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Just didn't do enough
Entering the cinema with no knowledge of the Zodiac killer left this whole thing as a very hollow experience. Two hours and forty minutes of what, for all intents and purposes, was little more than an unnarrated documentary, rather than a film. And balance was difficult for Fincher to achieve: eventually, the time devoted to the facts of the Zodiac case, and all that tedious police red tape and discussions about fingerprints and handwriting which may or may not have existed meant that the characters suffered. I got a reasonable picture of the Paul Avery and Dave Toschi characters, but none of the others - and to me, they weren't really characters interesting enough to transfer into a film anyway. Finally, while I am well aware that the case remained unsolved and so forth, for Fincher to deliver this and sundry information via six or seven faceless captions at the end of the film, after over two and a half hours of film, was a terrible cop-out. I was dissatisfied with the quality of this piece, and must learn to be more careful when considering films based upon real events.
Date Movie (2006)
Garbage. Pure and unadulterated
I really should have known better that to seek out and view this garbage. After all, I swore off the Scary Movie series after #2, which was indisputably the most putrid film I have ever seen. Date Movie, at least, should have had plenty of movies to choose from for parodies, and hence provided some humour. But where were the jokes? Where was the wit? Where was the coherent storyline? I laughed maybe three times during the entire film, and spent the rest of it wondering how mature adults could possibly try to pass this off as entertainment.
The most pathetic segment of the film was the Meet the Parents parodies. These scenes were literally nothing more than exact replicas of the originals, with slightly more extreme visuals. Fockyerdoder instead of Focker - that's not funny. A two-year-old could do better. The "I've got nipples, can you milk me?" skit was even shabby, leaving out key lines. Of course, the pimple-popping segment was not much better; simply puerile.
The only positive comment that can be made is that this film was better than Scary Movie 2, because I laughed three times instead of zero times. I just feel sorry for the cast: Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Griffen, and that midget whose name I don't know are all good actors, and acted capably in this film, but the script was such trash that it could ruin Johnny Depp's golden career if it wished to.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Aronofsky's expert depiction of exponential decline into helplessness
Pragmatically speaking, there is little more to the plot of Requiem for a Dream than watching four people take six months to approach the inevitability of completely destroying their existences with drugs. Aronofsky's depiction thereof, however, is positively masterful. The hundred minutes are woven together into three signposted segments (summer, fall and winter), each of which is a continuous aptly scored orchestration of addiction and emotion, punctuated only by Aronofsky's rapid-cut drug-use sequences.
Summer sees the four all content, with their respective addictions well-supported, their lives all headed in the correct directions, albeit down ominously crooked paths. The score is light. Aronofsky concludes summer with an emotional and lengthy confrontation between Harry and Sara Goldfarb - clearly the longest cut in the film, and the first in which the characters begin to feel uncomfortable. This uncertainty and tension spills over into fall, when everything begins to turn sour, and the score begins to intensify. The framework supporting the quartet's addictions begins to fray, as Sara begins to increase her drug intake, and the relationship between Harry and Marian begins to falter.
Hitherto, Aronofsky had depicted a fairly stagnant summer, with situations slowly worsening through fall; winter sees the supportive framework around each character collapse, with Sara's physical and mental condition deteriorating, Harry's arm worsening, his relationship with Marian shattered, and Marian's reliance upon prostitution to support her addiction, all with exponentially increasing intensity. The score and cutting subtly follows suit; through the entire winter movement, the music increases in intensity and malice (Marian's score, little more than a light piano melody, grows eerier as the music around it intensifies), and the cuts from scene to scene become faster, and the horrors depicted in them become harder to watch. When the film has finally surpassed its climax, Aronofsky offers no comforting ending: just a portrait of the shattered lives of four helpless individuals.
