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Dead Like Me (2003)
Alternatives to Cancelled?
Ultimately, Dead Like Me is good because I sit down and enjoy the time I spend watching it. It's morbidly funny, and it entertains me, so if that's all I need, then it does the job.
The main problem with Dead Like Me, however, is that it takes the steps a show would take towards going beyond that. Because of its content, you would expect some meaningful thoughts on life, death, and whatever's in between. I mean, as a concept, it's intriguing - a young woman dies, but lives out what would have been her years as a grim reaper. And that's what Bryan Fuller does, he comes up with interesting ideas, but he has nowhere to go with them. It happened with Wonderfalls, as well. And even if you think about the Star Trek episodes he wrote, they touch on cool ideas, but never fully explore them.
Where could this show have gone? At the end of the first season, there seemed to be some sign of George letting go of her life, and the possibility of her being happy in death. But when the second season began, there was no sign of growth. The show is well acted and well written, but as a whole, it has massive plot holes, inconsistencies, and strange loose ends that look like they never had reasonable explanations behind them when they were imagined.
Gravelings, for example. With the Ray Summers story arc, we established that they are the souls of "bad" people. And then, to defeat him, he simply had to be reaped. Are we then to gather that the other gravelings are souls that have yet to be reaped, perhaps on an oversight on their would-be reaper? Are reapers actively pursuing them? If gravelings weren't around, would people still die? Where did Ray go upon being reaped, considering his reap wasn't accompanied by the usual light show. Now, these questions are inconsequential to the plot but have greater philosophical ramifications, and it's hard to make a show about life after death without begging a existentialist question every now and then. But this doesn't, and I consider that it's primary failing.
Whereas other shows or movies that deal with life and death usually conclude that there simply aren't any answers for us, Dead Like Me establishes that there ARE answers, but we won't ever know them, and then the matter is dropped. So my problem with Dead Like Me is that it's not as smart as it pretends to be. All it is is the beginnings of an idea which was never thoroughly thought through.
House of Wax (2005)
Maybe this is how it was supposed to be?
This movie is about Paris Hilton dying. It pretends to be about teenagers getting sucked into a teen horror flick and not seeming to know it - why else would they bumble around like idiots waiting for psychos to slash them?
Since the moment Paris Hilton was announced as on the cast of this film, that's all that this film has been about. It makes me think that the director made this film specifically to see fantasies about Hilton's gruesome death come to fruition. What conversation about House of Wax hasn't involved Paris Hilton? What interview or featurette hasn't brought her up?
It's amazing to see this in theatres. Everyone is anxiously waiting for Paris Hilton's death. They plod through the scenes involving other people, and elbow each other expectantly in Paris-heavy scenes. "This is it. This is when she gets it." And when finally she does get a stake through the head, everyone stops paying attention. It's not scary, the acting's deplorable, and the script is worthless, but none of that matters, because all anyone came to see what Paris Hilton getting a spike through the head.
However, the more macabre among us movie-goers will be disappointed. A spike through the head is the best we came up with? If I was personally behind this project, I would've put Sin City to shame with the torturous end I'd put Paris Hilton through. Blood, bones, teeth, and various Paris organs would've made appearances (and not the ones showcased in her previous films). It would've been long, and it would've been mean.
This movie fails on all scales: As a movie in general, it's poorly directed, written, and acted. As a teen slasher, it's a lame duck. Since the plots of all teen slashers are basically the same, the only way to stand out is with exceptionally creative deaths that push the limits of gross-out. Otherwise, it slips into obscurity. And as a movie in which Paris Hilton dies, it's unimpressive. If I pay admission (or take the time to download) just to see Paris die, I want to get some bang for my buck.
Therefore, I conclude that this movie failed on every foreseeable level.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Joel Schumacher butchering a beloved classic? Are we surprised?
I have no idea why anyone thinks that Joel Schumacher is a passable director. His efforts to establish himself in many genres has repeatedly failed. The only films he doesn't manage to run through the slaughterhouse are saved only because they ride on something other than direction, IE Cate Blanchett in Veronica Guerin, and the John Grisham source for A Time to Kill. The only films that he's involved in that don't completely fail as films are the ones that require the director to be a virtual nonentity.
