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Touching the Void (2003)
Best Film of 2004
Touching The Void is part Documentary, and part dramatic re-enactment. Real interviews of Joe and Simon are inter-cut with dramatic re-enactments of their disastrous climb. If this had been a straight-up documentary, told by only interviews, it would have been a moving story, but would have lacked something. If it had been a straight-up dramatic movie, with actors and special effects, it would have been thrilling, but still missing some realism. Combining Joe and Simon's first hand story with realistic recreations on location is what this story needed to be told in the most realistic and scary way. The re-enactment was done on location at Siula Grande, with stunt climbers and actors. Watching the story unfold just by seeing the events on film is exciting, but when you're hearing Joe and Simon narrating their thoughts on the actual events at the same time, you can't help but feel genuine terror and concern for them. Take the scene where Joe is hanging over the cliff, ready to die. You know that he did survive, because you're seeing and hearing him talk about it in the movie, but it's his words that ground you in the moment. I've never heard a person talk about what it's like waiting to die, let alone have a visual image to go along with their words. I can honestly say that I was terrified for him, even knowing the outcome. And there are a dozen other scenes that produce the same effect. The majority of this film is made up of hopeless moments. Hearing Joe and Simon tell their story makes you believe it's hopeless, because that's how they actually felt at the time. This movie is very heavy, and almost as draining as an actual mountain descent would be. Touching The Void is as unique, powerful, and terrifying as any film I've seen in years.
I, Robot (2004)
Could've gone in a better direction
I thought it could've been a lot better. I was hoping for Proyas to take it in a Blade Runner or Minority Report direction, and instead it was like a second rate Terminator 3. Plus the 3rd act of I, Robot seemed directly ripped off of Conquest of the Planet Of The Apes. Ever since I saw the trailer I've been concerned that the movie was trying to sell Will Smith "the personality" over an interesting idea for a movie. The fact is, Will Smith was a little too witty. I'm a fan of Will Smith and his wit and comedic timing usually works well, but it was out of place here. This is Will Smith toned down from what he normally does, but he still was just playing Will Smith. The action was okay but not great. I have a feeling that the look of the movie will hurt it in the future. It will one day be in the same category as Soylent Green. A futuristic movie that looks very dated for its time. I don't think movies should make everything look futuristic, but at least make it look less 2004-like. Shia Lebeouf is a good actor and he was funny, but his character strikes me as out of date even for 2004. That mid 90s gangsta-boy thing is over. I give credit to the movie in 2 departments. The visual effects and Sonny the Robot. Although I've seen much better visual effects this year, I have to admit that unlike other movies of this kind, half way through the movie I stopped looking at the Robots as CGI and started seeing them just as Robots. Alex Proyas didn't go over the top trying to sell a visual style and I liked that. The best thing about the movie is Sonny the Robot. He was the one character that kept me interested until the end. Alan Tudyk saved this from being an amateur summer blockbuster. I have some major complaints about the movie, and I'll probably never see it again, but there were enough entertaining moments to partially satisfy me. I'll just say I didn't walk out of the theater hating it. There is one thing that seriously annoyed me. I understand that product placement happens all the time, but could there not have been a more clever product placement than having Will Smith put his shoe up on a table and say...
"Converse, vintage 2004!"
That was way too cheesy.
Sharpe's Enemy (1994)
Sharpe vs. Hakeswill
In Sharpe's Enemy, a group of deserters, led by Sharpe's arch nemesis Obadiah Hakeswill, take over a town and hold two women captive. One woman is the wife of a British officer, the other woman is the wife of a French officer. Sharpe is sent to pay the ransom, but when he arrives, the ransom is increased. Sharpe mounts a rescue attempt, that ultimately concludes in a confrontation between him and Obadiah Hakeswill.