The purpose of the film is clear: portray the unforgiving result of hard drug use, and; to show how a situation which has been stable for a long time can spiral into oblivion in a fraction of that time. Aronofsky, with a film which lives up to the term 'requiem,' as well as the four lead actors in the film, succeed in depicting exactly these things in a film which demands its viewers are made to feel as uncomfortable as possible for at least ten or fifteen minutes leading to its climax. Very powerful, very moving, and quite excellent.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Pointless... thoroughly, thoroughly pointless.
There must be some logical reason why one would want to view a film - you'd watch, for example, Lost in Translation for its characters; Lord of the Rings for its visuals; Memento for its plots and themes; Gone in 60 Seconds for the cars; and so on. But Napoleon Dynamite seems to exist specifically to prove that a movie needs none of these things to be good. It was wrong.
Napoleon Dynamite has no discernible plot. Characterisation is non-existent: there is no character in this story to which the audience could possibly relate. As an extension of that, there was no character within the movie to which any other character could relate on any sort of intimate level. Taking these two things out, all that is left is a series of tedious, unrelated passages of existence amongst a group of equally idealistically catatonic characters.
When the end of the movie is finally reached, nothing has happened. No character has grown, least of all the main character, who remains the gawky, uninspiring boy he always was. Spoilers? There's nothing in the film to spoil.
It is possible to work a movie around a lack of plot and character if the exchanges amongst the characters are entertaining; however, barring a few sniggers at some of the unimaginably stupid or unrealistic situations, the whole movie is simply a pointless yawn.
I learned nothing, I gained nothing, I felt nothing, and I want my 1½ hours back.
Deal or No Deal (2003)
5:30pm: where Andrew O'Keefe is presently king
The 5:30pm time slot has been filled with a game show for as long as I can remember. But, in this pre-dinner after-work time, light entertainment has to be the main purpose of the show - recall the disastrous short season of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire at 5:30 on channel 9. As such, a good host is the key to success. Channel 7 was for so long unable to compete with Channel 7 - I cannot even remember who hosted Wheel of Fortune, but they were certainly nowhere near as enjoyable as John Burgess or Larry Emdur.
Enter Andrew O'Keefe. People didn't enjoy watching him in an hour-long show after dinner on a Sunday night - nobody's been at work on Sunday, and they wouldn't mind exercising their minds a bit. But then they slotted him into the 5:30 time slot, and wonderful things began to happen.
People either love him or hate him. I fall under the former category. His quirky, loud and friendly style of hosting has allowed him to control Deal or No Deal audiences and contestants alike, producing the ultimate light entertainment show. Furthermore, over the two years of the 5:30 version of the show, we have seen it morph into his image - most noticeable was the personification of the anonymous "bank" into the evil miser Walter P. Smythe.
O'Keefe has achieved three things in his time at Deal or No Deal. Firstly, he has catapulted himself into the limelight as Channel 7's most entertaining personality, having since appeared in the three-network tsunami telethon and the celebrity spelling bee with positive results. Secondly, he has temporarily halted the career of Larry Emdur - they tried to alter the Price Is Right to make it more like Deal or No Deal, not realising that O'Keefe was the problem, and that Larry simply couldn't out-charm him; Channel 9 is now going to try to win back audiences with Bert Newton, and as charismatic as he is, I cannot see Bert pulling in the younger crowd. Thirdly, he helped the world see how powerful a show Deal or No Deal can be, given the right host; we have since seen versions premiere successfully in the US and UK, but only after O'Keefe and Australia spent two years putting in the ground work.
The actual 'game' part of the game show is irrelevant; I get my 'game' show from Temptation and Jeopardy! (from the US). Deal or No Deal gives us the 'show' part of game show, and for that it receives 9/10.