The Phantom of the Opera is not an example of one of these movies. If you took stills of the scenes and made a storybook, then maybe it wouldn't be a waste of time. But otherwise, everything here fails miserably. Emmy Rossum's soulless performance juxtaposed against Minnie Driver's (in hands-down the worst performance of her life) ridiculous overacting render both characters completely unbelievable. Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson, who have both done extremely well in other pictures, fall flat here, as if they think their characters are so well-known that they don't really have to actually act, and the audience will just get it from notoriety. The only redemption on the acting spectrum is Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry, who, naturally, gets the smallest amount of screen time of all the second tier characters.
The Phantom's scars look like little more than an intense sunburn - barely worth putting a mask over. That this was done because people wouldn't believe Christine's attraction to a disfigured man (so I hear) only amplifies what a shallow blunder this was.
If the film had sacrificed acting for good singing voices, then maybe I could understand, but that can't be the case, because all the leads just aren't good. I've seen high school productions of the Phantom do better.
Pointless and Empty
Blair Witch Project didn't really scare me, but it was a very good movie. It had some vision that most films of its ilk severely lack, and was about as un-Hollywood as you can get. In part because of this, there was this buzz of uncertainty about it. When it came out, I was just starting high school, and there was a lot of gossip about how this actually was true.
Blair Witch 2 completely betrayed that. And profoundly betrayed it.
The actors were all pretty teens. The plot was nonsensical and nothing was actually resolved or revealed. What was advertised as an exploration of the Blair Witch legend didn't explore it at all, but just contrived new stuff, handed us archetypal characters that were impossible to care about, and attempted to draw it all back to videos, as if it somehow made the first movie more meaningful.
What was truly ironic about all this was that the fact that this was bigger budget never actually came up. The first movie had no money, and so attempted to scare us with suggestion and inference. This movie HAD money, and tried to scare us overtly, but the best it could do was a pristine dead girl in a closet? STILL no actual sighting of the Blair Witch? But it's not all that surprising. Even on the video release of the first film, the downward spiral was becoming evident. The new footage was the three actors (on better quality tape) just sitting around and regurgitating stuff they had already said in the theatrical release. The creators had nothing to add, but added for the sake of it. Which is exactly what Book of Shadows is.
>Insert Appropriate HHG Quote Here<
It's strange. Like, apparently, every other reviewer I've read here, I read the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and the rest) and they're probably among the most pivotal books I've ever read. So I'm familiar with them, and I couldn't say I was going into the movie with much confidence in Hollywood's abilities to safeguard something so precious to me.
And I was right. This is barely the Hitch-Hiker's Guide. I've always been of the mind that a movie adaptation of the Guide would never work - there are elements to the book that simply defy a visual medium, and I never saw the point in making a movie out of it, other than simply for the sake of it. That we measure the success of literature these days in how good the movie adaptations are perplexes me.
The characters here are the characters in name only, and it's the fault of direction and writing, not the actors. I agree with the common sentiment that these two new characters were added for the sake of it, because they served little purpose otherwise. The film derails itself into sci/fi tropes, forgetting, apparently, how much fun Douglas Adams had mocking them. But that was expected. Could you have made a more faithful screen adaptation while recognizing the limits of the medium? Absolutely. But it would've sacrificed spectacle and clichés.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is the trailer. Looking back on it, the trailer (which took the stance of being the Guide's definition of a movie trailer) was tearing strips out of the very movie it sought to promote. The trailer had more Douglas Adams in it than the movie.
I'm honestly amazed how well this movie is being received. This wasn't remarkably bad, nor was it spectacular. It was fluff - a pointless, contented time-waster. I'll watch it again, I'm sure, but I won't go out of my way to do it. But while it may not have failed as a Hollywood film, it did fail as a tribute to Douglas Adams, and I'm quite surprised that there are so many who think otherwise.
Sin City (2005)
To All the Haters
SPOILERS AHEAD I can't say I'm surprised to see both the amount of people in love with this film and the amount of people who think it deplorable. But I'd like to address some of the comments I've seen.
First, I loved this film. I think it's the first film in a long time that has done something truly unique that works. I'm glad that it was so uncompromisingly faithful to the comic. Now, obviously, I'm not going to take the position that everyone has to like this film. But I think that some things have been unfairly stated about this film, and I'd like to address them.