Obadiah Hakeswill is pure evil, and probably the most entertaining character in the Sharpe series. At the end of Sharpe's Company, Hakeswill tried to rape Sharpe's wife. He escaped, and that leads into Sharpe's Enemy. The best way to describe the Sharpe movie series is that it's a collection of individual movies that all can be viewed by themselves. You don't need to start at the beginning. If you want to watch the 9th movie in the series first, it doesn't make a huge difference. The only two movies that I believe work best watching them back to back are Company and Enemy. That way you get the full enjoyment out of the outstanding feud between Sharpe and Hakeswill. I want to say that Sharpe's Enemy is without a doubt my favourite movie in the series. It is superior to all the others on many levels. Instead of this being just another adventure for Sharpe, his story and character really move forward. I love how each movie takes a different approach to developing Sharpe's character. This time you see him as a very honourable man that is tempted by a woman other than his wife. In some of the Sharpe movies I find it hard to accept the new characters that are introduced. Sometimes new characters just don't work, this time they did. I think Sharpe's Enemy has the most solid supporting cast of the series. New characters like Sweet William and Farthingdale are some of the best characters in the story. I actually think Sweet William should've been given more to do. Major Ducos is introduced as a secondary villain, one who's almost the polar opposite of Hakeswill. The movie needed that balance. Ducos continued to appear in future Sharpe movies. I really loved the portrayals of Wellington and Nairn this time. As Sharpe's Enemy got closer to the end, I felt overwhelming anticipation for what was to come. The climax has never been topped. First there's the rescue attempt, which offers real thrilling action. SPOILER AHEAD..... DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT IT SPOILED.......
Then there's the confrontation between Teresa and Obadiah. When I saw this for the first time, I had never read any of the books, so it came as a real shock that they had the guts to kill off Teresa, a major character. The way it's done in this movie is so dramatic. Usually if a movie kills off a character, they tie up all loose ends and give a happy ending to their story. It's never resolved that Sharpe cheated on his wife just before she died, and she never found out, which gives Sharpe some unbelievable character development in the next movie. The way Tom Clegg handled that twist is daring. What was even more satisfying than that is the way Sharpe and Hakeswill's final confrontation plays out. I have occasionally found some of the final duels between Sharpe and his enemies to be unfulfilling. On some of the movies, they resolve matters by a swordfight that's all too brief and brings little closure. Keeping the fate of Hakeswill simple is what impressed me more than anything. It also showed a different and surprising side of Sharpe. Sean Bean shows some of his best acting in the scene where Ducos tells him to surrender the town. Bean barely says a word, but you just understand his character and almost want to cheer by his reaction to Ducos. By this point in the story, I thought it was spectacular. It was an added bonus that there was a final battle still to come. Ducos' arrogance forces the French into an embarrrassing loss, thanks to the Rockets that provided for comic relief early in the movie.
I am shocked that Sharpe's Enemy has one of the lower ratings of the series on IMDb. Sure, a 6.9 is impressive, but it's low compared to some of the other movies. How could Sharpe's Gold have a higher rating? I put Sharpe's Enemy on the same level that most people put Goldfinger on with the James Bond movies. It is head and shoulders above all the others. Sharpe has never topped this movie.
Sharpe's Sword (1995)
Sharpe's best since Enemy
Sharpe's Sword is one of the more complicated stories. There's a French officer changing identities to hide the fact that he's actually a Colonel named Leroux who has been sent to assassinate a mysterious British agent named El Mirador. Confused yet? Meanwhile, Sharpe also rescues a young woman who doesn't speak, so she is given the name Lass, and despite Sharpe's efforts to pawn her off, Lass continues to stick to Sharpe like glue, even sleeping in his tent at night. There's a hidden code, traitors, spies, Priests, and a subplot of Harper being forced to marry Ramona, the mother of his child. The story is even more complicated than that, but this is all I'll say.