A tough one to rate
Overall, it was very difficult to discern exactly what I thought about Burton's adaption of Dahl's novel. At times, I felt that the biggest disappointment about the film was that the storytelling was at times garbled and at times confusing, given the impression perhaps of relying more upon readers' existing knowledge of the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to fully appreciate the interpretation of the film; admittedly, a good knowledge of the story was fairly certain from most viewers, however this sacrifice in storytelling left the film lacking full integrity. Particularly laboured was the portion of the film before the children entered the factory - as a true case in point, Burton reprised the 'fake golden ticket' storyline from Stuart's movie, but dealt with it so rapidly in passing that its real value in the movie is questionable.
In analysing Depp's interpretation of Wonka, it is impossible to avoid comparisons with Wilder's, but as the characters were so vastly different, comparisons become difficult. At times, Depp felt unsettling: while the darker aspects of his Wonka were a refreshing body added to empty shell which was Dahl's original Wonka without compromising the allure of the eccentric, the childish insecurities he displayed were more difficult to accept. Wilder's Wonka, while darker than Dahl's, never lost his likability nor his powerful standing in the factory, but Depp's Wonka in his more childish moments seemed to lose charisma; a charismatic Wonka surely should be considered the key to a good portrayal of this story. As a case in point, it is difficult to be drawn to Depp as he insecurely jokes about cannibalism.
Emphasis of the other characters shifted in Burton's Charlie and the Chocalate Factory when compared with Stuart's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In Stuart's movie, the parents of the children were given the starring support roles, in particular Roy Kinnear's Mr Salt and Leonard Stone's Mr Beauregarde. Enjoyable as these characters were, it detracted from the fact that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is supposed to revolve around the characters of the children and revealing why Charlie is indeed the moral superior to the others. As such, Burton deals with these side characters better than Stuart, and with the exception of Augustus Gloop, whose character has no real scope for embellishment, the four other children are the supporting characters who shine, in particular Jordan Fry's Mike Teavee and Annasophia Robb's Violet Beauregarde, whose characters were altered significantly from Dahl's hollow beginnings. Of the parents, it is only Missi Pyle's Mrs Beauregarde who displays any substance of character, working beautifully in tandem with Robb to present the stereotypical corn-fed American mother-daughter team. In this respect, Burton hit the mark much more closely than did Stuart, but given that the original book offered no substance to any of the parents or children, both have dealt with the problem in appropriate manners.
Charlie's devotion to the wellbeing of his family was well written and believable by convincing performances by Highmore, Carter, and Taylor. However, it was included as an antithesis to Wonka's own family traumas, and these segments of the film, in which Wonka lapsed into flashback and then the conclusion towards the end, felt laboured, especially given the uneasiness of Depp's Wonka. Highmore's Charlie, and the little yet obvious moments in which he puts his family first, are endearing.
The key drawcard of this film was Elfman's score, particularly the instrumental score. The rousing instrumental number over which the opening credits ran was simply brilliant. The oompa-loompa songs, each performed in a different style - each performed in a different style, as compared with the well-known oompa-loompa songs from Stuart's film - added some light-hearted diversity.
The visuals were disappointing. Much of the interior of the factory was excessively cartoonish, particularly the room with the waterfall, or the nut sorting room. Furthermore, the exterior of the factory and some of the corridors were very sterile and uninviting. The enhanced realism of the sets in Stuart's film made that factory more engaging.
As negative as this summary is, a lot of it is made in comparison with Stuart's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which would receive a rating of 9/10. Burton portrayed the same classic story with better supporting characters, but in a confusing manner. Furthermore, it is still difficult to discern whether or not Depp's portrayal of Wonka should be hailed a success or so-so. Even so, it cannot be suggested for a moment that Burton has done Dahl's classic anything but justice, and for that it receives 7/10.
