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The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
The Hills Have Two Stars
OK, I thought the first half of the movie was quite good: atmospheric, building up tension, decent acting, and solid production values. Then comes the cannibal/mutant attack, and every sane thought goes out the window.
From the halfway mark, the characters impressively enough have the skill to make the wrong choice at every possible moment. I guess you could let it slip by if it happened once, but when it happens about fifteen times, then there's no way back on track: Someone killed the dog? Better not tell anyone. Creepy people sneaking around the trailer? Let's ditch it and go watch that fire over there. Your sister screaming in the trailer? Let's head out in the opposite direction. Finally got the upper hand on a crazy cannibal mutant that is kicking your ass? Better run off to the bathroom, so he can gather himself again. Got the drop on a mutant who's eating your mother? Run away, and shoot blindly while running. And so on, and so on ...
Also, the makeup on the mutants was definitely sub-par, and kind of takes you out of the movie when it's supposed to scare you. There's plenty of blood, but the constant sharp-object-in-the-head thing does tend to get tiresome after a while. In the end, the movie feels like some R-rated Lassie movie, because let's face it - the damn dog is the real hero of the movie.
The School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black plays a rock musician who's been fired from his band, and needs money to pay the rent for the apartment he shares with an old buddy and the latter's girlfriend. After a slight case of mistaken identity, he end up temping as a teacher for a bunch of fifth graders at some posh school. needless to say, he then goes on to teach the kids to play rock and "stick it to the Man"...
First off, I really hated this film. The School of Rock may not be a lousy film as far as the technical aspects are concerned, it's just that the script and Jack Black are so incredibly awful that it hurts. The script brings nothing new to the screen, it's just the same old clichés you've already seen too many times before. You can predict exactly what's going to happen at any given moment. The characters are are bunch of one dimensional stereotypes without any connection with the real world. Sometimes a script like this will make you shrug your shoulders with indifference, but School of Rock seems so content with being unoriginal that it makes me sad.
Then there's Jack Black - playing... Jack Black, I guess. It's becoming painfully obvious that his talents are limited to screaming and jumping around. Here, he manages to surpass all his previous efforts by doing this ALL the time. I think Black is nearly every frame of this film, and he's constantly staring, glaring, shouting, twitching, and doing all other sorts of funny (read: nauseating) stuff. The character he plays is supposed to be a lovable rouge, who teaches the kids about real life, but all I could see was an obnoxious, egocentric, mooching bastard that cared about nothing except himself.
There is something wrong when the theme of a film is that you should fight against conformity by adopting another set of conformity - not to mention a film where our hero tells the kids who can't sing or play an instrument, that they can be groupies... way to go, Teach. [1/10]
War of the Worlds (2005)
Spielberg botches yet another ending...
The story is really simple - aliens attack earth out of nowhere and without warning. Divorcée Cruise has to take responsibility for his two kids and try and take them to safety, wherever that might be. What follows is both a journey across a devastated and chaotic country, as well as Cruise's realisation that he has to become the the father he never really was.
The first two thirds of War of the Worlds are simply brilliant and, in my opinion, flawless. It's Spielberg at his very best: taught, well paced, technically perfect, funny, exciting, and horrifying all at once. Like Minority Report, this film is definitely on the dark side - not necessarily a big crowd pleasing summer blockbuster. For comparison, Independence Day also dealt with an alien invasion and the destruction of large parts of the worlds's urban areas, but it was always more about effects and spectacle. Cruise is no wise cracking hero (at least not to begin with), just a man who's really in way over his head and trying to survive.
Unfortunately, the film has a last third as well. As soon as Tim Robbins' character steps into the action, the movie starts to lose focus. Instead of keeping up the relentless pace it almost grinds to a screeching halt. It's not completely disastrous (it features my favourite scene in the whole film), but compared to what came before you sort of start looking at the watch. Acting-wise, Robbins is absolutely the film's weak link. He isn't quite as awful as he was in Mystic River, but he certainly isn't good either, which doesn't help the proceedings.
