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Christmas Comes to PacLand (1982)
Fun trip down memory lane
I re-discovered this special this past Christmas when it was shown on Boomerang. I recorded it on my DVR and forgot all about it until today. I sat down with my 2-year-old daughter to watch and am surprised to see she can't take her eyes off the screen. (Probably wondering what the heck I am subjecting her to now) Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it as good as I remembered? Sort of. It does hold up well, but some things are better watched when you're 7. The animation is typical of Saturday morning cartoons from the 80's and it does bring back the memories of all the cartoons I used to watch (the best being Dungeons & Dragons, which I recently found on Toon Disney). If you get a chance to re-visit this, you should.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Very, very disappointing
It's a shame this movie is not better. I have really enjoyed Hollywood's recent trend of remaking older horror movies; today's technology has allowed for much better effects and camera work. I can't really say whether they are scarier or not, in that it is a rare film that is able to scare me. In this case, the effects get in the way. The original was a bit cheesy and not really very scary. But, it was good. This remake is rather mean, not really very scary. And it is not good.
After a brief opening sequence in which we see the murders which occurred in the house the year before, we meet George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George) and her three kids. They are just newly married (after her first husband's death) and on the lookout for a bigger house. They find it in the large, spooky house on Long Island. After moving in, George slowly begins to feel the evil influence in the house and gradually goes insane. Everyone else pretty much sits around waiting for him to yell at them. Loud noises, choppy camera-work and special effects pad out the first hour or so. We get three scenes which try to explain the haunted forces in the house, but they are brief and until the 28th day (the final 15 minutes of the movie), Kathy really doesn't seem to realize something is happening in the house. It's almost as if the filmmakers forgot they were actually making a movie in the middle of all the special effects.
Perhaps I am judging to harshly against the memory of the original. But, I blame the filmmakers for this. Gone is the priest trying to convince his superiors that something sinister is happening; here he gets two scenes that are really quite pointless, except to set the pacing for the conclusion. Gone are the supporting players; no friends, no aunt. This creates a claustrophobic feel to the proceedings. Gone is the well, hidden under the basement stairs; here we get the hidden room (last seen in the sequel/prequel to the original) and some new explanations on what happened therenot very convincing here, but would make a good movie of their own. This was a big misstep, but not as bad as the depiction of Jody. The creepiest thing of the original has been changed to just another ghost for the remake.
On a final note, this movie is very loud. Now and then we get horror movies that bore us and then throw a loud noise on the soundtrack to keep us awake. I guess I should be grateful here; I would have been mad at myself for paying $6.50 to take a nap and the movie was not compelling enough to hold my interest.
The Grudge (2004)
Well-made and creepy ghost story
Haunted house movies are an interesting sub-genre. I love horror films and I love ghost stories, but as a movie they tend to leave something to be desired. Usually they are over-produced disappointments (like the remake of "The Haunting") or they tend to leave too much to the imagination and are a little slow (like "The Amityville Horror"). This film manages to succeed as entertaining, a little chilling and fast-paced.
In Japan, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a nurse who is given the assignment of looking after another American (Grace Zabriskie). The previous caretaker did not report to work; after the opening we know why. We soon discover the house is haunted by an extremely nasty ghost. Even worse, it is cursed: those who enter will be haunted to their deaths by the ghosts who met a grisly end inside.
I think what helps the movie along the most is the way the story is told. After an opening that is shocking only because of the name actor involved (we don't yet know enough about the character to have any emotional connection), the movie cuts to another person at the house, then backwards to someone else, forward to someone we have met before, sideways to another person, backwards again and then forward some more. It would be very confusing if you were not to pay attention to what is happening. Those who are not entertained by this and let their minds wander will wind up disliking this tremendously.
The acting is good for a horror feature. Gellar is right in her element here, showing a more vulnerable side to herself than she did as Buffy. Bill Pullman acts haunted even before he actually is; I liked his character and wished they had done more with him. I especially like Clea DuVall. An unconventional looking actress, she is very good in every feature I have seen her in.
There are scares to be found, most notably from the spirit who likes to noisily crawl up and down staircases, slapping her hands on the steps and making a creepy clicking sound. A little too much is left unexplained (like what happened to all the police who show up at the house at one point; how does the curse effect them and when), but it is not enough to ruin a good fright flick.
The Incredibles (2004)
Funny lines, great animation, breathtaking action...excellent film
Hollywood has again shown that their best product tends to be of the animation variety. Pixar has again shown they make the best of the best cartoon movies have to offer.