The image of women in this movie has come up repeatedly. It's accused of being maliciously sexist, and unfairly so. I agree that no respectable women are in this film, and I agree that they are stereotypical, comic-book knockouts. But that doesn't make this movie sexist, and the reason that's so, is because it treats men EXACTLY the same way. There are no male role models in this film, either. Though some characters may have good intentions, they're all despicably ruthless. Marv may be out on a righteous revenge quest, but does that merit cutting off a man's arms and legs and leaving him for a bloodthirsty dog? You want to tell me that tearing the genitalia off the same man TWICE is something people should emulate? No character can justify their actions in any rational manner. Similarly, all the male characters are muscle-bound supermen. They are not striving for realism or accurate depictions of how people look or act. EVERYONE here is a fantasy, not just the women.
In fact, the most sympathetic characters in the entire movie are Lucille and Nancy. That they're open with their sexuality doesn't take away from the fact that they're both good, strong people, nor does the fact that they're both victims. Lucille does the right thing. It gets her killed, but it's still one of the most moral decisions anyone in the film makes. On top of that, the character with the highest body count is likely Miho, and she's presented as, by far, the most skilled combatant among the cast. So, it makes me wonder how one can claim that this movie is unfair to women. And if you expect women to be cast as moral, righteous people ONLY because they're women, then I'd say that a rather sexist expectation to go into a movie with.
I'm confused when I hear people say that it glorifies violence against women. The men guilty of crimes against women in this film meet with such gruesome and torturous fates that I'm very hesitant to call them glorified.
So of course, there's the overwhelming violence. I agree, this is probably the most explicitly violent movie out there. These "heroes" don't get revenge by killing their opponents, they get revenge by torturing them to death. Everyone is shamelessly ruthless, and the authors had to in turn make their villains so disgustingly horrific that we can tolerate the amount of punishment inflicted upon them when their pursuers finally catch up with them. Kevin couldn't just have killed Goldie. He made Lucille watch as he ate her hand, and displays the heads of the other girls he killed and ate as hunting trophies on his wall. Only now can we, the audience, allow Marv to quarter him and leave him to be eaten alive.
And that's what this movie's about. There IS meaning and poignancy underneath all the blood and gore. I won't blame anyone for being overwhelmed. The only reason this movie is bearable is because of the unique comic-booky perspective we see it from. The high-contrast black and white, with splashes of colour in a pair of bright red sneakers, piercing blue eyes, golden stream of urine, or that yellow bastard, makes it surreal. The most intense scenes are depicted in inverse silhouettes.
Which brings me to the argument of style and substance, which comes up whenever a highly stylistic movie comes out. That it involves a style no one's ever seen before leaves it open for the easy-to-make accusation that that's all there is to it. But the style and content of Sin City work together. Both are nothing without the other. If this was shot like every other movie, the story would be overwhelming for even the strongest stomachs. And if the story told was the same as every detective revenge story, the style would be pointless. But here, they act together to make one of the few truly unique movies in years.
If you don't like it, fine. But this IS a good movie.
Mean Girls (2004)
Falls Ideologically Flat
Minor Spoilers Ahead, watch out! This would've been a good movie if it had gone for utter farce and didn't try to so overtly deliver a moral, which ironically would've gotten the point across.
Now I'm going to assume by the language and content that this movie was written for mid-teens. High-schoolers. However, the way it's delivered treats its audience like children that need to be walked from one idea to another. Instead of potentially coming to the conclusions the movie advocates ourselves, we're hand-held through some sloppy voiceovers from Cady Heron, the lead character played by Lindsay Lohan. The whole point of the movie is that these so-called "plastics" live pointless, hollow lives, thriving merely off the failures of others. This is extremely clear already, and doesn't need to be spelled out for us.
While I'm on the subject of theme, I'd also like to address some of the hypocrisy this movie demonstrates. Going into it, one expects that this will attempt to demonize the clique nature of high school culture. Instead, it promotes it. All conflict in this movie comes from cliques clashing, and the happy resolution has the characters disassociate from each other into their own cliques. The only thing this film does is address problem cliques, like the "skank army" led by Rachel McAdams' Regina George, ensuring that with their destruction, the other cliques can live in peace. It's a wasted opportunity, if nothing else, that could've showcased just how ridiculous clique systems are.
