- All movies from 2000 onwards
- All movies in the English language
- All movies with less than 40,000 imdb user votes
- No Oscar nominees listed
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Dances with Smurfs
James Cameron has been quoted as saying that Avatar will "change the way we watch movies forever". He's right. Avatar is easily the greatest visual feast that has ever graced the screen. This was my first 3D film and I must admit that I thought 3D was no more than a cheap gimmick that movie studios were pushing to get butts into seats. I was wrong. 3D, in this form, is here to stay. It may not be perfect yet, but the first talkies and colour movies weren't either. What's especially impressive is *how* the 3D is used. Most 3D films throw a couple objects at the screen hoping to woo the crowd. Sure, there's some of that in Avatar, but for the most part Cameron uses the 3D to immerse us in his world. There's some impressive stuff outside that too. Picture a room full of people. Why would anyone use 3D for that? Incredibly it works. The depth perception here isn't used for cheap effects but to demonstrate the distance between the person at the front of the room and the person at the back. Subtitles in 3D? Surprisingly, more legible than 2D subtitles.
Unfortunately, the movie falls short of perfection. Weeks ago South Park called the film "Dances with Smurfs". A more apt comparison for the plot cannot be found. The movie borrows liberally from Dances with Wolves. Even the diary plot device plays out the same way as it did in Dances with Wolves. It's also disappointing that the trailer manages to reveal the entire plot. I had hoped for a few surprises, but unless you count the theological aspects none were really forthcoming.
At this time it should be mentioned that those looking for a James Cameron balls-to-the-wall style action movie will be sorely disappointed. Sure, it ends with a spectacular battle, but there's precious little conflict before. For the most part, the first two hours are all about introducing us to the world of Pandora and its people, flora and fauna. Personally, I was quite happy that some action was eschewed to develop the world, but those with little patience are forewarned.
With Avatar, James Cameron has crafted another fine film. It could never have lived up to the massive hype, but it does come close. The technological breakthroughs made for this film will serve cinema well in the coming years. Avatar represents an evolution of cinema. It's just not the revolution it was made up to be.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spidey Spins his Web
Spider-Man 2 is a rare thing, a sequel that improves on the original in almost every way. Sequels tend to jump straight into the action; the characters after all, have already been developed in the original movie. Spider-Man 2 smartly eschews this rule, allowing for almost as much character development as in the first film. The result is a truly beautiful motion picture.
Spider-Man 2 begins some time after the first movie. Spider-Man's real life persona, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a wreck. Fired from his job, falling behind in school, unable to pay his rent and out of touch with his friends Peter struggles with the duality of being Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, the brilliant Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is working feverishly to complete his latest project: a fusion reaction meant to provide a perpetual energy source. He conducts his project under the Oscorp Corporation, now led by Peter's best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco), who unbeknownst to Harry himself, is the son of deceased Spider-Man villain The Green Goblin. To complete the fusion, Octavius fits a set of artificially intelligent mechanical tentacles into his spine; these tentacles are prevented from controlling Octavius because of a tiny chip he has implanted into his neck. The fusion of course, goes awry, turning the respectable Octavius into the evil "Doc Ock".
This sequence sets up the remainder of the movie, as Spider-Man must stop the villain from terrorizing the city, while he battles his own demons.
This is where director Sam Raimi succeeds. The battles are fast-paced and shot from neat angles, with bright colours abound. An over-reliance on CGI for certain scenes can give the movie a 'cartoonish' feel, but more times than not it works well. Those scenes that further Peter's plight and his relationships with others takes up a significant amount of the movie's running time, but they never feel too long or verbose.
Tobey Maguire is of course, the perfect Peter Parker. With his forlorn look and oft crackling voice, he evokes a genuine sense of pity for Peter. While I still feel that Kirsten Dunst is miscast as Mary Jane, she performs her role quite creditably. Alfred Molina is certainly quite enjoyable as the villain. Molina's Doc Ock presents a more interesting and dangerous villain than the Goblin. Making real progress since the first film is James Franco. Now freed of a peripheral role he steps nicely into the spotlight for the sequel. Further credit must be given to J.K. Simmons who plays J. Jonah Jameson. Simmons steals every scene he is in, not only because of his accurate portrayal of Jameson, but also because of his loud, unapologetic delivery of dialogue.