After too many lawsuits for injuries sustained during rescues, the government creates a superhero protection program and the best heroes are sent into hiding. Of them is Mr. Incredible, who longs for the old days. At home, he feels unfulfilled with the family lifewife (Elastigirl, wonderfully voiced by Holly Hunter and able to stretch and bend to unbelievable lengths; daughter Violet, who has her own powers (invisibility and force-field creation) and looks eerily like Samara, the villain of "The Ring"; son Dash, whose power is the ability to run at super-speeds and resents not being able to show them off; and baby Jack-Jack, who seems to have no powersyet!) He gets his chance to relive the glory days through a top-secret experiment on a tropical island, which he soon discovers is a front for the villain. Looking like the Heat Miser from "The Year Without a Santa Claus," our bad guy is trying to eliminate all the superheroes and become a self-made one; his plot is to use his robotic creations to fool the people of the world into thinking they are under attack and he is there to rescue them.
This all makes for an entertaining story line in itself and the way director Brad Bird presents it is wonderfully exciting. Adding to the mix are the wonderful lines of the characters. They are funny, sarcastic and very well written. If only most comedies were half as funny as this movie is. I laughed more at this movie than I did any other released in 2004.
The animation, with its retro-futuristic rendering of 1960's designs, is amazing. The people at Pixar continue to amaze and impress. Rarely do they misstep and this is no exception.
What is it with TV-movies? They don't make any attempts at decent film-making and every movie must be a four-hour, two-night "event" that contain too many subplots and drag down the rest of the movie. This one is no different.
The basic plot of the movie concerns a series of super-storms that will soon converge on Chicago, resulting in a hurricane off Lake Michigan. That in itself is enough for a decent enough two-hour movie. But, the filmmakers feel compelled to pad it out to four hours and add pointless subplots. Such as the wacko who is planning to crash the power grid as a way of making a statement, but with bad timing it also hampers emergency procedures against the storm. There's also the head of the local power company (Thomas Gibson), who is dealing with a corporate merge and cheating on his wife. His wife is dealing with discovering this and her rebellious daughter and her no-good boyfriend, who uses them in an idiotic attempt at showing his loveby holding them hostage in a bank and shooting her! A reporter (Nancy McKeon) is desperate to show how faulty the power grid is and finds her chance with the wacko. And a senator (Dianne Wiest) who must use all her pull in Washington to get help in getting the power back on.
The majority of these stories could be cut, but since they are here they should at least be entertaining. They are not and are horribly acted out by the cast. Gibson shows no means of talent here; McKeon comes across as too horrible a person to care about, an angry woman who just insists she is right; Wiest is horribly wasted, confined to walking what appears to be the same hallway and overacting to an extent that is far beneath her talent.
The disaster scenes are good; the rest is crap.
National Treasure (2004)
My favorite movie of 2004
I loved this movie. It may be far-fetched, but the characters have such conviction in what they are doing and director Jon Turteltaub has filmed it in such an exciting fashion that it succeeds in being a fanciful entertainment and my favorite film of 2004.
Nicolas Cage stars as Ben Gates, the latest in a long line of treasure hunters, who believes in a mythical treasure hidden by the founders of our country. Despite everyone believing him to be a joke, he continues his quest for the gold and is even able to secure financial backing to do so. In the movie's least convincing sequence (I can only suspend disbelief so far), he finds a clue in a Revolution-era war shiplocated in the middle of the Arctic! And only buried a few feet from the surface!! The screenplay explains that the ice sometimes pushes objects to the surface, but come on! That said, he discovers the map to the treasure is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence and his former financiers (led by Sean Bean) are out to steal it for themselves. This sets up the rest of the movie, full of action scenes that may not be original but are imaginative and well-executed. It's been a long while since a movie entertained me in such a way that I was not concerned about how long until it was over. I was actually disappointed to see this one end.
The acting is about what one would expect from a film of this kind. Cage is passable as the hero of the movie; he tends to reflect how good a movie is. He's good in good movies, fair in OK movies and horrible in bad movies. I liked his performance here; he lends a quiet shyness to the character that is entirely fitting. When he is thrust into action, he seems to do so only for the sake of preserving history. Bean makes for a perfect villain; deceptively friendly when he needs to be and perfectly menacing when the script demands it.