With about twenty minutes to go, the film also falls into the trap of having Cruise become the hero, and the tension is definitely gone. Overall, the last part of the film feels rushed and at times almost sloppy.
The ending also has problems. It's true to the book, but it feels a bit anti-climactic as it more or less just ends. A bit more work than having Morgan Freeman do some voice-over work at the end would have helped. Even more damaging is the fact that the sappy Spielberg suddenly takes over. A lot of Spielberg's films suffer from endings that simply are too long, too sentimental, or too "Hollywood", even if the rest of the film isn't (e.g. Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report). I just don't buy the ending to War of the Worlds as it is so diametrically different to what happens before.
In summary, War of the Worlds is very watchable, and for the most part brilliant. The problem is that the weak parts are very weak. Some more work on the script and tighter editing, and this could have been a true classic instead of "just" a very good film. [8/10]
Pretty awful in pink
Speaking of unnecessary sequels... Plot-wise Legally Blonde 2 is basically a copy of the first one, the difference being that law school has been exchanged for Washington, otherwise, the structure of the story, characters, and jokes are almost identical.
There is, of course, a pretty big difference between the two films: the first one was funny, this one is painfully awful. The first film was set in some sort of "real" world, LB2RWB doesn't even pretend to be based in reality. Elle Woods used to be naive and perhaps not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but she wasn't a complete retard like she is in this unfortunate waste of time.
The story is crammed with totally ridiculous stuff: getting a PI to track down Elle's dog's mother so she can invite her to a wedding, a sorority emergency hot-line, Bob Newhart, and gay dogs... I mean, what the...
The movie doesn't have a single funny thing in it, not one. And don't expect me to sit and root for the perky Elle as she goes to congress to teach those stuffy politicians what democracy really is, and what the people really want. In summary, this easily qualifies as one of the most embarrassingly bad films I've seen in a long time. And at 90 minutes, the film manages to feel like it goes on for ever, and ever, and ever... [1/10]
Super? No way!
Supernova is a sci-fi film about an ambulance ship that responds to an SOS from a moon in the middle of nowhere and promptly go there to help. They pick up a survivor and predictably all hell breaks loose.
Supernova feels like a mix of Dead Calm and Event Horizon, except of course that those films were good. Supernova doesn't have one single good scene or moment. It's just a tired rehash of other better films, without anything new or exciting. It's not even bad enough to laugh at.
The characters are completely uninteresting and given no back story. Just by looking at them you can pretty much tell who will live and who wont. Spader and Basset are the heroes (i.e. they will make it), Forster doesn't do anything except die in the first ten minutes (I guess his role got cut down), Tunney is there to show her breasts, Phillips and Cruz are cannon fodder, and Facinelli is the insane villain (here portrayed by being buff and sweaty).
The plot seems to be made up by holes. Actually, trying to make sense of everything that is illogical may be the film's only virtue. Take, for example, the premise of an ambulance ship that doesn't have enough room for it's personnel, let alone any passengers. There are also many things that just end up silly when being on screen - like calling the ship's computer "Sweetie" (that works real well in a tense situation) or having a robot on board, that looks like a mannequin in an old pilot's outfit.
Tryiing to do more intelligent sci-fi films seems to be a tricky thing to pull off (Mission to Mars, Red Planet, and the not-so-intelligent Battlefield Earth all failed). Supernova, with it's nonsensical script and troubled production, is no exception. Shaky, tilted (does anyone think that looks good?) camera work, so-so effects, and cheap looking sets doesn't improve the viewing experience either. To put it short, Supernova is nothing else than a big turkey in space. [1/10]
Sith is an anagram of...
Well, at least it's slightly less awful than the previous two films, but that doesn't make it good. Many seem to think that Sith somehow finally delivers a "real" Star Wars movie - to me it's pretty much just more of the same. The plot sets out to explain the rise of Darth Vader and the evil empire, but the three prequels barely amounts to one film of actual new and/or valuable information.