Owned by the supports
Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is possibly the best recent comedy I've seen. It's not really the jokes - funny as they are, there's nothing which separates them from the standard teen comedy flick (the good ones, I mean. The jokes are on a par with those in, say, Not Another Teen Movie, but way above those of, say, Scary Movie 2.) The real winning aspect of this film were the faultless performances by the second tier cast. In particular, Eliza Dushku shines as Sissy, the no-nonsense leader of a team of female jewel thieves - in many ways a role similar to a cruder version of her Buffy the Vampire Slayer persona, Faith. Will Ferrell is almost as good as Wildlife Ranger Willenholly, brilliantly pulling off his ineptitude, and delivering the film's best line: 'Fuckbeans! That was them, wasn't it?' Chris Rock is the typically reverse-racist African American director of 'Bluntman and Chronic,' and gleefully makes a scene. Shannon Elizabeth is finally given a good role (as opposed to American Pie's eastern European bombshell, Nadia) and shows that she doesn't have to be type-casted into personality-free roles. 'As himself' cameos from Jason Biggs, James van der Beek, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon also go down a treat, and in the end it's only Seann William Scott whose secondary character annoys. And, of course, take nothing away from Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, whose characters and acting are top notch for the genre.
Most teen movies I tire of; this one I don't. Quality.
Along Came Polly (2004)
That's a $4 cliché variety pack, then?
Make no bones about it. There are a lot of things wrong with this movie. It's clichéd the whole way, not very funny, predictable, and illogical. Let's start at the beginning: characters. There's the boring, luckless guy - giving Stiller another notch in his boring, luckless guy belt - the allegedly wild, but in reality just fairly normal, love interest - whom Aniston plays well, but really needed no effort to do so - the fat, jovial friend, and then the assortment of clichés: an annoying daredevil Australian guy, a confident Spanish guy, etc. The storyline: the beginning is slightly unusual, but thereafter goes into the standard any-movie style, with every plot turn as predictable as your average knock-knock joke. The biggest problem was that Stiller's character's "development" really seemed to come from nothing - like your average school play, the writers knew where he started and where he ended, but didn't put enough stock into properly telling the middle bit. Finally, the alleged 'jokes' were nothing but highly watered down versions of standard gross-out humour; there was a regulation chunder scene, sweaty fat men, etc.
In conclusion, the simple fact about this movie is that learning the meaning of the word 'shart' was the only good thing. Hamburg really dished up a dog's dinner here, and the sugar coating of Stiller and Aniston may have lured the viewers, but the taste left at the end was just as rancid.
Final comment: This film may have been dreadful, but Aniston still picked a better between-Friends-seasons movie than Kudrow's odious 'Marci X.'
Ocean's Twelve (2004)
Just not good enough
SPOILERS WITHIN One would have thought that the sequel to a hugely popular and very entertaining heist movie would be, well, another heist movie, with an elaborate scheme that at least attempts to rival the first movie for ingenuity and intrigue. But, unfortunately, they just decided to take a bag of unwanted script pages from other movies, shuffle them, and adjust it to suit the Ocean's Eleven characters. Quite simply, this is the least relevant sequel I have seen for a very long time - even American Pie 3, the Wedding was more warranted than this trite.
In a seemingly extremely unlikely twist of events, Mr Benedict is back and wanting all his money back. So, all the eleven come back together and try to figure out what heist they should do. Sol decides to leave instead. They go to Holland, and find that their heist is done by another master-thief on the same night - the Night Fox is his name. Seems he's got a bit of an ego about Ocean pulling off a better heist at the casinos than he's ever done, and he challenges Ocean's team to what is essentially a heist-off - both teams will try to steal the French Coronation Egg.
This is where the movie gets even worse. Practically everyone gets arrested, leaving only a handful. They call on Tess to help in their heist, and perhaps in a desperate attempt to force me to leave in disgust, they have her disguised as Julia Roberts. But, she and everyone else gets arrested too. So, with Ocean's Twelve all in a European prison, how are they going to escape? Easy! Linus' Mum disguises herself as a European prison officer. The Night Fox shows off the Coronation Egg which he managed to steal from within a room of randomly moving lasers - which we saw in a minute-and-a-half display of impossibly fortunate gymnastics - to Ocean, who then reveals that he stole a replica, and that he stole the real one. What was the elaborate heist scheme used to capture the priceless artefact? A two-minute switcheroo of bags on a train. Getting the picture? Throw in an illogical, predictable, and largely unrelated story arc with Zeta Jones' character, and it's done.