The action pieces are highly entertaining; I was surprised given that previously Turteltaub was better known for lightweight comedies or mid-level dramas. It looks as though he has found his calling. The stealing of the historic document that is the center of the movie is thrilling. But, the most fun sequences are the race to find a clue hidden in the buildings of Philadelphia that can only be found at a certain time of day due to the position of the sun; and the deep, hidden catacombs that hold the treasure.
The central mystery is purely fiction, but I am unsure of the facts that are used to propel the story. I imagine they are as well. The movie made me want to pop open a history book and find out.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Depressing holiday "comedy"
How can you go wrong with a holiday movie that pairs Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis? Director Joe Roth has found a way. Based on the novel "Skipping Christmas" by John Grisham, the movie centers around a couple (Allen, Curtis), depressed because their daughter will not be home for Christmas, who decide to skip the celebration and take a cruise instead. While I admit I would've still decorated, the movie goes overboard in the reactions of the neighbors (led by Dan Aykroyd). Turning into Christmas Nazis, they begin stalking and harassing the pair to try to get them to decorate. I was not aware Christmas spirit meant decorate at all costs. I don't find the humor in the characters here who believe so.
Making matters worse, about halfway through the movie, when the Kranks change their minds, it seems more like they did so out of giving in than because they wanted to. And their reason for changing their mind is preposterous: the daughter has gotten engaged to a man from Peru and wants to bring him home for Christmas. She goes on to explain to her mother that he has never seen a snowy Christmas because he spends it in Peru every year with his family. Why would she go through all the trouble of making last-minute changes to take him away from this tradition when she was already in Peru? I guess it fits the rest of the movie: everyone is centered on themselves.
Allen and Curtis are the best things about the movie, but the scene of her in that tanning salon in the shopping mall is the least funny in a movie full of dead jokes. We even get a Santa Claus finale that does not fit the tone of what came before. Good job, Roth! You've made the worst Christmas movie of all time. Bring on "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!" Please.
Spring Break Shark Attack (2005)
Note to casting agents: Talentless actors make good shark food
This weak TV-movie has the distinction of being the first movie in film history to combine spring breakers, lecherous college-age womanizers, date-rape, overprotective parents, struggling beachfront business owners and sharks in the same picture. It still doesn't make for a good movie.
Shannon Lucio is the girl with the overprotective parent. She lies and heads to Florida for spring break, where she quickly encounters lecherous college-age womanizers: two guys with a camcorder intent on videotaping their conquestsand scoring as many times as they can. But, she is attracted to the local working boy (Riley Smith) whose mom (Kathy Baker) is struggling to run her boat-tour business and trades barbs with another struggling business owner (Bryan Brown) from farther down the beach. And, to attract more business to his bar, Brown is dumping chum in the waters to attract the sharks.
More time is spent on the Lucio and Smith characters than on the sharks, which are more interesting in that there are so many in one area. You would even think with the words "shark attack" in the title, there would be more with them. As it is, all we get are a few attacks before commercial breaks and a goofy, extended scene at the end. The rest of the time we get a worthless WB-style romance between the two leads and a bunch of pointless plot devices (including date rape) with one of the camcorder guys.
Once we get to the "big" shark attack (a very large amount of them make a buffet out of the drunk spring break bathers), our heroes come to the rescue and (with the aid of more chum) lead the sharks back out to sea. If you were a shark and you had lots and lots of live bait to eat right in front of you, would you settle for old cut-up fish instead? I doubt it. This movie is stupid on every level; not that I was expecting more from a TV-movie.
Sin City (2005)
Breathtaking visuals enhance a wonderful graphic novel adaptation
There is something to be said about visual style. It can make a horrible movie entertaining and an excellent one stunning. It can even make a decent movie far better than it is. Without the style of directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, this movie would have been a forgettable take on film noir.
I'm not a fan of the new film-making method of shooting completely against green-screen and adding everything but the actors and smallest of props later. I think it takes more effort to work with what exists than too create it on a computer. Last year's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" was also made this way and, while it was a good movie, it could have worked just as well without the technique. "Sin City" could not. The way this movie was filmed is the key to everything. Without style, it would have been forgettable; made without the computer-generated sets and scenery, the movie would have been a disaster. Every last frame of this picture succeeds in ways no other movie has in adapting a comic book. The mood, atmosphere, lighting, coloring (or lack of) and characters all look like they stepped out of the back pages of a newspaper. And I loved it.