The story takes some big leaps this time, revolving around the possible death of Sharpe. Even though for a lot of the movie they're not in contact, Sharpe and Harper have a great dynamic between them. While in the past the loyalty between the two of them was always there, this movie gives some insight into their relationship. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't mind the character of Lass. Of course she's not as good as La Marquesa, but come on, La Marquesa was the best female character the series ever had. And considering Lass only speaks a few words during the entire movie, her character was still better developed than several other female characters in the series. I have to say that the real treat of Sharpe's Sword is the unexpected return of Simmerson, the original pompous, bumbling, fool of a British Officer. I believe Henry Simmerson to be one of the reasons why Sharpe's Eagle was so popular, and next to only Obadiah Hakeswill, Simmerson is the best villain this series had. The scene between him and Lass is the best example of why he's so good. Sir Henry Simmerson is a character who is so disgustingly vile that I almost wish they'd given him his own spinoff series. There's also the addition of Spears to the cast. The one scene where Sharpe confronts him is one of the strongest points of the movie. It's not often that an actor can upstage Sean Bean, but James Purefoy did it. Great dramatic writing in that scene, and great dramatic writing all around. Sharpe's Sword was the first script Eoghan Harris had done since Sharpe's Enemy, my favorite movie of the series. There's something about the scripts that Eoghan Harris writes that completely captures the adventure and excitement. As always, there are multiple showdowns that end in swordfights. First there's the fight between Simmerson and the character who is eventually revealed to be El Mirador. I love taking pleasure in viewing Simmerson in pain and agony. Like I said before, disgusting villain, brilliant character. I'll go as far as to say that the best fight scene of the entire Sharpe series is the one between Sharpe and Leroux. What makes it work is that both men are badly beaten and in serious pain the whole time. The fact that they can barely stand on their feet brings some urgency to the fight. The real showdown of the movie is between Harper and the Priest. Sure, they don't fight, but it's a very funny scene that perfectly ends the movie on the right note. Sharpe's Sword is definitely the best movie since Sharpe's Enemy, and one of the very best of the series.
Sharpe's Gold (1995)
Sharpe is not at his best
Sharpe's Gold begins with a group of soldiers deserting during a battle. Wellington is short on men, so he agrees to make an exchange for captured deserters. The exchange is weapons for deserters. Sharpe is given the task of making the exchange. The mission is complicated when a relative of Wellington's, Mrs. Nugent, tags along with her daughter to find her missing husband.
I should start by saying that Sharpe's Gold is the biggest departure from any of the novels. In fact, it has very little to do with the novel. Sharpe's Gold is not very well liked among fans of the books. I have never read the book for Gold, so my opinion was open when I saw it. What I've come to realize is that the die-hard Sharpe fans don't dislike this movie because of changes made from the book, but more likely because it's flawed and not a terribly captivating story. There were a couple of movies later on that were original screenplays, not based on any books, but they were received a lot better. My opinion is that Tom Clegg and the producers just weren't ready to create a Sharpe story on their own yet. It was not just some dumb idea to ditch the book, there were legal issues dating back a few years that kept them from adapting the book properly. So I guess there's an excuse for some of the flaws.
When the movie started I was enjoying it. The plot is decent enough. The problem comes when they don't move the story forward. It starts with an interesting idea about an exchange for prisoners and a missing husband, but that's all that it ever amounts to, an interesting idea. There are very few twists. What was quite disappointing was the portrayal of Richard Sharpe. In the first 5 movies, we were given a slow progression of Sharpe's character. He changed from movie to movie. There is no character development at all for Sharpe here. Sean Bean of course is always great, but I felt like this was a flat portrayal of his character. By the time Ellie was kidnapped and taken into the caves to be sacrificed, I didn't really care anymore. That whole sacrifice scene was just cheesy. There was one powerful scene. SPOILER AHEAD...... DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT IT SPOILED............ The death scene of Mrs. Nugent. It was directed with class and it brought some much needed tragic emotion to a somewhat cheesy story. So while I do view this movie as being one small mistake in the series, there were still many elements that I enjoyed. It could have been a lot better, but it could have been a lot worse. After this movie, the series really gains momentum again.
Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Dynamite pairing, dynamite opening scene
One early morning around 1:00 AM I was seeing what was on TV and I started to watch Send Me No Flowers. I had no idea what it was, but when I saw Norman Jewison's name in the opening credits, I made a point to keep it on the channel. So then it gets to the wildly creative opening scene, with Rock Hudson in bed, looking miserable. There's a voice over asking questions about his ailments, and it comes off like a cough syrup commercial from 40 years ago. That one scene was creative enough to make me think "I don't care if the word 'flowers' is in the title, I'm going to watch this thing!" The story is funny as well. Hudson plays a hypochrondriac who thinks he's going to die. He decides to try and set his wife up with a new man in the few weeks that he believes he has left to live. I had never seen a Hudson/Day/Randall movie before. I enjoyed the chemistry between the three of them a lot more than any pairings in romantic comedies of today. It was also interesting to see an earlier movie from Norman Jewison. It has nothing in common with his later movies, but the always original Norman Jewison style still shines, even in this, a somewhat formula based movie of it's time. The dialogue was clever and the actors deliver it beautifully. My only complaint would be that occasionally the comedy gets kind of silly and sitcom-like. The rest of the movie is so smart and well written that the sillier scenes feel out of place. I since have also seen Pillow Book, but I think I prefer Send Me No Flowers. I hope one day soon I catch this on TV at 1:00 in the morning again.
The Terminal (2004)
Loved the airport survival stuff, but....
The Terminal is, at the same time, one of my favourite movies that I've seen this year, and a partial disappointment. It just further proves that there has yet to be a single movie released this year without considerable flaws. I don't want this to come across like a negative review because I really did enjoy The Terminal a lot.
This is obviously a great premise. The movie jumps right into things with Victor being detained, Victor having communication problems as they try to inform him that he has no country, and of course, as you already know if you've seen the trailer or any TV spots, Victor is forced to stay in the airport. The scenes that played the best, the moments that I felt were the best of the movie, all happen in the first hour. All the scenes of Victor adjusting to life in the airport was enough for me. The segment with him returning the carts for quarters was the point when the movie seriously took off. All the way through his quest to find a job, the movie really had me won over. Those airport survival scenes were more than enough to hold together this movie. I wonder why The Terminal needed to introduce a love story (if you can call it that) and formulaic elements near the end. It's the introduction of these things that lost me. This was an interesting and moderately original entry in Speilberg's career before he decided that it needed a formulaic story. Stanley Tucci's character that's constantly out to get Victor, that was just typical and lame. And call me crazy, but I think this movie could have done without the love story. Very out of place, not to mention the fact that this "love story" never goes anywhere. There's a very unfulfilling end to it. I also don't see the point of the twist where Victor gets the temporary Visa. That idea was dropped from the movie and never used. It was a waste of time that overly-complicated things. I wasn't too crazy about the final showdown as Victor tries to leave the airport. It would've been corny even in a Frank Capra movie. That's the major problem here. Spielberg started it out as a movie based in reality, and half way through he turned it into an almost fairy tale Capra movie.
But, minus these complaints, like I said at the start, this was one of my favourite movies of 2004. It also enforced my belief that 2004 is a year when everything will disappoint, even on a small scale. Tom Hanks puts on a great show. He always does. Some of the supporting cast is good, but the characters are poorly handled. I liked the very last scene of the movie. I loved Janusz Kaminski's Cinematography. He's one of the only DP's that's daring enough to blind the audience with light. I really loved John Williams score, as always. The biggest praise I will give is for the scene where Victor translates for the crazy Russian. Every contribution to the execution of that scene was perfect. That was a memorable cinematic moment. I wish the last 30 minutes had that kind of delivery. I do believe that Spielberg is one of the most consistent Directors working today, and he does direct The Terminal well, however I can't help but fantasize about what this movie would have been like had Andrew Niccol handled it, like he was originally supposed to. I have a feeling Andrew Niccol would have brought a lot more originality and focus overall.
The Stepford Wives (2004)
Another 70s Sci-Fi remake mistake
Take two things into account with this review.
#1- The Stepford Wives movie from 1975 is one of my favourite movies.