The emperor's plan for taking over the universe and defeating the Jedi order seems a tad complicated, especially since the build up for the coup has been taking place for many, many years (mostly off screen) only to be carried out more or less by just saying to the senate: "I think it's for the the best that I assume power of your planets." (cue thunderous applauds)...
Anakin's transformation into Vader is also completely wasted. He spends two films going around bitching and moaning, throwing in the odd subtle remark about how "democracy maybe isn't always a good thing". In Sith he changes sides in every new scene, of course there's no doubt as to which way he'll swing so the reason becomes all the more important. Unfortunately, it all comes down to his desire to possibly one day be able to save the life of his not-yet-dead girlfriend. It's just hard for me to see that he would turn into a cold hearted killer just because he's had some visions of his beloved (some actual chemistry between Christensen and Portman would have helped here) Padme, here reduced to retarded crying girl. Sorry, I just don't buy it.
You can defend these films by claiming that they're made for kids, but... the first three films seemed to have worked for kids and adults alike, so why change that? The prequels have been lacking soul. They just keep throwing in stuff and characters from the old films for no other reason than that they were present in those (Anakin built C-3PO, why?). Moreover, it feels like a completely different universe; Jedis can do vertical jumps and drops like they're weightless, R2-D2 could barely roll forward in the earlier films - now he's flying and jumping around - of course, they conveniently erase the robots' memories (read, lazy writing) so maybe he forgot he could do all those films. This may seem like nitpicking, but there are so many lame things like this that I can't help focusing on them instead of the (albeit virtually non-existent) plot.
Sure, there are more explosions and laser fights, but it lacks any sense of emotional involvement. Take the bad guys for example: the new films have them dropping in from time to time, but Maul, Dooku, and Grievous are just there - they don't have any back story and they're not very menacing either. They have been reduced to their light sabers - Maul had a double, Dooku's handle was bendable, and Grievous had four. Wow! Now that's some impressive character development... I mean FOUR light sabers! Genius... (sigh).
I dare say that the new films have all been about showing off new visual effects that can make everything bigger and move faster. One of the truly few good things about Sith is that the effects actually look ten times better than they did in the two other prequels. Of course, they still can't hide the fact that the actors are just standing in front of a blank screen trying to interact with stuff that isn't there (like a decent script). The acting is downright bad, with the exception of McDiarmid who's quite good up until the point where he makes up for the restraint he's shown for two and a half films and start screaming and cackling like crazy... It's easy to blame the script or direction, but they don't even seem to care about their performance, which makes me equally uninterested.
Sith actually has the only moment of these three most recent films that had some emotional impact on me. The literal backstabbing of the Jedi isn't exactly handled expertly, but it works. Ultimately, the prequel trilogy has a few possibly interesting themes to deal with, but Lucas seems unable to dig deeper into the mythology of his universe and settles for big booms and bright colours. And honestly, when talk first started about a trilogy of Darth Vader's birth, did you expect him to have a combined screen time of about two minutes? Like the Matrix sequels, episodes 1-3 is best forgotten as they actually manage to tarnish their originals. [2/10]
Love Actually (2003)
I didn't hate Love Actually, but I didn't love it either...
Obviously, Richard Curtis set out to make the ultimate love story film of all time. Love Actually contains no less than nine (I think) different stories intertwined a la Short Cuts. They try to cover virtually every aspect of love there is (however, not a gay one - I guess that wasn't PC enough for a Christmas time feel-good movie).
Equally obvious is that there are way too many stories. The pacing is erratic, some subplots getting a lot of screen time, while others seem to have been forgotten about. Just witness how Laura Linney just disappears towards the end of the film. The end result would have been much better if they had just cut away half of the plots and fleshed out the remaining ones. In my opinion they should have kept the ones with Rickman - Thompson, Firth - Portugese maid, Linney, and (possibly) Keira Knightley.
Too many of the others are simply completely pointless. For example, Marshall's trip to the US to sleep with American women doesn't go anywhere. The only thing it's there for is to show of some "hot" young actresses like Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elizabeth, and Denise Richards. Throughout the film, there's also an obsession with showing women in (or preferably out of) their underwear. There's no reason for it, and it just feels really tacky.