The rest of the movie was a little disappointing. The movie is broken up into three or four short stories that interweave some of the same characters and settings, but don't really connect in a traditional film manner. Many will like this, I was under whelmed. Each story has the same basic structure that, given the short time allowed each story, is not able to be fleshed out enough to hide its sketchiness. I also did not like the bleak tone to the movie; numerous characters are not as bad as they act, but nearly everyone meets a violent end. The dialogue is wretched; everyone speaks in the overcooked 1940's film noir tone that has been spoofed and mocked time and again. I was told afterwards by someone who liked this that this was how they spoke in the comics. I don't really care for film noir and I don't like comic books; I am obviously not the intended audience to fully appreciate this movie. Those who are, will love even these few reservations I had and will not be bothered by them. In fact, they will probably embrace them.
High marks also go to the actors, all excellent and each one not given enough screen time. Bruce Willis as Hartigan, a retiring cop who saves a young girl from death, is better here than in any movie he has ever been in before. Sympathetic and heroic, he plays every scene perfectly. Jessica Alba, as the grown up version of said girl, is also wonderful and convincingly sympathetic. I know of her, but have only seen her before in "Idle Hands" (a movie not up to her obvious talent). Mickey Rourke is better here than in his movies since the 80's; good marks must go to the heavy makeup he must act through. But, I found his character to be one-note and the least interesting of the "good" guys. Pretty much everyone else is barely on screen long enough to make more than the briefest of impacts: Powers Boothe as a sinister senator; Rutger Hauer as a crooked holy man; Rosario Dawson as a tough prostitute; Brittany Murphy as a gritty waitress; Benicio Del Toro as a slimy cop; Elijah Wood as a stealthy cannibal killer who looks like a demented Charlie Brown. But the best by far is Clive Owen. As Dwight, whose back story is either not given or I missed it (all I caught was that he was a murderer who recently underwent plastic surgery), he helps the prostitutes of Old Town keep their independence. He is sympathetic, menacing, tough, vulnerable and, yes, cool. I want this character in a movie of his own.
Comic books fans will love this movie, the casual moviegoer will find it quite good and original. Those who can't tolerate heavy violence and gore (even in black and white) better stay away.
Fast-paced adventure rises above it's own mediocrity
No treasure-hunting adventure film is ever going to live up to the standard set by the Indiana Jones trilogy. All that is left for a filmmaker to do when making one, is to make one that is entertaining. It seems they can never make the absurd seem plausible, so it is best for us as the average moviegoer to forget how silly these movies really are and just sit back and be entertained. This movie succeeds splendidly in doing so.
Matthew McConaughey plays adventurer Dirk Pitt, in Africa with his deep-sea recovery employers bringing a rare artifact to the surface. While there, an underground contact informs him of a rare coin which he believes came from a Civil War Ironclad battleship he speculates made its way to Africa. Enlisting the aid of his sidekick (Steve Zahn), he convinces his boss (William H. Macy) to let him search for the fabled boat. Of course, he must escort a W.H.O. doctor (Penelope Cruz) upriver as well; she is seeking the source of a mysterious plague. Along the way, they encounter warring African troops and a megalomaniacal French businessman.
There is a lot of plot to this movie and it all gets pretty jumbled. The movie is more about the search for the disease than it is a treasure hunt picture. Given the villains, at times the movie plays like a James Bond picture. I would have preferred for everything else to have been in the background and centered more on the Ironclad. But, this movie is very entertaining. McConaughey is not going to win any awards here, but he plays the part very well. He is charming and funny and fully capable of getting himself out of whatever situation the movie can put him into. Cruz is well, she's not as bad as she is in everything else. I just have a problem with the way she talks; the accent is too thick and her dialogue stilted. Macy and Delroy Lindo (as a CIA agent) are underused, but make the best out of their parts. Macy, especially, has fun with his wisecracks. The star of the movie, however, is Zahn. I don't think he has a single line that is not a funny throwaway and practically every one of them had the theater I saw this at in stitches. He is a positive point to any movie he is in; most of the time he's the best thing about that movie.
Director Breck Eisner has done a commendable job here. He could have put more effort on the screenplay level to streamline the action and add more explanation to the events; there is too much going on and, as written, none of it makes much sense. As it is, he has put together a string of exciting action sequences; from the opening Civil War battle to a river chase in Nigeria to many, many more in the desert. I've always said, no matter how good or bad a movie is, as long as you blow up enough stuff I'll be happy! This is a good popcorn picture; nothing more, nothing less.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
...or how Hollywood took two franchises and flushed them down the toilet
Over ten years of hearing rumors about this film being made and waiting and waiting and then more waiting as nothing comes to fruition. Two more (disappointing) "Alien" pictures will come and go and still no confrontation. Finally, it is here
and THIS is what we get? I was at least vaguely entertained, but this should have been much, much better. This movie succeeds (barely) on being short and having a lot of (uninspired) action scenes. I wasn't bored, just extremely let down.