Spider-Man 2 successfully pulls off what the Hulk tried, but was unable to do: to create a superhero film whose characters are just as exciting as the action.
A Single Skip for Joy
Gifted character actor, Justin Theroux, makes his directorial debut with the indie romantic comedy "Dedication". The film tells the story of a neurotic children's book author Henry Roth (Billy Crudrup) who is forced to work with a female illustrator (Mandy Moore) instead of his usual collaborator (Tom Wilkinson).
The highpoint of the film is undoubtedly the acting. Billy Crudrup ("Almost Famous") is fantastic as Henry, displaying all the quirks one would expect from such a character. His performance seemed like a mix of John C. McGinley on "Scrubs" and Timothy Olyphant from "The Girl Next Door". Mandy Moore is also very good, and manages to create a real character instead of a generic love-interest. This is easily her best acting performance to date. Tom Wilkinson shines as Henry's collaborator and only friend, though it must be noted that his performance is somewhat similar to his Oscar nominated performance in "Michael Clayton". Dianne Wiest, Martin Freeman and Bob Balaban are also delightful in smaller supporting roles.
The screenplay, on the other hand, is unfortunately the film's low point. The character's dialogue itself is fine (actually, it is very good). The problem of the script is the rather generic plot which too closely follows the boy-meet-girl blueprint for romantic comedies. The film's ending is something that would be expected more of a Hollywood studio romantic comedy rather than a quirky indie.
First time director Justin Theroux shows real promise here. While it is true that some of the transitions and editing between scenes are a bit too arty and self-conscious, other things, such as camera placement and shot composition are handled with all the skills of an experienced professional.
Annoyances aside, this is an easy film to recommend. Moore and Crudrup are infinitely watchable and Thereoux is good enough to deserve more directorial jobs. In the end, the collective talent in front of and behind the camera elevates the middling plot into a very enjoyable film.
Broken Flowers (2005)
Murray and Jarmusch: Expert Minimalists
As "Broken Flowers" begins, aging lothario Don Johnston (Bill Murray) watches as his current flame, Sherry (Julie Delpy), walks out on him. Worse yet, Don is not even sure if he cares, despite the fact that this is obviously the latest of many such incidents. Later, an unsigned letter, seemingly from a former lover, informs Don that he has a nineteen-year-old son who may or may not be looking for him. Don's response is indifferent, but his neighbour and friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) is intrigued. After Don narrows down the number of possible mothers of his supposed son, Winston sends a reluctant Don on a trip to find out who sent the letter. As the film progresses, it follows Don as he reunites with his former girlfriends to varying responses.
Even though this film is billed as a comedy-drama, there are not many laughs in the script. Most of the jokes come from character's names, specifically Murray's Don Johnston (he emphasizes that it is spelled with a 't') and two young ladies called 'Lolita' and 'Sun Green'. This is not a criticism of the plot, but rather, more of a warning. Those expecting belly laughs associated with Murray's earlier films should stay clear. The humour here is a lot more understated and akin to "Lost in Translation".
Jim Jarmusch's direction is quiet and unobtrusive much like his earlier work. There are no real visual flourishes as the camera spends most of its time focused firmly on Murray. Murray and Jarmusch prove to be a good team as they complement themselves nicely.
Like Jarmusch, Murray's performance also echoes his more recent roles. This is not to say that his performance is poor or stale. In fact, Murray is fantastic in a role that only he can play. Don is a quiet character and Murray does most of his acting with his eyes and delivers deadpan dialogue the way only Murray can.
The rest of the cast does not get much of a chance to shine due to the limited screen time they receive. The hugely underrated Jeffrey Wright makes the most of his in yet another chameleon-like performance. Perhaps this is because, at ten minutes, he has slightly more time than everyone else does. Other eclectic performers such as Chloë Sevigny, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone and Christopher McDonald are all underused.
Overall, those people who have enjoyed Murray's foray into more serious cinema (myself included) should love Broken Flowers. Some will find the ending to be unsatisfying, but those that do miss the point of the film. It is not really about discovering who wrote the letter, but about Don discovering himself.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
A Tolerable Popcorn Film
The action/comedy "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" succeeds only when it focuses on its charismatic lead actors, who trade verbal barbs like punches. Whenever Mr. Smith (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. Smith (Angelina Jolie) are on screen together, their chemistry makes up for a paper-thin plot. However, the film loses its course when fulfilling the action obligation of the genre. The action scenes are loud and filmed with a trembling hand by director Doug Liman (Go, The Bourne Identity). Further, the unnamed foe is altogether disinteresting: all the baddies are 'jobbers'; not one is a 'real' character in the film (heck, we don't even see their faces!).
