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Just Friends (2005)
Some Funny Moments, But Mostly Stupid
I'm sure I'm not the target demographic for this film, but it was still stupider than most in this genre. Anna Faris has been funny in past films. She is not here. Ryan Reynolds was okay, and the Mary of the film (as in Cameron Diaz' character in There's Something About Mary), worked as the high school hottie who 10 years later is still, improbably, hot and single. But the funny moments were few and far between, the slapstick comedy unbelievable and tired, and the impossible redemption of the central character inevitable. Chris Klein was good, but his small role was not enough to float this tanker. Finally, I'm still scratching my head wondering about the Ryan Reynolds solo that plays alongside the credits. Did someone actually think this bit was funny for more than 5 seconds? I stayed during this assuming there would be some choice outtakes. Nope. After what seemed like an eternity, and while Reynolds was still singing, I couldn't take any more and ran screaming from the theater.
Demonstrates Why Musicals Are Dead
People wax wistful about the musicals from the Golden Age of Film, and not without cause, I suppose. But this film is really a demonstration of why the format no longer works in American Cinema. First of all, this is a direct translation of the play onto film -- so much so that I actually felt like I was watching a play instead of a movie. And that made me much more conscious of stage direction, lighting, scenery and dialog. Not a good thing.
In fact, nothing about this film worked for me. The plot is ridiculous, the dramatic developments cliché and the acting inexplicably stilted, as if the actors were trying to make sure the people in the last row could see their physical reactions to plot points. Hello, but acting for film is different. The audience can see your face just fine, thanks. We don't need a sigh or a posture change to communicate what you're feeling. I hope this is the last of the Chicago-copycat musicals - I know it won't be, but I can dream.
Saw II (2005)
If you enjoyed this film, please turn yourself in
Really, if you enjoyed this film, you should call the police and turn yourself in, because you are one sick puppy.
This movie is beyond depraved - it's a new nadir in American film-making. I understand why the producers made this film - they were trying to get rich, and they did. But their children won't be seeing this film anytime soon, and neither should yours. Nor should you, for that matter. It has no redeeming value. If you're deep into gore, just go watch one of the original Living Dead movies. They're actually better films, and less dehumanizing. At least the zombies there are killing for food. Bad acting, bad writing, absurd killing machines, little real action, no real tension, and no cognizable plot. Avoid.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
One gay cowboy movie too many
Kudos to Jake and Heath for taking on this challenge, but not even Ang Lee's direction could save this hackneyed Harlequin novel from the trash bin. Leaving aside the distracting and unlikely gay cowboy gimmick, the plot and drama were both predictable and melodramatic. The score, sound and cinematography are spectacular, and for better or for worse, Ang Lee is skillful enough as a director to bestow unwarranted gravitas on thin material (think Crouching Tiger and Hulk). But make no mistake, this source material is thin: instead of flying martial artists and giant green mutants, we have gay cowboys from the 60s. It's like a Saturday Night Live sketch lengthened and converted to a drama. Give Cinderella Man the Oscar next Spring - this film doesn't deserve it.
The Incredibles (2004)
Perfect Family Movie
This is one of those rare movies that could not be better. Great script, engaging characters, superb animation - what else could you want in a family movie? Kids and adults will enjoy this one - nothing crude, no explanations necessary.
When I got home I immediately rushed to IMDb to review the credits. Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Samuel L. Jackson were excellent, but the standout here was the voice of Syndrome, the villain. He was totally off the hook. The sequel is perfectly set up in the closing scene and, unlike the usual sequel set-up bit, I didn't resent this one at all. I can't wait to see it.
Ghosts of the Abyss (2003)
Great Slideshow; Just O.K. Film
If this were James Cameron's slideshow of his ocean vacation, we would all agree he did a great job. Unfortunately, this collection of nice pictures doesn't work well as a film. Moreover, the incredibly high technology that enables remote cameras to drop two miles to the sea floor without imploding is not matched by state-of-the-art 3D imagery. To fit in their sardine cans, the 3D cameras used for this film had to be very, very small, and they had to use extreme wide-angle lenses. The result is that, notwithstanding the IMAX format, the scale ends up feeling small. There are a number of shots of the giant, four-story tall engines that powered the Titanic, still intact at the bottom of the ocean. Amazing! These things should take your breath away. Somehow, they don't in this presentation. You just don't get a feel for their size. Also, the blue/red 3D technology borrowed from the 1950s is not in the same league as the new polarized 3D technology used in, for example, the most recent Space Shuttle IMAX film. Disappointing. Also, Bill Paxton was not the right choice (yes, I get the whole "life imitating art" thing, but he added exactly nothing to this film). Rod Serling's narrations for the Cousteau films were interesting because, well, he was Rod Serling, but also because he had interesting things to say. You didn't hear Rod saying "look at that" or "wow" or "I can't believe we're really here." Finally, a crew member describes seeing an object on the ship that really brings home the humanity of the tragedy. Do we get to see the object (I am not identifying it here so as not to spoil this part of the film)? No. A waste. Now the good: the computer graphics are terrific, the reenactions are good, and the lighting, expert commentary, and photography are engaging enough to remind us of how many souls were lost in the Titanic disaster, the heroism and cowardice along the way, and how terribly sad and unnecessary the loss of life really was. Worth seeing, despite its flaws.