First off, I had problems with the premise. A team of scientists discover a "heat bloom" from Antarctica and venture out to discover a pyramid buried under the ice. Now, I know next to nothing about science, but wouldn't a burst of heat large enough to be detected from outer space be warm enough to melt the ice? Anyway, once there they discover the pyramid is a weird series of mazes and moving chambers that seemed to house a pre-Aztec sacrifice ritual. We soon discover the humans are merely there to gestate the eggs of the Alien species. And the said aliens are merely the prey for a race of the alien Predator species, who like to hunt the acid-blooded beings.
Now comes my second problem (believe me, there are many more between one and two; this is just the order I am describing them in): what exactly do the predators do? We know from the first two "Predator" movies that they like to travel to Earth to hunt us weak humans every hundred years or so. But, in the meantime did they fly by and check on the pyramid? I can just see them in the 1500's taking a cruise through outer space and thinking "Nope, the silly human race has not advanced enough to travel all the way to the coldest region of their planet, dig miles beneath the surface of the ice, find our pyramid, bring to life those nastier, slimier aliens and let us hunt. Let's try again in 1600. Who's paying for gas this time?" And the aliens sure have a wonderful shelf life! They have been dormant since before the Aztecs! And come to life at the first sign of human life thousands of years later!!
The human element is the weakest of many weak factors. There is absolutely no point for any of them to be there, other than gestating the eggs and providing dialogue. Of course, after hearing them talk, I could have done without the latter. Poor Lance Henriksen is completely wasted here. He is cast as a modern-day ancestor to the guy who would go on to finance the expedition to the planet of the aliens in the 1986 sequel (at least I think that was who he was; I think I lost a lot of brain cells watching this). Here, he's just a character with a familiar name and a wonderful actor trying to make the best out of what has been "written" for him. None of the other actors make any sort of impact whatsoever; they are merely present to die.
And what were the so-called filmmakers thinking in dumbing down the aliens? In the four Alien movies, they were very scary creatures; kind of like outer-space versions of sharks. They were deadly and existed only to kill and would go to any means to do so. Here, they seem like a pack of barely vicious dogs. And they are much smaller than before; now they are the outer-space version of a pit bull.
Blame must lie with director Paul W.S. Anderson. He has made some stylish and decent (plus the excellent "Resident Evil") movies in the past. Here he just comes across as a talent-less hack; a director who was handed a dream project that knew would make millions and did not bother to make an intriguing story. For that matter, he barely bothered to make a movie. Rarely have I watched a movie and felt like I was looking at a video game. This is the equivalent of watching one that someone else is playing.
A tense, exciting and fateful night in L.A.
I was extremely surprised by this movie. Even with the talent involved behind the cameras and on the screen, I had my doubts that this would be a very good movie. I was expecting either a dull talky focusing on two people in a cab or a generic action movie. Instead, we get an exciting action thriller centered on two opposites sharing a cab one night in Los Angeles.
Jamie Foxx is perfect as Max, a cab driver with dreams of opening his own limousine company. He picks up the lovely Jada Pinkett Smith and the two flirt as he drives her where she needs to go. This scene is wonderful; an expert example of two great actors and a wonderful director at work. After such a brief encounter, I would have normally found the attraction of a successful attorney (Smith) to a cabdriver implausible; here it works. As Max sits starry-eyed in his cab, another passenger gets in. It's Vincent (Tom Cruise), who we soon learn is an assassin who forces the reluctant Max to drive him to each of the hits he has been hired to complete in one night.
It's at this point that the movie turns into a tense nail-biter. We know at any time Vincent can grow weary of Max, dispose of him and carry out his assignment alone. We wonder if Max will snap and do something rash to get himself out of his dire situation. We put ourselves in his place, knowing we would probably react the same way: wanting to do somethinganythingbut leery of failing and, consequently, dying.
There are three things that make this film the success it is. First, is the wonderful screenplay by Stuart Beattie. Every line of dialogue, situation and action is expertly written and believable. But, even a good script can fail in the hands of inept actors. That does not happen here. Foxx is brilliant in his role, exactly as an everyman would seem. Smith has the least showy and smallest role of the three leads, but is superb. She pulls off the flirty part in the beginning and the tough/vulnerable part later in the movie with perfect ease. Cruise is a capable villain and successfully pulls of being menacing. His only problem is his celebrity; if you are unable to shed your expectations of him as the good guy hero, you will most likely have problems believing in him as the assassin. I bought his performance as a bad guy.
