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Cameron Crowe's most personal movie is surprisingly his most artificial
I really wanted to like "Elizabethtown." I truly did. However, I was less than impressed. Something about the movie just did not resonate with me. I understand Cameron Crowe's intentions in making this film (it is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the passing of Crowe's father), but the end product just didn't seem real to me. I always felt like I was watching a movie, unlike "Jerry Maguire" and "Say Anything," which both made me feel like I was watching slices of people's real lives.
"Elizabethtown" centers on Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a shoe designer who receives the double whammy of being fired from his job after a major fiasco and learning that his father has just died. His mother and sister (Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer, both great actresses whose talent is wasted) enlist him to retrieve his father's body from his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Along the way, he encounters a a plucky stewardess named Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who, in addition to providing a romantic distraction, helps him deal with everything going on around him.
I think the main problem is that Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst are completely wrong for this movie. Bloom tries too hard to conceal his British accent that he comes off bland and emotionless. His character is supposed to be going through this great turmoil, yet Bloom just can't convey that. It's not like Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire," where he made you feel the desperation of that character. Every line Bloom delivers comes off same as the previous one, despite what motions the character is going through. I wonder if he'd give the same performance if he spoke in his native accent.
Dunst, on the other hand, tries too hard to maintain a Southern accent that she doesn't infuse any charm into her character, which is a necessity in the movie's believability. Her character's wackiness and borderline annoying-personality is supposed to endear her to not only Drew, but the audience as well, otherwise the romance between them and results of it just aren't believable. Crowe's screenplay isn't one of his best, but it's clear that both Bloom and Dunst are out of their leagues here. Would the movie have turned out different if, say, Jake Gyllenhaal and Kate Bosworth were cast in the leads instead? Perhaps. Unfortunately, with the two leads both delivering subpar performances, "Elizabethtown" strains for authenticity and unfortunately comes off as artificial.
The Fog (2005)
Great premise, below average follow-through
The 2005 remake of John Carpenter's "The Fog" is the worst kind of disappointment. It's a movie that had promise and potential to be effective and creepy, yet it throws it all away. The worst offense the movie makes is that, using all the same materials, it could have been a lot better.
The plot concerns a heavy fog that rolls into a coastal Oregon town, containing malevolent forces in it, desperate for an attempt to right past wrongs done to them. Underneath all the backstory, an intriguing mystery exists, yet the filmmakers all but ignore it to go for the cheap thrills and scares.
There's absolutely no character development here either, even though there are hints at it throughout. For example, Tom Welling's character is the ancestor of one of the town's founders, yet he resents his family name appearing on the tribute statue. This is never explained, nor is the strained relationship between Maggie Grace's character and her mother, as well as the motivations of the crazy, drunk priest who seems to know more about the town's history than he lets on.
I couldn't help but wonder what kind of movie this would have turned out to be if another writer was given a shot at the screenplay. Rupert Wainwright's direction is competent, but paired with a script that throws a lot of good ideas down the drain, the end result is just a big mess.
Fever Pitch (2005)
The Farrelly Brothers hit 'Fever Pitch' out of the park
After a string of less than satisfying flicks ("Me, Myself and Irene," "Shallow Hal," and "Stuck on You"), Peter and Bobby Farrelly have returned to form with "Fever Pitch," their best flick since "There's Something About Mary," and possibly even better. Don't go in expecting the surreal zaniness that populates the previous films though, as the Farrelly Brothers have concocted a straightforward romantic comedy this time out, using British author Nick Hornby's sports memoir "Fever Pitch" as a template.
The Farrellys have Americanized "Fever Pitch," or rather, "Boston-ized" it, changing the movie's sport of choice from footba-, I mean soccer, to baseball. However, the movie is first and foremost a romance, and a good one at that, between dynamic leads Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. The duo play off each other excellently, and share a connection that transcends acting. You can tell just by watching the movie that the two must genuinely enjoy each other's company in real life, something that intensifies the believability of their courtship in the movie.