New Career Lows for Kasdan and Goldman
SPOILER ALERT: This review uncharacteristically contains spoilers because I feel a civic duty to warn you away from this film. THE REVIEW: I couldn't wait to see this movie. Director Lawrence Kasdan has a habit of making films that I really like, and so does screenwriter William Goldman. Put them together with a Stephen King premise and you can't miss, right? Wrong. Way wrong. This movie is horrible. I'm still struggling to understand the connection between the Dreamcatcher and anything else about this film. There were like, I dunno, five movie premises in this film, all strung together, totally unrelated, and ultimately worthless in their conglomeration. A creepy group of dreamcatchers backed by an Indian legend? Cool. Guys in the woods with a past and a mysterious connection to a mysterious little boy? Well, okay, I suppose that works too. Spooked animals with some kind of strange disease? Cool, but umm.... Dead and dying people wandering aimlessly through the forest. Uhhh...... Weird premonitions? Ummm.... A shapeshifting alien who speaks through an inhabited body with a natty English accent? Now wait a minute..... An epic military battle between human and alien that has been going on for decades under our noses? Hey, what the...? A three dimensional characterization of a man's memories as a group of rooms in a basement? Whoa, Nelly! A second, hidden alien presence that teams up with. . . . Now just a darn minute! A climactic finale involving a brave guy who inexplicably freezes while trying to save the world? Stop. Stop!!!! STOPPP!!! I think William Goldman himself said it best in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade: "nobody knows anything." Obviously, Goldman didn't know enough to stay away from this stinker. You know better. Avoid.
Phone Booth (2002)
Suspenseful Script, Great Acting by Farrell
Joel Schumacher has directed so many bad movies I was certain this would be yet another notch on his bad movie belt. Instead, it was a pleasant surprise. The script was solid and suspenseful--which is no mesne feat given that virtually every scene takes place in a phone booth on a street corner. Farrell believably takes a call that he can't refuse. He displays tremendous range and control in this film, which is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was holding a phone to his ear pretending to talk to someone on the other side of the line for probably 10 weeks of shooting. Okay, I realize that the premise is pretty far "out there," but the writer does a fine job of glossing over that fact and focusing on the credible portions of the script. Impressive. Sadly, Radha Mitchell gives perhaps her worst performance ever, and Katie Holmes is unusually bland, even by teen movie standards, but Farrell more than makes up for their shortcomings. Amazingly, his Irish brogue is nowhere to be found. Now will somebody explain to me why Leonardo DiCaprio got the lead in Gangs of New York instead of Colin Farrell? Casting is still a mystery to me. Sigh. Well, at least this film is worth seeing.
The Life of David Gale (2003)
Astonishingly Bad Movie with One Bright Spot
Gosh this movie was bad. I'm still reeling. I must have made seven trips to the snack bar during this film just to get away from it for awhile. Where do I begin? Let's start with the script: Charles Randolph is no doubt a very smart man with very strong feelings about the death penalty, but he is not a screenwriter, at least not here. The concept of this film is clever--too clever to suspend disbelief, really--but the greater problem is that it is so rife with cliches, contrived dramatic tension, gratuitous pontification and Rube Goldberg plot setups, it is silly. Next, the direction: I had difficulty believing the director is the same Alan Parker responsible for Angela's Ashes, Mississsippi Burning, Birdy and other decent films. In fact, I was thinking "first time director" through the whole film. Instead, Parker has a dozen movie credits at least. Stunningly ham-handed direction here. Parker manages to coax some of the worst performances ever from an otherwise talented cast. I mean, come on--Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, Kate Winslet? This is a dream cast. Yet their performances in this film are flat and breathtakingly unconvincing. The script is bad, to be sure, but Parker has to share some blame here. Also, Parker's bizarre use of "crazy serial killer" (and seemingly random) words scratched and scrawled into various points of the film (I'm not kidding--you have to see it to believe it) is not only inappropriate, it is distracting. Now, the acting: Kevin Spacey can't act with children. I realize that the script is stupid, but he just doesn't seem to get how to believably interact with kids. Irritating. Also, when he plays drunk, he comes off as especially gay. I had more trouble believing him as a straight man here than in any other movie. Kate Winslet is at once ditzy and stone-faced idiotic. Might be the script or the accent, I don't know which, but she doesn't work here. Laura Linney is an irritating character, but she is in every film--that's her thing, that's what she does, so she wasn't as bad as the rest. In fact, she was better than the rest. Also, Spacey's lawyer was charismatic and engaging in this film. One of the few characters who got your attention when you watched. Now, the one bright spot of this film: Rhona Mitra (I think that's her name), the girl who played femme fatale Berlin is just impossibly stunning in this film. From the first second she saunters onto the screen until the last second we see her, she just burns up the screen-- she is that hot. This girl is a star--the mystery is how she lost the screen role of Lara Croft to Angelina Jolie (Rhona was the model that Lara was based on in the video game). I would have cast Rhona hands down, and I'm a Jolie fan. Somebody get Rhona a lead role--please!!
Life as a House (2001)
Suspend Your Disbelief and You'll Like It
By Hollywood standards, this is a good film. But life doesn't work like this - a broken home and a long-broken parent/child relationship simply cannot be mended this simply, and the choices made at the end of the film are not realistic. Label me a cynic, but I had to suspend quite a bit of disbelief to make this film work. That said, Kevin and Hayden are excellent in their roles, and the initial premise works. I admit I choked up at the end of this, so on that level the film works. I'm just warning you that you and I both know that life is not like "Life as a House."