Finally, the credit for the films success lies with the director, Michael Mann. Even a movie with a great script and wonderful performances will not be as good without a talented hand to rein it all in. Mann is one of the best directors working today and this excellence is on display here. The movie is beautifully shot, with captivating camera work and skillful editing. This is a tense and enjoyable thriller.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Anti-war film or tense, paranoid thriller? Demme fails to achieve either.
If ever there was a time for an anti-war film, it is now. Jonathan Demme seized the opportunity (or had the misfortune of bad timing) and remade the classic story of brainwashed soldiers (which I have not seen); a compelling idea, uninterestingly executed.
The flashback sequences are not very involving and are so brief and sketchily shot that the viewer is unable to experience the terror that is intended. Denzel Washington (excellent as always as one of the soldiers) is reduced to running around trying to convince a presidential candidate (Liev Schreiber, another soldier) of the truth. It's a part that needed to have more conviction; as written he seems like a kook.
The movie only succeeds when Meryl Streep is on the screen. Brilliant as always, she tears apart every scene she is in as the mother of Schreiber's character. Her scheming and manipulation are the highlights of the movie. Had it centered around her character, it would have been far better.
The Village (2004)
An eerie horror story undone by it's twist-filled aspirations
I'm really tired of twist endings. Today, they are used as a marketing device and are heavily promoted; used as a way to keep the viewer watching whether the movie is good or not. What the "geniuses" promoting these endings don't realize is that even if the movie is good, the viewer is unable to get involved because they are trying to guess what is going to happen. It makes it impossible to wrap yourself in the world unfolding on the screen before you. On the other hand, if the movie is bad, you feel cheated; in these cases, the twist is usually not supported by what happened before it. When I first saw the trailer for this movie, as I joke I turned to my wife and said what I thought the twist was. It turned out I was right.
This movie actually contains three twists, none of which I will reveal. The movie is better if you don't know what happens and can make your own unprejudiced decisions upon viewing it for the first time. My wife loved it; I was disappointed. The first half hour was thrilling and terrifying. M. Night Shyamalan sets up his 19th century village and the evil lurking in the woods surrounding it wonderfully. When at first all we get are spooky noises emanating from the forest, I got the creeps. When one of the creatures made its way into the village, I was on the edge of my seat. Then came the first twist and I was honestly shocked. Shyamalan was not playing with my emotions, but had made a spellbinding tale that was deserving of them. Then, he started explaining everything and the movie was downhill from there. The second twist is of the variety I can't stand in movies and I was extremely let-down. By the time he reached the much-hyped third twist (the one I figured out before hand), I was unimpressed. The beginning of the movie deserved better.
Twists and chills aside, I was impressed with the performance from the cast. The younger actors were actually better than the veterans; Bryce Dallas Howard is a pleasant discovery I can't wait to see in more movies. Joaquin Phoenix is continuing to mold himself into an ever better actor; his early performances left something to be desired, but he improves with each movie. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver, as two of the elders of the village, were a bit disappointing. They are better actors than they seemed here and have proved it in better (and worse) movies than this. My opinion changed, however, after the final twist was revealed; I felt it explained the inferior acting among these cast members.
Misguided adaptation of an already-established character
First, let me say the movie is not as bad as its reputation suggests. Second, I must say it is not good either. Too much time is spent setting up the ridiculous story, creating a character that is too far removed from the comics. Halle Berry is decent enough, but plays the part a little too ditzy. Sharon Stone hams it up, but that is probably the best part of the movie. The plot, centering on a beauty cream that stops aging but destroys the skin if you stop using it, is beyond stupid. The meeting of cop Benjamin Bratt and Berry is ignorant. If I had to rescue a woman who was trying to save a cat, I think I would have her committed instead of buy her a drink. But, all of this could have been campy fun. Unfortunately, director Pitof actually believes he is making a good movie. I find it more than a little sad that no one realized this kind of film-making is only good in cheap TV-movies. The real killer of the movie is it's reliance on bad computer effects. I've never been a fan of them in general (I think it takes more creativity to mold the effects out of real objects than to punch keys); I really hate bad effects. The one's here are the worst I have ever seen in such a high-profile, expensive movie.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Fast-paced sequel succeeds as equal to original
After regaining his memory and settling his complicated affairs, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has holed away in an island paradise intent on setting up a new life with Marie (Franka Potente). We are quickly brought back into the life of these characters and are shocked at the events which (too) quickly follow. Circumstances again throw Bourne back into his former life as he must prove his innocence.