Barrymore is Lindsay Meeks, a workaholic who's almost "20-ten," as she says, and hasn't met the right guy. Cue Fallon's Ben Wrightman, a charming schoolteacher who's just too good to have not been snapped up yet. As their relationship progresses, Lindsay doesn't learn why until early Spring. It turns out that Ben is a devoted member of the Red Sox Nation. She doesn't mind at first, but then it becomes more and more clear as to where Johnny Damon and his fellow ball players rank in Ben's life compared to her.
The film, scripted by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("A League of Their Own"), expertly captures the verge-of-30 dilemma of getting older and realizing you want more out of life than a great apartment and a great job. As for how it captures the fanaticism of Red Sox devotees, I can't say how accurate the movie is, but it's definitely hilarious, and even surprisingly touching. The production had to scramble to change the movie to reflect the Red Sox's amazing comeback to a World Series victory last year, a heartwarming story in itself.
"Fever Pitch" is a great comeback for the Farrelly Brothers, and a home run for Barrymore, one of the most appealing and charming actresses of her generation. It's a big score for Fallon as well, who really didn't transition well from TV to film with "Taxi." As in any romantic comedy, the success is based first and foremost by the couple's chemistry, and the pair have it in spades. "Fever Pitch" is one of the best romantic comedies in years.
'Wimbledon' is a winner
I'm not a tennis fan, but boy, did this movie make it interesting for me. I'm not sure how director Richard Loncraine feels about the sport, but the way the matches are filmed, I'd have to guess that he's mesmerized by it. "Wimbledon" is your typical underdog story, set in the world of tennis, but with a romance thrown in. Aging tennis star Paul Bettany and young, aggressive spitfire Kirsten Dunst are the duo in question. He's a longshot, and she's the superstar. Dunst has never been sexier or more appealing in an adult role, and Bettany proves he's got the chops to ascend to leading man status. "Wimbledon" is a winner all-around.
Answer this call
Highly unbelievable, yet immensely efficient and entertaining, "Cellular" is a clever thrill ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat for a majority of the 95-minute running time. The cast is great, especially Chris Evans as the everyman who receives a random call on his cell phone by a kidnapped woman (Kim Basinger). Throw in the esteemed William H. Macy as a retiring cop and the teutonic Jason Statham as a menacing baddie and you've got a great cast to help overcome some of the standard suspense flick clichés. If you're one of those people who nitpicks at every last plot detail in movies, complaining about how unbelievable they are, then by all means, skip this one. However, if you can swallow the far-fetched premise and suspend your disbelief for about an hour and a half, then this is the flick for you.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
What an appropriate subtitle, as the fact that this movie debuted at #1 and made almost $24 million in its first weekend of release is a sure sign that the end of the world is near. The first "Resident Evil" film was a misguided mess. The video game actually had an appropriate plot that was easily transferable to film, but writer/director/cinematic nightmare Paul W.S. Anderson jettisoned it for an unoriginal and boring zombie-fest. Anderson isn't directing this time, but he still holds a stake in this terrible film as the screenwriter. A laughable plot, zero character development and horrendous acting are key reasons to stay away from this one, with the main reason being it's simply just not entertaining.
Ying xiong (2002)
A 'Hero' to fight for
In the year 2000, Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was released in America, and unexpectedly found blockbuster success. Who would have thought a Chinese-language martial arts epic set in ancient times, featuring characters walking across water, flying through the air, and fighting on tree branches would have ever gone on to gross over $125 million in the U.S. alone? Audiences embraced the beauty and magic of the film, and hopefully they will do the same for "Hero," a film that's no less amazing.