There were positives. Zeta Jones' performance was, as usual, pretty damn good, with a character who was enchanting, despite the complete lack of impact she had on the story. The original, shorter heist, where the Night Fox got there first, also recaptured some of the good work from the first movie. But I can't fathom what they were trying to get out of the rest of the movie - the characters' original witty charm was replaced with the occasional unfunny wisecrack. The first movie attracted a large number of fans through its charming characterisation and elaborate story, and since there was essentially none of that in Ocean's Twelve, it was simply baffling that this film was even made - from an artistic standpoint. From a marketing standpoint, it was perfect - use the popularity of the first movie to sell the second without having to make any effort at all. It worked on me, didn't it?
Team America: World Police (2004)
It doesn't take a genius to realise how smart and tactful Parker and Stone are when it comes to the social commentary that South Park provides. So, when the war on terror rolled around, they recognised how divisive the issue was and realised that perhaps they should wait until the political climate cooled before tearing shreds out of it. However, once this had happened, they had only released one war-on-terror-based episode of South Park (ep. 100: I'm a Little Bit Country, about the debate between factions of the community, rather than the war itself) and as such had an absolute mass of material to work with - enough for four or five episodes. So, with material coming out of every orifice, they saw no choice but to do what they promised never to do again - make a movie. And while, as they claim, 'it nearly killed them,' they have produced one of the most brilliant social commentary pieces in years - in the ilk of, although decidedly cruder and less subtle than, the classic Animal Farm.
The film is remembered by many for its crudities - particularly its puppet sex scene, Matt Damon's limited conversational skills, some creative death scenes, spoofs of Middle Eastern language, and the mother of all chunder scenes. While for most adolescent minds such as my own, those scenes are very funny indeed, they were not the most rewarding aspects of the film. The main focuses of satire are outspoken left-wingers, the Americo-centred view of the world, and the shoot-first, ask-later 'policy,' and all are done rather expertly. Also causing side-splitting laughter from yours truly were criticisms of the soft approach of the UN, and the tunnel-vision anti-corporationism of the left (something South Park has given a touch-up several times). Finally, the climax - the analogy speech - was perhaps the funniest and most clever summary of any situation in a long while.
It's rude and crude, but at the same time completely brilliant. But South Park fans have come to expect nothing less.
Meticulous and engaging
Weir's meticulous recreation of life on a warship is an absolute pleasure to experience. The actors, who built up their characters as much as possible by establishing a hierarchy akin to that of the movie, do a marvellous job of recreating feel-good mateship amidst the rough work and seas they endured. Particularly noteworthy were the immaculate performances of Crowe and Bettany; their characters - a warm and friendly captain with a streak of arrogance, and his close, occasionally nervous but firm friend - and the friendship between the two are so flawlessly portrayed that each scene in which they feature is entertaining - the pinnacle of this is their duet musical scenes, with musical styles somewhat curiously but certainly effectively juxtaposed with the scenes that preceded them. The plot of Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World is actually fairly bland - upon reflection, there doesn't seem to be any way that such a plot could flesh out to a 138 minute picture; thus it is so that the interaction between the men on the ship, and the refreshing absence of female romantic interests, is what makes the movie truly engaging. All this aside, the realism and visual effects of the film, while comparatively infrequent and certainly less brutal or destruction-centred than those in standard action releases of the time, are very realistic, exciting, and have a touch of unpredictability about them. The end result is a movie which is not for everyone - younger age groups are certainly turned away, and I vividly remember being twenty years younger than anyone else in the cinema when I saw it - but those who will enjoy it will find it difficult to fault.