Wonderful action sequences are everywhere in this movie. Director Paul Greengrass sets them up wonderfully and executes them with near-perfection. My only complaints lie with the camera work; it's far too shaky. Face it, Hollywood. No matter what you attempt you can not make a movie look like anything but. Ditch the handhelds and go back to nice, clean, steady shotsyou know, the kind that actually allows you to see and comprehend the action. I was very frustrated with this, as there were times it was difficult to tell what was happening. Of course, this has been a common occurrence for about the last ten years.
That aside, this movie is as engaging as the original was a surprise. Joan Allen is excellent, as always, as the agent tracking Bourne. Matt Damon is just as good here, trying to determine who is setting him up and why, as he was the first time around, frantically trying to recovery his memory to determine why people were trying to kill him. I was so wrapped up in the movie, I was surprised to see it end. It reaches its conclusion in a rather low-key fashion, after a breathtaking chase through the streets of Moscow. I can't wait to see what this character will run into next.
I, Robot (2004)
How can a movie that is full of missed opportunities still be such an entertaining feature? Alex Proyas must know the answer to this, as this movie is better than it should be. It's wall to wall special effects (none convincing) and action sequences, but none of it stirs the viewer. It's good and entertaining, but it should have been exciting as well. Set in the future, Will Smith plays a cop with distrust for robots who believes the suicide of a top scientist (James Cromwell) was actually a murder committed by a robot. Of course, no one else believes him. Smith seems to be on autopilot here, delivering a performance that lacks emotion. Then again, everyone is lacking of emotion. They just stand there and recite their lines and run from the effects. Finally, in the last half hour we get an exciting action sequence that was rousing. Maybe this was because what came before was not as interesting, or maybe it was truly impressive. After Proyas' far-superior Dark City, I was hoping for more. But, when all was said and done, I liked this movie. A lot. I like the robots and the sequence in the tunnel, as well as the finale. Seeing a mass of robots attack a high-rise was thrilling. I'll just tuck this one away under guilty pleasures.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
As a maniacal scientist (Alfred Molina) plots destruction against the city, Harry (James Franco) continues his obsession with the superhero he believes is responsible for his father's death, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) tries to get on with her life after being rejected by her true love and Peter (Tobey Maguire) begins to question whether or not he has what it takes to be a superhero.
Director Sam Raimi has thrown out traditional sequel conventions and made a thoughtful follow-up. While this makes for a slower film, it is a better one. He has succeeded in making a comic book into a truly excellent film, something I did not think was possible after the failed attempt with "Hulk." The special effects, settings and story are all top-notchparticularly the effects. In this day and age, computer effects are mostly overrated and poor. While they are obviously fake in some parts, they are better than in most movies. All returning actors have stepped back into the characters as though they have never left. However, J.K. Simmons (as Peter's boss), as good as he is, seems to belong in a different movie; he's too over-the-top compared with the rest. But, the few missteps are easily forgotten. This is a truly wonderful movie and a testament to what a wonderful filmmaker can do.
The Notebook (2004)
An elderly man (James Garner) relates a story of forbidden love to an Alzheimer's patient (Gena Rowlands) at a nursing home.
This is a very touching, heartfelt romance. The flashback scenes are very sincere in detailing the love between a poor carpenter and the rich girl whose family owns a summer house in his hometown. I'm a little tired of the rich parents forbidding these romances in movies like this, but beyond that the story is quite good. The real emotional impact comes from the scenes between Garner and Rowlands. They are two wonderful actors and they bring great sincerity to their roles. The direction by Nick Cassavetes is good; he captures the beauty of the South wonderfully.
A group of misfits challenge the neighboring mega-gym to a dodgeball tournament in order to save their own.
A very funny comedy made even more engaging by the performances of the cast. I'm not a big fan of stupid comedies, but this one had me laughing. Ben Stiller is a riot in a part he has done before, the egotistical exercise maniac who is unbelievably full of himself. Vince Vaughn is wonderfully deadpan as the owner of the run-down gym that needs saving. Christine Taylor is good as the banker who is the unwilling object of Stiller's affection; her scenes of disgust when acting opposite him are hilarious. But, the highlight comes when Justin Long's character is subjected to dodgeball torture by Rip Torn's oddball trainer. It's all hilarious from beginning to end.