"Hero" seems to exist in the same world as "Crouching Tiger" does, a world where skilled warriors can battle over a vast sea, with only a slight touch of the water needed to balance them. A world where enemies don't have to fight physically, but can challenge each other simply in their minds. It's also a world where an onslaught of arrows launched by a formidable army can be stopped by the deftness of two swords. If you can't accept this world as believable, or if you can't accept the thought of reading subtitles for a good hour and 45 minutes, then by all means, go see "Anacondas." Jet Li escapes his American prison of Joel Silver-produced action movies to star as a nameless warrior in ancient China, determined to protect the ruler of the Qin Dynasty from three master assassinsSky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung). The film unfolds in flashbacks, as the nameless one details to his majesty how he was able to defeat his deadly adversaries. If you think I just ruined the film for you, relaxthere's a lot more to the story than that.
What follows is multiple accounts of the same series of events, all involving the aforementioned characters, as well as Moon (Zhang Ziyi), Broken Sword's apprentice. Academy Award nominated director Zhang Yimou and cinematographer Christopher Doyle use different color pallets to differentiate each version, including lush hues of red, blue, green and white. It's tough to put into words just how great "Hero" looks on screen. That vision is something that must be experienced firsthand, especially in a gorgeous duel between Cheung and Ziyi, set in an autumn-like environment complete with powerful gusts of wind and vivid red and bright orange leaves.
The scenery isn't the only beautiful element of "Hero." All the swordplay is spectacular and expertly captured on film by Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern"), which is surprising, considering his inexperience as an action director. The performers all move with the swiftness and grace of a ballet troupe, albeit a dangerous one, armed with swords and staffs and knives. The acting performances are just as expertly choreographed, proving how adept Yimou is at dramatics. Cheung and Leung stand out the most, thanks to their meaty subplot as rivals and lovers. The duo are incendiary together, setting off fireworks on screen with their radiance and chemistry.
The film's only downfall is its pacing, which most likely can be attributed to the script. Since the story is told through flashbacks, it does get repetitive and overlong at times, and the transitions between the past and present become a bit jarring. However, that detail is minor at best, and does not detract from the film's magic. "Hero" is an epic accomplishment all around, and it's a mystery why the folks at Miramax have kept it on the shelf for so long (it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2002 Academy Awards). Comparisons to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" are inevitable and well-deserved. Hopefully "Hero" will be able to find the audience it deserves, just as "Crouching Tiger" did.
Take a trip with 'Harold and Kumar'
It might look like a stupid stoner movie on the surface, but underneath the racial stereotypes, the marijuana jokes, the toilet humor and the gratuitous nudity of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," there's a groundbreaking movie. What makes it so groundbreaking? Well, it's not the movie itself, but rather its two stars: John Cho and Kal Penn.
When was the last time you saw a Korean-American and an Indian American actor co-headlining a movie? That's right, never. It's actually a bold move on New Line Cinema's part, distributing this flick without major stars or even hot young actors who might be on a WB television show. In the hands of anyone more traditional, this could have been "Harold and Billy Go to White Castle," with the titular duo turned into Caucasians and played by Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott (the stars of director Danny Leiner's previous movie, "Dude, Where's My Car?"). Thankfully, more non-conventional minds prevailed.
The basic premise and plot of the movie is nothing special. Harold (Cho), an uptight workaholic, and Kumar (Penn), a smart yet underachieving slacker, are roommates who set out on a journey to find the ultimate post-smoke-up snackWhite Castle hamburgers. Unfortunately for them, the journey to find the nearest White Castle is filled with random and unexpected obstacles, including crazed raccoons, escaped cheetahs, and deformed rednecks. You've probably seen most of the gags in other movies, but that doesn't make them any less hilarious.
As Harold, Cho proves to be an able lead, playing the straight man to Penn's Kumar. However, Penn doesn't seem to connect as well in his role. He begins to wear thin as the end of the movie nears and I can't figure out if it's the character or Penn's performance that causes this. The rest of the cast is filled with moderately known comedic actors in great cameos, including Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, playing what is hopefully an amplified parody of himself.
"Harold and Kumar" starts to run out of steam in the last third as the punchlines and gags begin to slow down and the film starts trying to tie up all of its loose ends. Still, there's more than enough laughs to keep lowbrow humor enthusiasts entertained. There's even a tiny bit of social commentary thrown in about race relations (don't worry, it's not done heavy-handedly, but rather in the same comedic vein as the rest of the film). All in all, the film proves to be a fun ride that coasts on the novelty of its two stars. Hopefully, "Harold and Kumar" will be successful enough to lead to more films with characters like Harold and Kumar as the leads.
