premise, and Spielberg does it proud in this updated version of the tale. The acting, the effects, the pacing ... all very good. Yes, the allusions to the Holocaust and 9/11 are a bit too much, but not annoyingly so. They just stand out when they happen. There is one twist regarding how the aliens grow their "red vine" that is so macabre as to be disturbing. I thought it was a nice touch for a scary movie.
The oddest thing about this movie is its ending, or more specifically, how it is handled. If you have read the book, or know anything about any incarnation of War of the Worlds, than you basically know what happens at the end. Spielberg chooses to create a thrilling movie for the first hour and a half, and then it essentially ends off camera. We literally go from thrill ride to safety in a few seconds and we are not sure why. Viewers are brought up to speed quickly, but there is no real emotional impact or sense of relief. There is mostly a lot of, "Huh?" Of course, in all of the War of the Worlds versions, the ending is somewhat silly. It is even more so in Spielberg's movie, which at several points has characters talking about the fact that the aliens must have been planning this invasion for thousands of years. If so, how did they overlook their Achilles heal? Unless that is an allusion to the Bush administration's "planning" of the Iraq war, it makes no sense. These aliens made a major boo-boo.
I enjoyed the first 80 percent of War of the Worlds. If the final 20 percent had been better, it might have earned a 9. As it was, I gave it a 7.
La marche de l'empereur (2005)
Decent documentary, but why all the love?
March of the Penguins is essentially an (over)dramatized documentary. It takes biologically-driven behavior and tries to assign human traits to the penguins' actions. The movie as a documentary was OK. One of the "special features" is, interestingly, a documentary about the documentary which in my opinion was actually better than March of the Penguins. It was shot chronologically and also followed the penguins, but instead of the overly dramatic narration of MOTP (which included Morgan Freeman describing a penguin which lost its chick as if the penguin was in deep anguish and ready to whip out an Uzi and wipe out the colony to erase its pain), it has the French-accented voice of the director describing more clearly and in more informative terms what the penguins are doing. I gave MOTP a 6.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Quirky and amusing but leads nowhere
I'm a sucker for small films with quirky characters who act in ways that are understandable even as they are odd. Napoleon Dynamite is that kind of film.
Just about every main character we meet in the film can be classified as a loser. Male or female, English or Latino, in school or long graduated, these are folks who just don't fit in ... even in a small town in Idaho. That doesn't make them less watchable. In fact, decoding what exactly is off about each character is half the fun of this film. The characters themselves are not necessarily sad or upset they don't fit in. They seem aware of it, but don't take steps to address it.
The film takes a while before it gets to any sort of plot. Just when I started to wonder if there was one, something came along. And the plot is thin, but does tie in to who the main characters are.
My major issue with Napoleon Dynamite was the ending. It made no sense. Avoiding spoilers here ... what the main character does inexplicably seems to make a difference. Why it isn't viewed as something as weird as anything else he does, I don't know. And when the film ended, I was left wondering if there was a message I wasn't getting. Maybe there is, but if so, it is pretty esoteric. I gave ND a 6.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Decent for what it is, bit no new ground broken here
Ever watched a movie that was technically very good, with fine performances by the actors, but which contained no surprise and even was filled with plot twists you just knew were coming? That's Friday Night Lights.
The movie is put together well. Billy Bob Thornton is very good, as are most of the other actors. There is some confusion that isn't explained when the football team does well or poorly with and without a key player ... is the movie saying that at first the team struggled, but then grew as a team and later was better without him? It isn't clear. But otherwise, everything moves along pretty well.
Minor spoilers - The problem is, we have all seen this before. Small town in which many adult residents overly focus on the local high school football team. Players under intense pressure as a result. Coach who faces comments everywhere he goes about how the team is doing or will do. Even a father trying to relive his life through his son. It has all been done. Nothing in this movie was a surprise. There is a mild one at the end to avoid total cliché.
I expected the movie to be stronger, but instead I felt like I was watching the son of "All the Right Moves" or cousin of "Radio." We gave it a 6.
King Arthur (2004)
Users have it right, worth about a 6 out of 10
Who doesn't love a good King Arthur tale? Excaliber remains my favorite Arthur movie, for its darkness and just plain strangeness at times. This film, King Arthur, claims it is telling the true story behind the Arthurian legend. Well, OK. I didn't check up on the facts but I'll go with it for now.
The Good: The winter scenes are terrific. You practically shiver as the characters make their way through icy, snowy passes. And some of the shots with blowing snow as the characters talk to each other are fantastic. The actor who plays the leader of the Saxons is very good, giving us a confident, yet enigmatic villain.
The Bad: Clive Owen seems too old to be Arthur. And too bleak. He has morals, but we are unsure how he developed them. There is no overarching dream of a Camelot, and there is little in the way of explanation as to why he acts as he does, given the world he lives in.
The Ugly: This is why the movie barely deserves a 6 - editing. Individual scenes are done well, but the transitions from one plot development to another are vague and convenient. You often find yourself saying, hmm, OK, well I guess that happened, but it doesn't seem like it should have been so simple. I would say more but this spoilers rule has me worried about being blackballed for life.
King Arthur is a 6.
Too sweet, too slow, fairly predictable and little sense at the end
Radio has some very good actors giving good performances. Its flaw is its story.
Once the movie introduces us to its main characters, it never really settles on the bad guys to provide us with conflict. Oh, for a brief while one of the football players is mean to Radio, but he learns better. And a big booster doesn't like Radio being around the school's teams, but he never really tries very hard to do much to Radio. The coach's daughter feels abandoned by her dad (who takes such a strong interest in radio). But she never really protests much. Even the school board representative pretty much makes a reasonable case for his interest. And none of the football or basketball games seem to lead to anything. There is no build up or sense of greater purpose.
After a while, you start to wonder where the movie is headed, because there is not really much conflict happening. And when it does end, you are left saying, 'Huh What?' [MINOR SPOILERS] When something happens to Radio's mom, who takes care of Radio? He apparently doesn't come home with the coach. Is it Radio's brother? Why don't we see him? And when the coach makes his surprise announcement, does this lead to adopting Radio? If not, what was the point of the announcement?
There is one strong moment, when the coach tells his daughter about an incident from his childhood that helps explain why he is so interested in Radio. Other than that, this movie is so calm as to be comatose. The acting raised my rating to a 6.