Thankfully, the comedy half is much better. There are times when this film is genuinely funny (again only in the scenes with Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie) and times when it is not (usually those scenes with Vince Vaughn, who is cast as the clichéd best friend).
Overall "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is dumb fun. It's the kind of film you won't regret paying money to see, but not one that holds up well under scrutiny. Then again, this sort of film isn't supposed to be analysed.
The Girl Next Door (2004)
Fizzles after an excellent first hour.
A teenaged romantic comedy with a twist, The Girl Next Door has more than just a little of Risky Business in it.
Matthew (Emile Hirsh) is a senior in high school. Academically an overachiever and president of the Student Council, Matthew's greatest wish is to attend Georgetown. Without the financial means to do so, Matthew's only hope lies in winning a scholarship. Matthew, however, struggles with an empty feeling due to his lack of popularity and thus romance. When the beautiful Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door for a short stay, she turns Matthew's world upside down.
This movie works mostly because of the performances of Mr. Hirsh and Ms. Cuthbert. While the two do not do any great acting, their on screen presence and general charisma make them a joy to watch. It is perhaps, not a surprise then that the film suffers when Ms. Cuthbert is reduced to a trophy girlfriend after actually having a role in the movie. Timothy Olyphant (as Kelly the porn producer) steals the show with a delightful performance in a supporting role.
The Director (Luke Greenfield) also deserves credit, mostly for the first hour, for keeping this film from being another teen movie. Besides some nice camera shots, he allows the movie to build at a nice pace and perfectly captures the feeling of the characters, especially in uncomfortable social situations.
The plot for the movie is quite uneven. After such a brilliant first hour, the movie fades quickly to the point of ludicrousness before improving slightly for the end. For instance, no scene in the film is better than when the characters are at a house party and Matthew is in an uncomfortable situation. It is so well expressed that one can easily see the 'fight or flight' impulse that he faces. On the other hand, the worst scene in the movie involves a character, high on ecstasy and showing it, giving a terrible speech on 'moral fibre' and receiving a standing ovation. A further vexing moment occurred late in the movie, when a boom microphone is clearly visible at the top of the screen for several seconds. This sort of mistake from a Hollywood release is unacceptable.
In the end, I have decided to recommend The Girl Next Door based solely on its opening hour. In that first hour, the film captures high school life as perfectly as I have ever seen on cinema. Disappointingly, however, the film drops off quite a bit, but those opening 60 minutes are enough to earn it a recommendation.
The Aviator (2004)
Some Turbulence for "The Aviator"
"The Aviator" is the biopic of maverick film producer and aviator Howard Hughes as directed by Martin Scorsese. In "The Aviator", we follow certain events of Hughes life (those determined important by the filmmakers) episodically during a time span of roughly twenty years.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hughes in a solid performance. While DiCaprio does nothing extraordinary, his occasional nervous ticks and varying degrees of a furrowed brow add a nice element to the film. Cate Blanchett in a supporting role as one of Hughes' love interests Katherine Hepburn is quite impressive. Blanchett obviously put great effort into the part as characterised by her rapid, accented dialogue. Alec Baldwin (at his sleazy best), Ian Holm and Alan Alda also put in commendable acting efforts. Sadly underdeveloped are the characters portrayed by John C. Reilly and Kate Beckinsale. Reilly's character is Hughes' second in command, yet throughout the film, he only seems to take notes and complain about Hughes' spending habits. Beckinsale as Ava Gardner essentially replaces Blanchett after Hughes' romance with the latter falls apart. However, while Blanchett fared prominently, Beckinsale floats in and out of the picture.
Perhaps the biggest problem with "The Aviator" is its plot. While most of the plot is actually quite good, there are two serious missteps. The first is in a short scene that starts the movie and is later recalled in a flashback. It tries to link Hughes' mental problems to the single event of his mother bathing him (when he is at a preteen age) while offering neurotic advice (whether this should also explain Hughes' obsession with 'mammories' and milk, I do not know). The second is the brief reappearance of characters whose use in the movie had already ended. There are several examples of this: Blanchett returns much later to see Hughes, but does not and never returns, Jude Law appears for one scene and then reappears in a 'walk on' part only and Beckinsale reappears to 'save' Hughes and then leaves.