Mean Girls (2004)
Being bad has never been so good....
The teen-movie genre returns with "Mean Girls," and it comes back with a vengeance. What could have been a tired and clichéd retread of "Heathers" is actually a clever and witty flick thanks to the talents of screenwriter Tina Fey. Fey, head writer for "Saturday Night Live" and co-anchor of their "Weekend Update," has an amazing flair for satire, and what better way to showcase it than with a analytical glimpse at the world of high school cliques? Lindsay Lohan is Cady, the previously home-schooled daughter of two zoologists, growing up in the African wilderness while Mom and Dad conduct their research. When the 'rents decide to settle down, Cady gets her first taste of public schooling, which is almost as wild as the jungles and safaris she's used to. Cady is introduced to the different factions that populate the cafeteriaincluding the nympho band geeks, the nerdy Asians, the cool Asians, the varsity jocks and of course, the Plastics, teen royalty led by the manipulative Regina George (Rachel McAdams).
Cady is encouraged to infiltrate the Plastics by her new friends Janice (Lizzy Caplan), a gothy and arty outcast who possesses a Janaene Garafalo-style wit, and the flamboyantly out-and-proud Damian (Daniel Franzese), who fears the Plastics but admires their fabulousness. Cady agrees to the sabotage scheme, but it's not long before she succumbs to the glamorous life of the Plastics and starts to engage in their underhanded activities, such as writing in their "Burn Book," in which nasty (and hilarious) things are jotted down about every girl in their high school.
It all might sound like the typical teen fare, but the result is nothing like that. The cast is surprisingly flawless, from Lohan (who brings a depth to her role that Hilary Duff could only ever dream of achieving) to the entire supporting cast, which is filled with current "SNL" members and alums. Fey herself shows up along with Tim Meadows as sardonic members of the high school faculty, while Ana Gasteyer and Amy Poehler portray parents who just don't understand. Poehler steals every scene she's in as Regina's "cool mom," desperately trying to fit in by doing things like offering minors alcohol at her home, because she'd rather have them drinking there than somewhere else.
The younger members of the cast don't let the veterans walk away with the whole show though. Caplan and Franzese own their roles, Franzese particularly when Damian displays his adulation for Christina Aguilera during a holiday talent show. The other members of the Plastics shine as well. Besides the deliciously vindictive McAdams as the Queen Bee, the crew includes former "Party of Five" actress Lacey Chabert as the gossipy Gretchen and Amanda Seyfried as the clueless Karen, who's not above making out with her first cousin (because "there's cousins, and then there's first cousins and second cousins ").
Fey, with the help of director Mark Waters ("Freaky Friday," "The House of Yes"), has infused the film with her trademark comedic brilliance. The jokes and gags come at a break-neck pace, but the punch lines aren't the only hilarious aspects. Little touches such as Gretchen's dad being the inventor of Toaster Strudels and Regina's MTV obsessed little sister are details that will inspire laughter long after the movie is over. Even the particulars about the background characters should provide endless chuckles (just try to think about Trang Pak, the girl in wheelchair and her little person-sidekick, and the Middle-Eastern, hip-hop-obsessed mathlete/"Bad-Ass MC" after the movie without smiling).
If there's anything to complain about in this film, it's the overt sexualization of teenage girls. Of course, the actresses are older than they play, with the exception of Lohan (who, at 17 years old, brings an R. Kelly-like meaning to "The Parent Trap"). Parents might see the Disney-friendly actress in the trailers and bring their young children, but this movie is not for those under high school age (girls are called "sluts" and "whores" throughout). However, that doesn't mean anyone who's older than the class of 2004 shouldn't check "Mean Girls" out. Fey, Waters, and the entire cast have made sure the experience will be enjoyable for everyone.