#2- I completely understood that this remake was going to be something different.
In fact, I was so accepting of the fact that Frank Oz chose to make this a satirical comedy, that I was actually looking forward to the many changes and updates that this remake was going to have. Even walking out of the theatre, I was judging this very much as it's own movie. Having said that, I have to say that I don't completely dislike this movie, I just felt very let down, not just as a fan of The Stepford Wives, but as a normal filmgoer as well. There are a lot of good things offered in this remake. The cast is outstanding. I disagree with many who think Matthew Broderick was underused. I thought he was perfectly used, and I liked that they made his character more sympathetic. In a way, you have more respect for him than you do Joanna, unlike the original. And also unlike the original, Joanna is very sleezy, and overall a horrible human being with some redeemable qualities. Being a straight male, I almost feel weird saying this, but Bette Midler was perhaps the best thing about the movie. She put an interesting spin on the character of Bobbie. Most of the jokes are clever, and for the most part classy.
But here is the major problem. Frank Oz made the horrible mistake of updating this movie and changing a lot of the story, just for the sake of changing it. I have a feeling that he wanted to do something different to make this his own movie, but never thought about it hard enough to make it different in a clever way. The climax plays out just like the original, and has the supermarket scene with the Stepford Wives, but then there's a whole "second ending" that not only seems like a sloppy and thoughtless twist, but it makes very little sense. This is the same mistake that Planet Of The Apes and Rollerball both made with their remakes. They tried to surprise the audience with a new shocking twist, but it's not thought out or well executed, and it's just plain dumb. Then my other big complaint is the pacing of the movie. There's far too much "filler" in the middle section. Scenes that draw out the inevitable un-necessarily. Then when it finally comes time for the real excitement in the climax, they rush through it. I was very pleased how Oz filmed and pieced together the climax. Even the way the confrontation at the mansion was changed up, I was impressed. But what was the sense of condensing the best part of the movie into a few rushed minutes when there were several scenes in the middle section that were tediously dull? Ultimately, it's the various new twists and cheap modern day updates that bury this movie. It's not at all that I objected to the changes as a fan of the original, it's because they don't fit the basic theme and tone of the rest of the movie. So many of these modern day changes (just for the sake of changing) feel wildly out of place.
There is a lot of good material and great scenes, and for the most part the story is told well. I think when this comes out on video and DVD I'm going to put this on tape, minus some of the scenes from the middle, and minus the second ending. I'm hoping I'll enjoy it a lot more that way. One more thing. Why did they change the knife scene????? A hand on a stove element? Lame substitution.
The Ladykillers (2004)
A Coen Brothers comeback (but still a little off)
I have to say that The Ladykillers is the first time I've really enjoyed a Coen Brothers movie since Fargo. I found that with their last few movies, it was mostly focused on quirky characters and unusually amusing circumstances. That is of course what the Coen's do best, but for a while now they've lost focus on stories. That was the big problem with Intolerable Cruelty. And while I do say that this is the first time I've really enjoyed one of their movies since Fargo, I still think Ladykillers came up short in a lot of ways. The script and their direction puts them back on track, yet I wonder if the Coen's will ever capture the brilliance they displayed so well in Fargo and Raising Arizona.
Tom Hanks does give one of his most interesting performances ever. I would say that no other actor could have pulled off something this different, but honestly, I don't know how Tom Hanks even pulled it off. He's so eccentric and complicated. Hanks took a fantastically scripted character and injected an excessive amount of personality into it. The Coen's have a gift for writing the smartest and most original dialogue. If Hanks does get an Oscar nomination for this, and he probably should, the Coen's will be just as much responsible for it. This movie could be the one character speaking for 2 hours straight, and it would never lose my attention. Even with the most intelligent and complicated dialogue using the biggest words in the dictionary, I never lost focus on what he was saying. That's the thing I really appreciate about The Ladykillers. Even when he was spouting off speeches and I had no idea what was being said, I still was able to follow the story and appreciate the performance by Hanks. This brings me to the big complaint I have with The Ladykillers.