Visually, "The Aviator" is beautiful. Scorsese uses his full array of camera tricks to get the desired effect. Scenes set in different periods have different looks. The CGI, while not seamless, is not overused. An added bonus is a spectacularly filmed aeroplane crash sequence that is actually quite startling.
In terms of directing, the film marks another excellent effort by Martin Scorsese. While not as good as "Goodfellas", "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull", it is on par with efforts such as "Gangs of New York". As mentioned previously, the Director uses all his camera tricks expertly to show the viewer what the character is feeling. Interestingly, the director chooses to express some of Hughes' eccentric behaviour in a humorous tone.
In conclusion, "The Aviator" is an excellent motion picture with mild annoyances. Fans of Scorsese, DiCaprio and Howard Hughes should not be disappointed, but the film's running time of just under three hours may be too much for some.
A Good Action Packed Sequel.
James Cameron's "Aliens" is the sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 film "Alien". In that film, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was the sole survivor of her spaceship's crew that was decimated by an alien. This film focuses on Ripley and her return to the planet from "Alien" where the alien eggs are located.
After finally being found by The Company after floating aimlessly in space for many years, Ripley is horrified to discover that the planet from "Alien" has been colonised by humans (who have no clue that they share the planet with alien eggs). When The Company loses contact with the planet, they send a representative (Paul Reiser), a team of marines and Ripley to investigate. Upon their arrival, they find a terrified girl called "Newt" (Carrie Henn) who tells them what happened to the rest of the colony (see the title of the film).
While not quite as good as the first film, "Aliens" still has a very satisfying plot. Whereas "Alien" focused on suspense, "Aliens" is an action movie. Moreover, as far as action movies go, this film will surely be rated highly among them if the audience buys the story. Here lies the problem with the plot: that it may not be entirely believable to all viewers. For instance, Ripley and Newt develop a sort of mother-daughter relationship that explains a critical decision taken towards the film's end. Those who do not believe the bonding was strong enough (myself included) will think the decision is ridiculous. Further, the plot does not properly explain why Ripley would ever want to go back to the alien planet. We know that the alien's image still haunts her dreams and for her to be rid of it she must see them eliminated, but is this really a sufficient reason? With those exceptions, the plot is still good and action-filled. Thankfully, as in the first film, there is a long period to build the story and characters before anything takes place.
If one finds the Ripley/Newt relationship believable then Sigourney Weaver's performance is good, otherwise, it is ordinary, noted only for her strong female role. Paul Reiser and Michael Biehn can be enjoyable at times, but they do not have the skills to demonstrate the few complexities of their characters. Ms. Henn seems quite an annoying child actor whose job is to get into trouble. The most enjoyable performance comes from the foul-mouthed tough-guy, Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) who quickly turns into a frightened wimp after an alien encounter. Lance Henriksen also does a solid job as the android, Bishop.
James Cameron's direction is this film's highlight. Cameron obviously seems to have a knack for the science-fiction/action genre as he demonstrated in The Terminator (also starring Biehn). If there is one flaw, it is his overuse of hordes of aliens, which takes away the mystique the alien had in the first film and makes the creatures seem more vulnerable.
Visually the film looks decent. There are still tight claustrophobic sets and dark lighting that add to the feel of the film. The models used are not as convincing however, so that the first film that was released seven years earlier actually looks better.
Overall, "Aliens" is a good action movie and a good sequel that can actually be enjoyed without seeing the original film. Actually, viewers who have not yet seen the brilliant "Alien" may enjoy this film more if they see it first.
Unbearable Tension and Fear of the Unknown.
"In space no one can hear you scream." So goes the tagline for the film "Alien". While the tagline exposes one of the movie's flaws, it also neatly sums up the general feeling of helplessness and claustrophobia that the film achieves.
"Alien" is set in the future. The crew of a mining space ship are awakened early from their 'hypersleep' by an SOS from a nearby planet. Once on the planet, three of the crew set out to investigate, only to return with an unwelcome visitor (see the title of this film). As the movie progresses, it deals with the dwindling number of crewmembers and their fight for survival.