And then of course there's the blatant shallowness, disguised as marketing. The lead is the attractive (I think we can all agree) Lindsay Lohan, and while she's befriended by the average-looking Janis and Damien, they end up playing very minor roles. Instead, we're bombarded with beautiful people for the majority of the film. Beautiful Cady pursues hunky Aaron despite the machinations of pretty Regina. And even when Cady tricks Regina into gaining weight which makes her apparently lose her "hot body," she still looks amazing. A couple of overweight students are thrown in so that Cady can, in the profound conclusion, assure us that you can still be beautiful without being a supermodel, but the film ignores these characters just as much as the Mean Girls it vilifies do.
Why does Cady have to desire the typical teenage heart-throb over, say, the quirky but kind-hearted Damien? Why can't Janis be happily homosexual? Or at least ambiguous? Why does the film have to assure us, at the end, that she IS, in fact, straight? Why must every fat person persist to be a sponge for comedic abuse instead of an actual character? Why couldn't any of the pretty girls realize that being pretty doesn't (or, at least, shouldn't) matter and stop putting so much effort into it? What seems to be an effort to break down preconceptions ends up reinforcing all the stereotypes we've seen before.
If you don't want to look into it, it's entertaining enough. Many of the jokes are rather obvious, but it has its moments, particularly Rachel McAdams getting suddenly hit by a school bus during a heated confrontation with Lindsay Lohan. Watching it, I was thinking to myself, "Man, arguing in the road? Someone better get hit by a bus," and lo and behold, BAM. I laughed extensively, and my vote would've been lower without it.
Could Have Been Brilliant
Having been intimately familiar with the legends this was based off of, it's not unfair to say that I was a very biased audience. And even having seen it, I really think that it blew its potential. The discrepencies between the myth and this movie were needless, and didn't add to the plot. To me, it seemed as though Petersen was cutting corners to make a story that was easier to translate into film, fulfilling tropes and archetypes rather than take some initiative and tell it the way it could have been told. The deaths of Menelaus and Agamemnon in particular seemed to be thrown in just to give the audience some moral satisfaction, that they got what was coming to them. Meanwhile, in the myth, Helen goes back with Menelaus, and Agamemnon takes Priam's youngest daughter as a concubine and returns home (to be murdered by his vexed wife, but that's entirely another story).
At the end, I felt like this movie should have been bigger than it was. Just in depth and production, this didn't seem like it was that big a deal. It was just another movie. The script was choppy and hammy, and everything seemed rushed to make a war that was supposed to last twenty years into a movie that lasted a little over two hours. The complete exclusion of anything supernatural also hurt this film, I believe. And if they keep that philosophy for the might-happen sequel of the Oddessey, I don't think it will be even remotely recognizable.
But even if I set aside the knowledge I had going into this film, I don't think it was that good. With the exception of Eric Bana, Rose Bryne, Saffron Burrows (I know, I was surprised too) and Brendon Gleeson, everyone just seemed to be trying too hard and not pulling it off. The action sequences weren't exactly innovative, and I think should've been considerably more graphic. I mean, all the characters are going on about how horrible the war is, but then we get this toned-down version of Gladiator to support that? Doesn't really add up for me, anyway.
Van Helsing (2004)
The Newest Trend?
This isn't a review of this particular movie. I thought it profoundly mindless, but fun enough to make up for it. I think the CG was a tad overused, and didn't look all that good most of the time. I was particularly unimpressed with the Dracula creature. But that's pretty much all I have to say about it. It was harmless. Not good enough to leave any lasting impression, but not bad enough to make me care enough to hate it.
But I just can't get over this crossover trend that was set with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen last year. There have been several movies since that throw a bunch of characters from different franchises into the mix. Even though the Alamo is supposed to be a historical docudrama or whatever, it seemed strange to see Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett in the same story. So count that one, or don't, if you wish. Freddie vs. Jason pitted the two famed slasher movie icons against each other, and Alien vs Predator does the same with the equally iconic sci/fi monsters.
All right, two in one, that's not that bad. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was just ridiculous, of course, with dozens of literary sources mangled in a shredder and thrown together, barely stitched together to form what some might consider a moderately coherent plot. We've got, like, ten different books colliding in this movie. Apart from the League itself, there were further references to others, including Sherlock Holmes.
But that one we can let go, because it's based on an old comic or whatever. Fine. The movie was bad enough on it's own.