Marlon Wayans almost ruins this movie. In fact, it's his fault that I'm even writing a complaint in this review. While I was able to follow Tom Hanks no matter how intelligent or complex his dialogue got, I spaced out whenever Marlon Wayans would be speaking. It's kind of sad that I could pay attention to Hanks when his dialogue was overly intelligent, and when Marlon Wayans would start ranting in childish profanity, I would space right out. For a movie that seems to pride itself on how mature and intelligent it is, it throws all dignity out the window when Marlon Wayans is on screen. He doesn't have one intelligent thing to say. His language is very inappropriate as well. I'm not saying that I find the words he's saying to be inappropriate. The problem is the wild contrast between the smart and witty screenplay, and the childish shock language Wayans uses. The two styles do not fit together. This movie and the Coen Brothers are above the dumb Scary Movie name calling that is way too prominent in this film. I also really doubt that the Coen's wrote Wayans dialogue. I have a terrible feeling that they cast Marlon Wayans and told him to just improvise and be funny. If that is the case, I give the Coen's more credit as writers, but I subtract a lot of credit for their competence as Directors. They must know that Wayans didn't belong in this movie.
Just as much as Tom Hanks deserves an Oscar for his role, so does Irma Hall. Even when the eccentricities of the story become a little unrealistic, she always grounds it back in reality. Lots of these performances are a slightly exaggerated, perhaps even parodies, but Irma Hall is authentic and believable at all times. She sounds like she's making up a lot of her dialogue on the spot. This is a great performance. I also loved JK Simmons. But my second complaint revolves around his character. The Irritable Bowel Syndrome stuff??? That was completely unnecessary. And like Marlon Wayans, it drags the level of class that the Coen's have down to a childish gross-out level. This movie needed to be mature and funny all the way through. It lost me when it lost it's maturity. But I do have to say that one of JK Simmons best moments was when he described his Irritable Bowels Singles Groups. That was funny, but the character quirk was not. Ryan Hurst and Tzi Ma were maybe the funniest ones in the cast, and they have very little to say. Ryan Hurst is doing a bit of a takeoff on the cartoon-like dummies. He's big and strong and burly, but has no brains in his head and often blanks out. Tzi Ma will speak maybe once every 30 minutes, but when he does, I would always crack up.
The climax is very creative and hilarious. Minus the Marlon Wayans flashback, which also didn't fit right. The ongoing garbage barge bit got funnier each time. It felt very refreshing to sit in a theatre and laugh at a smart adult oriented comedy, instead of the overly repetitive childish foul gross out jokes....... which........ This movie also has
. Mostly good, though.
The start of Kurosawa-Mania
This is the best concept Kurosawa has ever done. You have what would be one long extended scene played four times over. Each time one of the witnesses tells their side of the story, it changes. There's never any question that a murder did occur. The mystery in Rashomon is figuring out who is telling the truth. Or to be even more descriptive, who's story has the least amount of holes. It was a pleasure to watch this. This is what is missing from modern day mystery movies. A great mystery doesn't need to be spelled out to the audience. It's always better to leave a lot up to the individual viewer's interpretation.
There are three pieces that hold Rashomon together. The script, which written in 1950 is still smarter and more compelling than all the countless Kurosawa imitators in the years that have followed. The acting brings out the script with so much life and energy. I'm not sure anyone can match Toshiro Mifune's insane madness. The woman gives the most interesting performance in the movie. She actually changes subtle things in her performance from one flashback to the next. Last, the third piece is of course Kurosawa himself. He has become the greatest Director who ever lived. Rashomon was his breakthrough, and it has actually become more well received over time. While it won the Oscar for best Foreign film in 1950, these days it would be handed every Oscar it would be eligible for. Kazuo Miyagawa captured in Rashomon the best Cinematography for any black and white movie. It actually looks more stunning than most color movies. While Seven Samurai and Ran are my very favourite Kurosawa films, Rashomon has to be the most interesting structurally. Mystery does not get better than this.