The filmmakers don't want to risk that the audience actually has to think for themselves - so at every key moment in the film there's usually a song or a piece of music that lets you know exactly how you're supposed to feel. I know that everybody does it, but here it's just too obvious and clumsy. This can also be said about the choice of setting the film around Christmas time, as if most of these stories weren't sappy enough...
In conclusion, Love Actually is a decent film that could have been much better. Cramming in material enough for three films doesn't make it three times as good as one. There are some really great moments, but they're all to often lost among not so great ones. With a cast as great as this one, it must be tempting to use them as much as possible, but as it is now, most of them are sadly wasted. This is definitely a film where less would have been more. [4/10]
A Man Apart (2003)
A script apart
Strictly by the numbers action piece in the vengeful cop genre. Diesel is an ex-gang thug who now works a cop. After taking down a big crime boss, his wife gets murdered and Diesel goes out looking for whoever did it.
This is one of the things that bothers me. Diesel doesn't really know who's behind the hit (nor does the audience), so what follows is basically watching Diesel going round asking questions, seemingly at random, stumbling upon clues that make little sense. It's like the screenplay wasn't quite finished, so they made up scenes as they went along. The result is long stretches of pointless talking, with random shootouts every now and then.
There's nothing spectacular about anything that happens, or concerning the film's look in general. Moreover, it's hard to sympathize with Diesel's character when he himself doesn't seem to care about the safety of those around him. The films mixes violent action scenes with broad comedy in a way that simply doesn't work.
The story just unfolds without explaining what's going on. The ending, for example, just happens, and doesn't feel like it belongs to the rest of the film at all. Diesel's acting skills come up short, as does most others as well to be fair. Only Timothy Oliphant seems to be having a good time, and he's really the only thing worth watching. [1/10]
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
The plot isn't really heavy in this one, so I'll keep it real short. Super slick divorce lawyer Clooney meets his match in Catherine Zeta-Jones' gold-digger wife, when their paths cross. A sort of screwball comedy ensues.
Intolerable Cruelty has its moments, no doubt about that. On more than a few occasions it's really funny, Clooney is enjoyable, the supporting characters very fine (especially Thornton), the film look gorgeous, and the music is fantastic. That said, there are also a bunch of problems.
Zeta-Jones still has to prove that she's more than a pretty face (she kind of falls short in that aspect as well, if you ask me). Albeit, her role isn't exactly fleshed out, so you can't really blame her. Moreover, the Coens are at their best when they make completely over-the-top films, e.g. the masterpieces Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. There are moments of that sort of brilliance in Intolerable Cruelty, but they're hampered by a script that's also pretty dull and predictable (not to mention reminiscent of other films).
You never really doubt how the whole film is going to end, and an attempt at a twist in the story is wasted since it's pretty obvious what's going on. The end result is a wildly uneven film that has got plenty of both "wows" and "mehs". A nice try, but nothing special. [6/10]
Cube Zero (2004)
Cube - again ... again
Those familiar with the two previous Cube films pretty much know what they can expect: a small group of people trapped inside a bunch of booby trapped rooms, paranoia, bad acting... This one is a bit different though. Roughly half of the film takes place outside the cube, where we get to watch the people watching the people inside the cube (or at least five of them).
I guess Cube Zero aspires to explain what the deal with the cube is, but you really don't get to know much more than what was covered in the two first films. Sure, there's sort of an explanation in there, but it feels pretty lame compared to what was suggested in the first film.
Cube Zero looks rather cheap (as did its predecessors), and the fact that it shows more than just a couple of empty rooms only emphasizes this feeling. I also fell pretty confident in saying that there's no risk that any of the actors will win any awards in the foreseeable future. They have brought back the traps from Cube 1, though, (by that I mean that they're almost the same ones, which is a bit of a shame).
I know that many people kind of appreciate this film and its ties with the first one, but I just feel that it's a completely unnecessary contribution to a franchise that wasn't that great to begin with. [1/10]