The Stepford Wives (2004)
The Stepford Wives (remake)
An executive (Nicole Kidman) and her family retreat to a perfect suburbia after she has a breakdown, only to encounter peculiar retro-behavior among the residents.
A real letdown of a movie. There is an abundance of talent on the screen and behind the scenes, but the movie really doesn't amount to much. Apart from Kidman and Matthew Broderick (as her husband), the actors seem to be operating in cheese mode. Every performance is over the top, none more so than that of Glenn Close. Her perpetual happiness was a major nuisance. The movie is a little entertaining in its campiness, but it tries too hard to achieve this. It's really not funny and, apart from an unnecessary twist ending, the secret is spoiled going in. The original is such a staple of pop culture that there is no way to surprise the audience.
The talking feline (Bill Murray) sets about ridding his home from the pesky dog his owner (Breckin Meyer) has adopted.
Wow! There is so much wrong with this movie, I don't know where to begin. Let's start with the real people. Jon (Meyer) is completely wrong. While Meyer does a good job, he's not goofy enough. In the comic strip, Jon was more of a doofus than he is here. Then there's Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt); in the comic she was mean-spirited and only went out with Jon out of pity. As played by the horrible Hewitt, she is his perfect match. The villain (Stephen Tobolowsky) is a goofball that belongs in a sillier movie than this. Next we have Garfield and Odie. Odie is played by a real dog, who looks nothing like the character of the comic. If they were going to computer generate the main character, why not the dog as well? Also real is Nermal; here she is a friend of Garfield's; in the strip she was a tolerance. And purple! Finally we get to Garfield. While the voice-over by Murray is the best thing about the movie, they messed up on the look. If they were going to computer-generate him, they could have at least made him look like he should. Here, he is too fat all over (only belly-fat in the comic) and where are his black stripes?!? A failure of a movie, surprisingly endorsed by "Garfield" creator Jim Davis.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) enters his third year at Hogwarts, amid perceived threats to his life from the man (Gary Oldman) who escaped from wizard prison.
Finally, after two movies they got it right. This chapter catches the spirit of the novels almost perfectly and far better than the previous adaptations. The cast is coming into their characters perfectly, the performances are getting better with each film. The scenes are edited together with much more fluidity than before. This feels like an actual movie and not a screening of scenes from the book. And this film has style; the camera no longer just sits still but moves all over the place. Credit must go to new director, Alfonso Cuaron. Taking over from Chris Columbus, he has succeeded at making a fantasy book look like a fantasy movie and not just a movie with fantasy elements. I hate to see him step down; hopefully he will return for another one. Another welcome addition is Oldman; he is a wonderful actor who plays his few scenes perfectly. My only complaint is the young actor's costumes. It's a bit jarring to see private school students in normal, everyday teen wear. In the years to come, this will probably date the movie more than the other two.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Day After Tomorrow
A climatologist (Dennis Quaid) predicts a massive climate change. After it occurs, he must race to New York to save his son (Jake Gyllenhaal), trapped after the disaster occurs.
I believe disaster movies are on a different level than most other films. Like the horror genre, they are almost always chided for being stupid and non-realistic. That they may be, and for the most part this is no exception, but take it for what they are (vastly entertaining action films) and they are pretty good. Again, this is no exception. The action is fast-paced and comes at the screen with a breathtaking frequency; the highlights being the destruction of Los Angeles and the approaching quick freeze scenes. The performances are quite good for a disaster movie, mostly those of Quaid and Gyllenhaal. My only two complaints with the movie: the character of the President (Perry King) is underwritten and hardly on screenhe could have been left out completely; the insta-freeze of Manhattan comes quickly, but not quick enough for the very tired and weary characters to outrun it. That's a bit too much suspension of disbelief to ask for.
Shrek 2 (2004)
The swamp ogre (Mike Myers) and his bride Fiona (Cameron Diaz) travel with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) to the land of Far, Far Away to meet her parents (Julie Andrews, John Cleese).
A well-made and funny sequel to the 2001 hit. The one-liners are hilarious and the scenes between Myers and Murphy have the same funny charm as in the original. A new character, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is a very welcome addition; he gets the funniest lines and Banderas out-performs every last one of the other voice-actors. I loved this character! The movie itself is a little disappointing compared to the original. The plot, concerning Shrek having to prove his worth for Fiona to her fairy godmother, is a bit of a letdown. Not that any of this really matters. The animation is very good and the movie is funny; it makes for a good time.