The plot of "Alien" is quite solid. While there is no real excitement or thrills during the first 45 minutes, it still never gets boring. This time is always filled with information for us to absorb, yet we still only know as much as the crew of the ship. When things do start to happen, there are quite a few genuinely shocking moments, with only a few cheap scares. As the movie begins to end, the tension created is almost unbearable, thanks mainly to the excellent set up. An excellent score, which must surely go down as an all time great, aids throughout the movie. The most glaring flaw in the film is that it has sounds in space. Since the film is fiction I would usually have no problem with this, but space noise contradicts the tagline of the movie.
Ridley Scott's direction in the film is superb. No one has created such tension and suspense since Alfred Hitchcock. Scott decides to scare us by NOT showing much of the alien. The result is more a fear of the unknown than a fear of the creature.
Visually, the film is beautiful and remains beautiful. Modern films full of the best CGI do not look as good as this film. The models look near perfect, which means that the film will never look dated (except for one scene close to the end that looks poor); whereas, what looks like good CGI now, will look poor in ten years time. The sets used for filming also work well and add to the general feeling of claustrophobia.
Overall "Alien" is a fantastic motion picture. It has excellent visuals, direction and a great plot. Also featuring some of the best opening credits ever, it will surely hold up as one of the best films of all time.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Would Be Better As One Film
'Kill Bill: Vol. 2' is the second and final part of Quentin Tarantino's tale of revenge. As has been well documented, 'Kill Bill' was supposed to be one film, however studio concerns over a three hour film meant that it was split into two 'volumes'.
This film begins where the last one ended. The Bride (Uma Thurman) having already dispatched Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) now seeks out the two remaining members of her would be assassination squad - Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Budd (Michael Madsen) - along with their leader and her ultimate goal: Bill (David Carradine).
As was the case with Vol. 1, Vol. 2 is told in chapters that do not always occur in chronological order. However, Vol. 2 is more linear than the first part was (scenes that are out of order tend to be flashbacks). The pace of this film is, surprisingly, much slower than Vol. 1. Tarantino wisely eschews the gallons of fake blood and focuses on the story and the development of the characters. The result is that the cast get more of a chance to display their acting talents and they duly oblige with some fine performances. With less action, it also means that this film is more verbose than the first part. Unfortunately, the dialogue is not the classic Quentin Tarantino type (with the exception of Bill who has some great lines), it rather serves to further the plot and fill the back-story of the characters.
Tarantino's direction in this film is not too different from the first part (as it should be since this is really one film). Some scenes are still shot in black and white, but this time it feels like they were done for style rather than to diminish the on screen violence. Tarantino also manages to create a memorable moment by changing the film's aspect ratio during a claustrophobic scene, giving the viewer a better feel for the situation of the character.
Visually, Vol. 2 is quite appealing, but it never reaches the beauty of the first part. This is not the result of the cinematography (which is still excellent), but rather due to the colour palette which is not as broad as in Vol. 1. Thankfully, the fake blood effects of the first part are gone and are replaced with blood that looks more genuine, so that when fight scenes do occur they feel more realistic.
Where Vol. 2 really shines is with its acting performances. Uma Thurman gets to show off a broad range of emotions as The Bride and she does so effectively. The way she shows the suffering of her character is truly award-worthy. The actors that play the two assassins she faces in this film (Hannah and Madsen) are definitely a huge improvement from the actors in the last film (Fox and Liu). Of the two, Madsen's performance is the better as he plays Budd with great restraint, which is a surprising trait of his character. Hannah does her job solidly although she never really has to do anything other than be a badass. David Carradine (better known for the 'Kung-Fu' series) gives the best performance of this movie as Bill. Carradine does not only have a great on screen presence, but he also delivers his dialogue flawlessly throughout. Michael Parks and Gordon Liu, who both acted in the first film, return as different characters in this part. However, both fit into their roles so well that it is virtually impossible to recognise them.
The original Kill Bill was supposed to be 180 minutes, however after it was split, Vol. 1 was 111 minutes and Vol. 2 was 136 minutes meaning both films are a total of 247 minutes. The fact that some 67 minutes combined were added to both films accounts for most of the faults of Vol. 2 (and to a lesser extent Vol. 1) since too many scenes feel out of place and like they should have been cut from the final version.
Generally, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a fine motion picture. However, if the original film was not split into two it might have been great.