Van Helsing, however, does this so overtly and so needlessly that you really have to wonder what anyone was thinking. It's the League of Extraordinary Universal Monsters. If you haven't seen the movie, you likely already know that it features Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the Wolf Man. However, it also feature's Mr. Hyde in a utterly unnecessary preamble. And not only does this seem out of place in the company of these classic monsters, but it's hinted that Hyde is also the Hunchback of Notre Dame, AND Jack the Ripper. These references just seem thrown in for the sake of throwing them in.
I seriously don't know what the hell they can do with the sequel you know they're going to make, unless it's just the same movie over again, with all the dead villains either coming back or turning out not to have died. Maybe we'll get computer-animated flashbacks to enlighten us.
I swear to God, Bram Stoker must be wishing he could rise from the grave and wreak his terrible, vampiric revenge upon all the different bastardizations of EVERY possible character he created. Dracula's been done to death, of course. The League butchered Mina Murray, and now Van Helsing has turned its titular character into something that barely resembles the guy we met in the book. Should we expect "Jonathan Harker" coming in 2005? Starring Keanu Reeves as an vampire hunter who engages hordes of identical undead in slow-motion kung-fu brawls? Or, better yet, "Westernra" starring - oh, I don't know, Drew Barrymore, let's say - as Lucy Westernra, turned vampire, but kept her soul or something, and so uses her supernatural undead powers and sex appeal to fight evil. It'll be like "Angel," except she's a chick.
You might laugh or roll your eyes, but if Van Helsing has been any indication, we are not that far off.
Maybe Somers thought this would be a dud, and so tried to cram in every monster he could find because he didn't think he'd get another chance. Or maybe he has a terminal illness or something. Because this is what he loves doing - taking classic, iconic figures and revisiting them in new and occasionally moderately interesting ways.
Unfortunately, Van Helsing was NOT one of those occasions.
Well, what do you know, I guess this sort of WAS a review of the movie.
I'm confused because I know that all these actors can do better because I've seen them do better, and I'm also confused why anyone thought that Mark Steven Johnson was the man for the job. His art direction looks like a boring version of Tim Burton's Batman vision, and he must be to blame for the ridiculous story and ridiculous acting.
I find that with Ben Affleck, most people really like him, or really hate him, and I seem to be one of the few that think he's just okay. But this just looked painful to him. Murdoch's character just looked like he was playing the brooding loner bit because of the cool factor. He seemed only mildly invested in the revenge story which was apparently his one driving factor in life.
Then there's Jennifer Garner, who I think is likely to become one of the better action actresses of her time. She's brilliant on Alias. And if she's a good Elektra, we can barely tell, because she's almost peripheral to the plot, with very little screen time and probably five minutes of actual dialogue. And her character is just as stupid as hell. Since it eventually turns into a revenge crusade for her, the backstory became very convenient for her, particularly with the black leather get-up she just happened to have stowed away. And then, she meets a sort-of blind guy who can still fight exceptionally well, and is surprised when he turns out to be Daredevil.
Michael Clarke Duncan is a strange choice for Kingpin. I think he's an exceptional actor, but he's just a huge detachment from the Kingpin of the comics. For one thing, he's too young, for another, he's black, and most important, he seems like an uber-thug more than anything else, whereas the Wilson Fisk character that comic fans came to know and love was an elegant villain. Ruthless and brutal, but elegant. You had no trouble believing that he could fool the public into thinking he was just a very successful businessman.
Joe Pantaliano is a great sleazbag, but if he can do more, he certainly didn't show it here. His character was one-dimensional and archetypal. We never got a good idea of why he was so interested in these stories.
Colin Ferrell was as over-the-top as he apparently could be. He was amusing, but had very little to his character.
But I don't blame the actors. The dialogue and direction was the main culprit, here. Throw in a kitschy soundtrack, and you've got a disastrous comic book movie. It had it's moments, like the Stan Lee and Kevin Smith cameos, but these were few and far between. The plot seemed like it was written by a nine-year-old. I mean, Daredevil is apparently trying to hide his identity, but he walks around as Matt Murdoch brandishing the weapon he uses as a cane? These characters were idiots.
And for those of you who aren't aware, Mark Steven Johnson is the director of Grumpy Old Men and Jack Frost (the Michael Keaton movie). So what ever gave anyone the idea that he could handle anything remotely resembling a serious movie, let alone one as dark and brooding as this?